Every election cycle lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle often campaign on vague platitudes, pretending to be change agents who will finally catalyze transformative action on a range of issues like:
“Making the American dream accessible again.”
“Providing opportunities to all Americans.”
"Ensuring our children don’t bear the burden of our profligacy.”
"Supporting middle class wage growth.”
"Making education affordable.”
"Lowering the cost of healthcare.”
"Preserving the planet and protecting our resources.”
And so on...
Aside from a shrinking minority of centrists in Washington who actually work to build consensus across party lines, Republicans and Democrats have their own distinctive ideas about how to facilitate these grand plans. Unfortunately, the only consistent aspect of all these respective ideas is that they are overly grandiose, lack important details, economically unviable and politically dead on arrival. So in the run up to election day, we are promised the same things we hear in every election cycle but rarely, if ever, witness any substantive action once lawmakers are voted in to (or out of) office.
What if we told you there was a simple way to translate these grand intentions into reality with a politically sensible approach that would be agreeable across party lines? There is. And it cost nothing.
Democrats and Republicans can and should work together to repeal unnecessary and prohibitively expensive occupational licensing laws. When being licensed is in the public's interest, reciprocity agreements between states should be enacted. Lawmakers should also eliminate arbitrary education requirements for most trades. In doing so, they would actually endorse the economic and fiscal pillars that underpin conservative arguments while also appealing to progressive and egalitarian causes underpin liberal viewpoints.
In the 1950’s, very few (~5%) professional occupations required a license at the state level. Today ~30% of all professional occupations require some sort of license across the 50 states in the union. The result: a complex, grossly inefficient web of inconsistent state and local laws pertaining to professional licensing. A report prepared by the Obama Administration’s Council of Economic Advisers & Department of Labor highlighted the fact that “over 1,100 occupations are regulated in at least one state, but fewer than 60 are regulated in all 50 states – suggesting that many of these requirements may not be necessary."
In the majority of states, a person must have a high school diploma or a GED to become a barber. This arbitrary requirement is absurd, unnecessary and discriminatory. Why would earning a high school diploma (or GED) make anybody more (or less) qualified to cut somebody’s hair? Solving basic algebra won’t render someone more qualified to eradicate a split end or sculpt a mohawk. There is no causal relationship to suggest this. This onerous requirement merely prevents somebody from practicing a trade and earning a decent wage.
Barbers aren’t likely to be replaced by robots anytime soon. Pursuing a career as a barber ostensibly allows those who are seeking to make an honest living to do so. Prohibiting someone from becoming a barber because they lack a degree is senseless and discriminates against people who lack the aforementioned academic credentials.
On October 8th, 2017 the former senior senator from Tennessee Bob Corker tweeted, “It's a shame the White House has become an adult day care center.” True as that might be, at The Quintessential Centrist, we cannot help but point out the irony in this tweet. For in the state of Tennessee, “permission to shampoo hair requires taking two exams, at a cost of $140, plus a $50 annual fee. On top of that, someone must take 300 hours of training ‘on the theory and practice of shampooing,’ at a cost of upwards of $3,000 for the tuition." But here is the kicker: no facility in the state currently even offers a course in 'shampoo tech.' Effectively, their only options would be "a) to go through the more rigorous and expensive process (1,500 hours and tens of thousands of dollars in tuition) of obtaining a cosmetology license, or b) to wash hair illegally…(and) face up to six months in prison and a $500 criminal fine, or a $1,000 civil penalty…” Apparently, the adult day care business is flourishing quite nicely in the Volunteer state.
In Louisiana, the State Board of Cosmetology requires that anybody who braids hair for a living have an “alternative hair design permit.” We do not know what a hair design - let alone an "alternative hair design" permit even means. What we do know is that this asinine license requirement “requires at least 500 hours of training at a cosmetology school, which can cost between $10,000 and $20,000.” Equally as unbelievable, only three cosmetology schools in the entire state of Louisiana even offer a course in “alternative hair design.” The prohibitive cost of obtaining an “alternative hair design permit” coupled with a lack of schools that offer a course in this practice make becoming a professional hair braider almost impossible in Louisiana and drives up the cost of getting ones’ hair braded in the state.
Contrast these unfair and discriminatory rules with Mississippi’s requirements for becoming a hair braider. In the Magnolia state, one need only fill out an official form and pay a $25 fee. This is reasonable. The result, “according to records obtained by the Institute for Justice, Louisiana currently has 19 registered hair braiders. As of 2016, Mississippi had more than 2,600, despite having fewer women and African-Americans, the two primary demographics to work in the trade.”
Onerous education and licensing requirements are not just Southern Comfort for special interest groups in the south. Up north, there are plenty of ridiculous professional occupational license requirements.
Rhode Island is the smallest state in the union. What it lacks in physical size it makes up with an entrenched bureaucracy and unnecessary red tape that thwart businesses and professionals alike. For example, The Ocean State requires conveyor operators to have a license. According to the Institute For Justice, “Conveyor operators control or tend conveyors or conveyor systems that move materials or products to and from stockpiles, processing stations, departments or vehicles. They may also control speed and routing of materials or products.”
“Connecticut requires a license to work as a home entertainment installer. Connecticut requires $185 in fees, about 575 days of education and experience (900 hours of technical education and one year of experience as an apprentice), and an exam, in addition to a high school diploma.”
Throwing Away The Key to Success?
One can make an argument that it is reasonable to require a license to become a locksmith. After all, locksmiths are called into the private residences of homeowners as well as businesses to fix and install locks. Others are trusted to make copies of keys and or fix safes, devices that protect our well being and guard our privacy.
While New Jersey has no shortage of silly license requirements for various professions, we think it makes sense for the state to require locksmiths to be licensed. However, we take exception to the requirements needed to obtain a license. To become a locksmith in NJ, one must “prove about 732 days of education and experience (two years of experience as an apprentice and 10 hours of education), pay $217 in fees, pass an exam, be 18 years of age, and have graduated from high school.” Talk about being locked out of the middle class. In our view, a written exam, a few hours of on the job training and paying a nominal fee make sense, as would a background check to ensure the keys to someone's home or safe are not falling into the wrong hands. NJ’s locksmith license requirements are, however, stifling. They disincentivize people from entering into a trade which can provide a solid middle-income wage. Naturally, this results in a shortage of locksmiths, which drives up the cost of hiring one in the state.
Of course, some licensing requirements do make sense and are indeed in the public interest. The overwhelming majority of people would agree that an individual should be required to have a license to drive a car, operate an aircraft, or transport nuclear waste. Hunting or fishing on public lands should require a permit or license. An in-depth background check and a license to operate a day care center is certainly appropriate. The same applies for operating heavy machinery. Yet amazingly, only 18 states in America require a license to operate a crane! Yes, you read that correctly. In the United States, just 18 states require a license to operate a crane, but all 50 states require a license to be a cosmetologist, 47 states require a license to be a commercial landscaper and 41 states require a license to be a makeup artist.
If one manages to become a locksmith in NJ, they should hope they don’t fall ill on the job. Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s) “need only 110 hours of education and 10 hours of experience (roughly 27 days total)” to become licensed. At least EMT’s in NJ needn’t worry about getting locked out of their ambulance.
Ironically because decades ago occupational licenses were not commonplace, before the Internet age, requiring licenses to ply a trade made practical sense. Licenses served as a barrier to help protect the public from unscrupulous “professionals.” Today, information is not asymmetrical. Consumers can quickly and without much friction access what they need online. Irrespective of a license or high school diploma, if a “professional” does a poor job, this will quickly be exposed on social media. If they do a superior job, they will receive positive reviews. Consumers will allocate their dollars to the most reputable providers of goods and services.
The hodgepodge of overly burdensome requirements when there should not be and woefully inadequate regulations where they should be is categorically insane and in desperate need of immediate reform. According the aforementioned report from the Obama Administration, “in order for the economy to successfully continue to innovate and grow, we must ensure that we are able to take full advantage of all of America’s talented labor. By one estimate, licensing restrictions cost millions of jobs nationwide and raise consumer expenses by over one hundred billion dollars. The stakes involved are high, and to help our economy grow to its full potential we need to create a 21st century regulatory system—one that protects public health and welfare while promoting economic growth, innovation, competition, and job creation.”
A study by the non-profit Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), concluded that “…occupational licensing laws, or government permission slips to work, serve as a major barrier to entry for workers in America. This should serve as a clear call for reform."
Indeed, the only individuals that would be “net losers” from a nationwide movement to enact these sensible and straightforward reforms are members of special interest groups and lobbyists, the latter of which is a practice most lawmakers irrespective of political party, claim they want to curtail.
Many of the occupations that require a license are steady, middle income jobs, that politicians on both sides of the aisle claim they want to create. Repealing unnecessary and overly burdensome occupational license and educational requirements costs nothing, provides tangible relief to people who are willing to work hard to build a successful career, promotes competition within sectors which would lower the cost of goods and services for the American public and appeals to the ideologies of progressives and conservatives.