NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 27, 2008

Want to follow in Joe the Plumber's footsteps?  That's pretty easy; anyone can become a plumber.  But if you want to become a podiatrist, or even a barber, you're going to have to get permission from the state government first.  In fact, most occupations require a license; that means before you go to work you have to pay whatever fees, pass whatever test and meet whatever requirements your home state's licensing boards demand, says columnist Bill Steigerwald.

Historically, licensing is a good thing; it makes us feel comfortable knowing our doctor is a licensed professional.  Unfortunately, licensing has gotten out of control:

  • More than 1,000 occupations are regulated to some degree by states and about 20 percent of the country's work force must obtain a license to work (up from 4.5 percent in the 1950s).
  • The average state licenses 92 job categories; California leads with 177 - including talent agents and librarians, Missouri has 41, while Pennsylvania is remarkably low with 62.
  • Among the most idiotic examples are Maryland (fortune tellers), Louisiana (florists) and Arizona (rainmakers).
  • Propagandists for these regulated occupations and their captive regulators in state government both insist that job licenses are necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public from fraudulent and unethical practitioners.

But by making it harder and more expensive for new doctors, lawyers and pesticide applicators to enter the market, competition and the number of practitioners in each field are artificially -- and unfairly -- held down and salaries, prices and profits are propped up, says Steigerwald.

Consumers are getting robbed every day by this venerable public-private racket. Moreover, occupational licensing is almost always a result of political lobbying by the very profession being licensed.  And it is a sneaky way to use government power to protect the economic interests of incumbent doctors, lawyers and pesticide applicators, adds Steigerwald.

Source: Bill Steigerwald, "Joe the Plumber Doesn't Need a License,", October 21, 2008.

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