A Side Note About Licensing


Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.

Related Post Roulette

76 Responses

  1. Damon says:

    This is a good point.

    I work in a heavily regulated industry and a lot of what I’ve done in the past is Cover Your Ass (CYA). I keep every email I’ve ever sent or received. Every decision I make, or Mngt makes, I document. The consequences of not doing so is not being able to prove I didn’t do something against the company regs, the gov’t regs, etc. In some ways it’s rather liberating since, if presented with the above scenario, I can always make an anonymous call to the feds with a fraud claim. Knowing an employee / company can get into deep criminal doodoo tends to keep most folks in line.Report

  2. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Good food for thought, Patrick.Report

  3. Patrick says:

    I bring this up because my field is not considered a licensed profession, and there have been many occasions where I have wished I had this ability.Report

  4. greginak says:

    This is a great point. My license puts an ethical responsibility on me to maintain certain standards and to report certain kinds of violation. This is a good thing.Report

  5. Rod says:

    Great point. I’m in a very similar position. My employer can’t legally order me to violate hours-of-service rules (though more than one has tried with varying degrees of nuance). In many ways I’m the captain of this diesel-powered Freightliner (literally, that’s the brand name). If the weather gets crappy or for any other reason I tell them I don’t feel safe driving, the world stops and they have to accommodate me. That’s because if I break the rules and have an accident or just get caught, “my dispatcher told me to” isn’t accepted as a defense and one huge potential consequence I face is losing my commercial driver’s license and therefore my livelihood.

    It’s not just for the more obvious professionals.Report

    • Patrick in reply to Rod says:

      One might argue the case that any time there’s a pretty substantive public interest in the negative externalities involved in an employee/employer relationship, it’s possible that licensing at the very least could be justified on that basis.

      Drawing the line can be difficult. We probably don’t want licensing for every janitor on the grounds that they might dispose of toxic chemicals improperly.Report

      • Rod in reply to Patrick says:

        Drawing the line can be difficult.

        I suppose there’s always edge cases but I fall pretty clearly in the zone.

        People here are cracking wise about software guys but maybe it’s not so unreasonable a thing to consider in the case of someone working on a system like air traffic control or nuclear station. The Navy ratings system (job classification) has electricians and mechanics and such, but then they have all of those in nuclear versions with higher entrance qualifications and more extensive training.

        I realize this is going in the precise opposite direction that Hanley intended but when you open doors…Report

      • Will H. in reply to Patrick says:

        Janitors are prohibited by federal law from working with toxic chemicals without proper safety training as MSDS sheets telling them how to dispose of the chemicals (among other things).

        Really, what I wanted to bring up is that, while inspections must be performed by a licensed inspector, there are really two standards at play: an official standard, and an effective one.
        Basically, every inspector has to remain independent of the employer. Once an inspector loses the ability to tell the employer to stick it up their can and take a walk, they’re no longer an inspector, but a calligrapher.

        A lot of calligraphers out there.

        Fortunately, blogging helped to prepare me for my career.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Rod says:

      It’s not just for the more obvious professionals.

      In a sense, the CDL is maybe the most obvious case of a government-granted license that might be reviewed under the proposed amendment – or not, depending on what we intend for it, how it’s written, and how it’s interpreted. What are the salient ways in which CDL licensing (as a separate license from personal license) is different from haircutting licensing? Not to say they don’t exist, but if we’re clear what the differences that are salient for the intent of an anti-rent-granting amendment are, then I think we’ll be clearer about what the amendment is meant to target and what it means to leave be. Which, in turn, will aid in crafting it to reflect that intent.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Well, a CDL requires specific training for the large, high speed vehicle that is carrying potentially hundreds of thousands (even millions) of dollars worth of cargo (some toxic &/or volatile) that the driver intends to pilot along public roads.

        A single tractor-trailer accident can instantly kill & injure many people & cause millions of dollars in damage, not to mention the economic damage from a traffic snarl while the mess is cleaned up.

        A hair stylist, on the other hand might hurt one person if they were exceptionally incompetent or homicidal. Otherwise the worst is a bad hair cut.Report

      • Ostensibly, the rationale for licensing hair-care professionals are (a) the potential dangers of the chemicals they use and (b) to be able to enforce levels of cleanliness (ie they’re not using rusted scissors and the like).

        I am against such regulations (except perhaps a shall-issue license that is revocable when someone fails inspection), but that’s their argument.Report

  6. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    We need that for software developers.

    “I’m sorry boss, I absolutely can not code the GUI to include that new widget you saw on that annoying website. Not only might I lose my developers license, but even worse, everyone on the internet would mock & ridicule me.”Report

  7. Freeman says:

    I work in a non-licensed profession and I’ve had to tell a boss no a few times when asked to do something unethical. The key is to be firm. And like Damon said, document EVERYTHING.

    Once I had my boss’s boss pounding on my desk demanding that I pencil-whip calibration of an auto-pilot tester, threatening to write me up for insubordination if I continued to refuse. I calmly told him to put it in writing and I would comply. He turned red, stomped out of the room, went to my boss’s office, and started yelling at him. By the time he was finished with that, I had performed the calibration, found a defect (which might possibly have crashed an airplane) and corrected it, completed the paperwork, and hand-carried it to Shipping in time to meet the deadline the bosses were all worried about. When I got back from Shipping I walked into my boss’s office, shut the door, and said “Sorry you’re in the middle of all this, but tell your boss if anything like that ever happens again, I’ll immediately call the FAA”.Report

    • Patrick in reply to Freeman says:

      Let’s say that this process works better when you have an FAA to call.

      And, to be sure, being polite but firm and sticking to your guns is vital in these sorts of situations (and licensing power is hardly a universal preventative, to be sure).

      Still sucks to get fired over it.Report

      • Rod in reply to Patrick says:

        In my case I have the DOT. In a Right-to-Work and At-Will employment environment the licensing and regulations won’t directly prevent an employer from firing you. They can claim performance issues or anything really — you’re gay, they don’t like your face, or whatever — really they don’t have to justify it all. But if you’re doing business in a highly regulated industry like trucking it’s not particularly wise to screw with both the rules and your employees at the same time.Report

  8. Kazzy says:

    But does this require government licensure?

    Many early childhood programs seek accreditation with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Having gone through it once, it is a pretty complex process. It focuses largely on things relating to safety and broad ideas about “best practice”, leaving curricular, pedagogical, and programatic decisions to the individual centers.

    Back when I worked at a center going through the accreditation process, a major point of emphasis was getting the kids to use a paper towel when turning off the sink to cut down on germ transmission. Now, this (like most of their standards) weren’t all-or-nothing. If you had kids use the paper towel, maybe you got two points towards your accreditation. If you just had them wash hands without the paper towel trick, maybe you got one point. If you didn’t emphasize hand washing, you’d get a zero. All together, you had to hit a certain number of points. I don’t remember the exact figures, but the system worked something like that.

    Now, imagine I work in a center that is accredited but just barely so. We have 101 points when 100 is the minimum necessary. Thankfully, we have accomplished the impossible and not only gotten all the little buggers to wash hands before each meal, but we’ve trained them to take a paper towel and use it when turning off the faucet. Those two points were pretty big for us. If my boss came to me and said, “We’re losing money on paper towels. And our water bill is too high. Just tell the kids to turn the water off right away.” I could push back against that, citing the risk to our accreditation.

    Now, losing our accreditation wouldn’t mean we were shut down. It would just make it hard to hold ourselves out there as a serious center.

    So, for whatever that’s worth, there it is.Report

    • Patrick in reply to Kazzy says:

      What it requires is merely a sufficiently daunting oversight board that will murder your ability to make a living if you violate the professional standards.

      It doesn’t necessarily need to be governmental. Point of fact, professions in the U.S. are usually recognized by licensing, but the actual oversight board is a professional organization, not the government.

      However, I’ll note that there are, right now, a number of quacks I could point to who have lost their ability to practice medicine and yet still endorse various health products in a manner that I believe clearly misrepresents their professional standing, and yet they appear to dance that line… and that’s *with* a quasi-governmental medical board.

      Multiple independent licensing organizations makes that a more difficult problem.

      So, yeah. “It depends”.Report

    • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

      Good point, Patrick. I do agree with Kazzy though. This is solvable absent state licensure.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Roger says:

        Well, what does “state licensure” mean, really?

        In the State of California, members of the medical board are appointed by the governor, with a couple of seats reserved for the legislature to fill. You have to be a practicing doctor to be considered. There are a bunch of professions in the state, I’m not sure of the rules for getting on the various boards.

        The vast majority of medical decisions are informed by medical practitioners, it’s not so often that significant politics comes into play.

        (Compare this to school boards where any old yahoo can get elected, and start throwing their weight around.)

        Now, it’s certainly the case that industry can create their own boards (LEED), and professions can have their own professional organizations with and without the state organization of the board. This is all pretty complex.

        I doubt that “one size fits all” is necessarily the best approach, to be sure. But generally speaking, I don’t see professional licenses as being a particularly onerous weight on the profession in most cases. Most of the professions are of sufficiently advanced skillset requirements that the income is significant and the license cost is relatively trivial.

        If anybody has messed up professional requirements with large barriers to entry and other problems that libertarians would generally ascribe to professional licenses… it’s teachers, not electricians or lawyers or doctors or architects… and the Board of Education in most states is the most political and least expertise-limited board that meddles the most in the qualifications of the license holders.

        This says to me that for most professions, the licensing system works reasonably well.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Roger says:

        I’ll note, too… in some states, politics are interfering with the private board (see the case of LEED, where some states are now demanding that the LEED certification not be included).

        So there’s the case of a private-market board organization being ignored through the political process.

        So I’m not sure that disjoining the board function from the state is going to do anything other than move the problem aroundReport

      • LeeEsq in reply to Roger says:

        Most disciplinary complaints are dealt with by professional boards rather than state or federal authorities. However, the professional boards can only exert this sort of disciplinary authority over ethical violations becasue they receive a monopoly from the state. Without the state monopoly, another person could just set up a board with more loose-goosy beliefs about what is and what is not ethical behavior. Beyond the monopoly from the state, the state is not really involved.Report

      • Roger in reply to Roger says:

        Here is the argument against state licensure.


        The negative effects of licensing are that they can act as a cartel to restrict competition and drive up prices. The specific studies of this effect are included in the link.

        State licensing was being applied to 29% of all workers in 2008 across hundreds of professions. I read somewhere else that it has risen to 40% today but cannot find the link right now.

        Yes, I can imagine a profession where we agree narrow state licensing with consumer protection against forming a cartel is the best solution. For example, with writing prescriptions. Two years of state required education to perm hair is just nucking futs.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Roger says:


        There’s a lot of unsubstantiated claims in that presentation (not that they’re necessarily wrong, mind you)… and not nearly enough actual data.

        Slides 34 and 45 are the ones with the most citations in it, and they are all very old (1972-1986) especially as it’s the descriptive part of the argument that is carrying most of the weight. Slide 41 points to something important about problem domains.

        He makes some good points, but some of the more debatable claims are presented as normative judgements more than anything else.Report

      • Roger in reply to Roger says:

        I am sure we can find better or newer data. I just had that laying around in a folder.

        But let’s make sure we really even disagree…

        I can see legitimate uses for state licensure. The problem emerges when state licensure is used as a tool to limit entrance into a profession. In many cases it isn’t. Claims adjusters and insurance agents, for example, are usually licensed, but the licenses are not used to limit entrance. The industry and regulators make it pretty easy to create courses that make it easy to get a license.

        This is a field where it seems balanced. The point is obviously to get reasonably effective professionals, NOT to drive up the average salary of agents and adjusters by limiting supply.

        I think James amendment could be used to permit licenses that protect consumers while not being aimed at rent seeking. Devil in details.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Roger says:

        When it comes to licensing, here is the gimmie (IMHO): Is the number of licenses limited, by statute, by overburden, or by practice?

        By statute – is there a law or practice that either explicitly sets a limit, or enforces one by granting political entities the right to deny a license for reasons not connected to qualifications (e.g. taxi medallions; or Certificates of Need as an analogy).

        By overburden – is there a law or practice that creates a high barrier to entry. E.g. Requiring a funeral director to be certified to use, as well as own, embalming equipment even though said person does not perform that service, or contracts it out; or requiring casket makers to be licensed funeral directors, even though they are not offering that service.

        By practice – requiring that new entries to the field undergo a subjectively scored exam that is evaluated by existing members of the field, e.g. someone who wants to open a florist shop must first demonstrate their skill/talent at flower arranging to a panel of current local florists.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Roger says:

        I approve of MRS’s last comment.Report

      • Rod in reply to Roger says:

        I’ve noticed something sorta interesting in this discussion: Everyone basically agrees that licensure designed specifically to limit entry, or at least not designed well to avoid it, is an example of rent-seeking and therefore evil, nasty, terrible and just no good. But then everyone who actually works in a field that requires some licensing — the good doctor, our lawyer friends, myself, hell even Roger — denies that the licensing of their own profession or occupation is rent-seeking and/or is actually a good thing.

        It makes me wonder how much of this whole effort to limit rent-seeking via occupational licensing is a solution in search of a problem. Ironically, since that is basically how libertarians view occupational licensing in the first place.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Roger says:

        So does that mean they really know something we ought to be taking into consideration, or that they’re just defending their turf as we would expect rent-seekers to do?

        But let me say I agree with MRS.

        Also, I didn’t defend restrictions for my former occupation (taxi driver) nor would I support occupational licensing for my current occupation (although the number of non-PhDs I’d consider hiring in my own discipline are rare, I know of a couple I wish I could hire as full-time colleagues).Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Roger says:


        I don’t think anyone here who is defending the licensing of their own profession is someone whose profession has unreasonable requirements to licensure.

        I think everyone agrees that a for some professions, an adequate training requirement is a reasonable requirement, as is the ability to pass an objective exam. I’d even be OK with expanding apprentice programs for a lot of professions.

        So there is no injustice with requiring a doctor to have medical school, et. al. under their belt, or a lawyer, or an engineer (although most engineers are not licensed in any official capacity, except for PEs), etc.

        But if before a doctor could start medical school, the state had to be OK with adding another doctor to the profession, because there is a law that the state can only allow 1000 doctors to practice, that’s a problem. Or worse, if the limit wasn’t even considered until after you finished medical school (i.e. everyone is a medical student until one of the MDs dies or retires, then you can become a resident & hope for an attending slot). This is actually one of the chief criticisms of states with CON laws, in that you basically need the permission of the state to start your own practice.

        Or if a lawyer would not be admitted to the bar unless they were an equity partner in a law firm.

        Or if when you sat for your CDL exam, you had to do it in front of a panel of people who have held a CDL for 20 years & if they didn’t like your “style” of driving, they could fail you, even if you technically delivered a perfect show of skill.Report

      • Rod in reply to Roger says:

        @jm3z-aitch , hmm… good question.

        So does that mean they really know something we ought to be taking into consideration, or that they’re just defending their turf as we would expect rent-seekers to do?

        Perhaps both to some degree. Maybe the rents we hate and don’t personally enjoy are the rents we notice. But I really think you have to examine each case on it’s own merits.

        But let me say I agree with MRS.

        Me, too. Which I neglected to mention. My bad, MRS, it was a great comment.

        Also, I didn’t defend restrictions for my former occupation (taxi driver) nor would I support occupational licensing for my current occupation (although the number of non-PhDs I’d consider hiring in my own discipline are rare, I know of a couple I wish I could hire as full-time colleagues).

        I see the primary value in a license as something that can be taken away if warranted. So I can support cabbie licenses because I can think of some basic requirements over and above a decent driving record as well as certain disqualifications. For instance, a decent command of English and a good working knowledge of the town. I suppose you could leave that up to the cab companies, but more important are the disqualifications. For instance, do we really want convicted rapists doing that job? “Excuse me, sir? Why are we out in the country? I’m pretty sure the hotel is downtown?!”Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Roger says:

        Thank you! @patrick @rod @jm3z-aitch

        BTW, You ever seen what London cabbies have to go through before they can get a license to drive a cab?Report

      • Rod in reply to Roger says:

        @mad-rocket-scientist , I agree with everything you’ve said in your last two posts. My point, and it really just follows from your comments, is that the problem isn’t really occupational licensing per se so much as it is when and how it’s done.

        If I’m pushing back against anything here it’s the categorical condemnation of the practice that we saw in both Roger’s and Aitch’s posts and comments. To their credit (truly, given how rarely you see that on the internet) they’ve both backed off from that stance, but their original positions seemed to me at least, to be that OL’s were entirely unjustified and solely about rent seeking via market barriers.

        The way I’d approach it is by asking a series of questions:

        Is there a pertinent and significant public safety or consumer protection issue?

        Are the licensing requirements unreasonably stringent or arbitrary?

        Do the licensing requirements effectively raise a barrier to entry beyond those posed by the normal and reasonable qualifications for the occupation?

        Is there, in fact and not just abstract theory, a demonstrable shortage of workers in that field?Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Roger says:

        a decent command of English and a good working knowledge of the town. I suppose you could leave that up to the cab companies,
        Yes, leave that up to the companies and passengers who are willing to walk away. Cabbies could advertise years of service, too, so if you’re looking at two cabs and one says 1 year of service and the other says 10 years, you can make the choice or see if you can negotiate a cheaper price with the junior guy to cover your risk.

        but more important are the disqualifications. For instance, do we really want convicted rapists doing that job? “Excuse me, sir? Why are we out in the country? I’m pretty sure the hotel is downtown?!”
        Or require that all cabs be equipped with loaded pistols in the back seat….OK, maybe your way’s better.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Roger says:

        a decent command of English and a good working knowledge of the town

        And a sufficient grasp of geopolitics to enlighten Thomas Friedman.Report

  9. Tod Kelly says:

    A really excellent point. I think it is especially salient in those professions where fiduciary responsibilities loom large.Report

  10. Burt Likko says:

    Naturally, I know legal ethics the best, and what Patrick discusses is what it’s all about. It’s why lawyers don’t suborn perjury or fabricate evidence or help their clients launder money.Report

  11. DavidTC says:

    The real problem here is rather indirect, and it’s because the legal system has been totally subverted in favor of the rich. Well, not ‘subverted’, that implies that it used to work and now it doesn’t.

    But the problem is, for example, if a hairstylist is negligent and totally destroys someone’s hair, it is not actually possible, in any manner, for a normal human to recover damages from that. Not that the damages should be harsh, but that really is a hundred dollars or so in injury.

    Hell, the only reason that malpractice suits actually exist is that there is so much money in them so lawyers can work off commission. But good luck even with that if the problem wasn’t obvious wrongdoing, but just a busy doctor who missed something and the damages in the mere thousands.

    Not only is it impossible for normal people to recover small damages done to them by people they hired, but there is an entire political movement out there that appears to think lawsuits are _too easy_ to do, and wants to make them _harder_.

    Certain professional, right now, have to behave in specific manners or they will lose their license and lively-hood. Without licenses…well, they almost certainly won’t get sued, and, hell, if they do rarely get sued, the worse that often happens is that they lose their _business_ and have to start over.

    I honestly have no suggestions in how to fix this problem, but it appears to be the _actual_ problem that licenses are a stopgap measure to fix.Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to DavidTC says:

      I think that these days, with online reviews & social media, a bad hair stylist would have a hard time finding business in short order. Word of mouth is everything in a lot of markets.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Yeah, this is one of those times when I say, MRS is closer to the truth here than not.

        “Not only is it impossible for normal people to recover small damages done to them by people they hired”

        Recover, no. More than equitably extract a pound of flesh…

        There’s a general contractor who probably still doesn’t understand why he doesn’t get work in our neighborhood any more.

        It’s me, dude. I did that. Not even for revenge, just because I didn’t want you to screw anybody else.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Crappy general contractors are a good example of what we get without licenses, in fact.

        It’s nearly impossible to actually sue them, and while ‘word of mouth’ may work in some neighborhood, all that actually means is they have to wander around plying their work in multiple places.

        Sure, they might _eventually_ run out of places, but that’s a rather belated ‘fix’.

        But general contractors also demonstrate it probably would be nearly impossible _to_ license everyone. What we need is some sort of general solution.

        I have to suggest that the civil court system should be playing a part in this, that it should actually be possible for someone to take a receipt or a bill or something, along with some pictures showing the deficiency of work, walk into a courthouse, and, without paying anything but a trivial fees and without having to hire a lawyer, actually get a judgement. (And if that happens enough, the person who keeps getting sued should be barred from that profession.)

        There are, admittedly, practical issues with this. But we could solve the problems. For example, certain people like to make nuisance of themselves over everything, and would end up costing the courts a lot of time. We could solve that by giving everyone only two ‘free’ suits a year, and require filing fees for any more.

        Of course, at this point, our supposedly ‘blind’ court system is complete nonsense, not just for civil suits, but for criminal cases also, where people actually _are_ supposed to not have to pay if they can’t afford it. It’s so broken it’s almost unfixable.Report

      • Kim in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Do the words Manual J mean anything to you?
        Most contractors lie about this shit, deliberately.
        (they’re legally required to do the measurements,
        but most of the time they just lie and say they did,
        fudging the answers to make ’em “right”)
        It screws customers over, and nobody ever figures it out.

        HVAC folks don’t know jack about ductwork, either.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Isn’t that what small claims court is for, or have Judge Wapner, et al been playing us all for fools all these years?Report

      • Patrick in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        I’m not certain that your proposed solution isn’t worse than the disease you’re trying to cure, David.

        If the court system is systemically broken, having it play a part seems contraindicated.

        Crappy general contractors are a good example of what we get without licenses, in fact.

        I’m going to guess that generally, general contractors’ crappiness has nothing to do with licensing and everything to do with laypersons interacting with contract law. This at least is the root cause of all the crappy general contractor stories that I hear. Nearly always, it boils down to “I agreed to pay this guy to do some work, and he didn’t deliver”, and almost always, that drills down to, “I agreed to a dumb contract” (this is certainly my own experience).

        They’re general contractors, they don’t necessarily have to be licensed tradesmen at all. (edited) By this I mean, typically the dispute isn’t over anything that would be covered by a license (/edited)Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        If the court system is systemically broken, having it play a part seems contraindicated.

        Except that this is their job. It is _literally_ their job to resolve contract disputes and fraud. I was being rather facetious when I suggested that the court system ‘should’ play a role in this…they already have a role, the staring role, they’re just _not doing it_. They are inaccessible, deliberately so, for the vast majority of people.

        If the fire department is broken and they only show up to put out a fire if you bribe them or you’re good friends with the mayor, the solution is not suggest that someone besides the fire department start putting out fires.

        I’m going to guess that generally, general contractors’ crappiness has nothing to do with licensing and everything to do with laypersons interacting with contract law.

        I wasn’t really trying to suggest otherwise. I was assuming they were not licensed at all.

        The problem isn’t really ‘laypersons interacting with contract law’, it’s usually ‘laypersons being ripped off when dealing with contract law, and have absolutely no recourse they can afford to be made whole’.

        We _could_ invent some sort of new government agency to do this, some sort of ‘Better Business Bureau’, but actually part of the government, with enforcement powers and the ability to sue wrong doers and bar them from operating a business if caused enough problems.

        Except, of course, for this to be workable, we’d have to run them through the court system anyway.

        As MRS pointed out, this should be small claims court. However, small claims courts are often completely unusable.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        Have you had bad experiences with small claims? My understanding is that it is supposed to be a very simple, straightforward system.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Except that this is their job. It is _literally_ their job to resolve contract disputes and fraud.

        No, you’re missing my point.

        I don’t dispute that.

        What I’m saying is that disputes between general contractors and customers are typically not of the sort that are covered by licensing issues.

        Granted, this is anecdotal, but if you have a building permit and the inspector comes and signs off, the general contractor got the work done to code.

        Typically, when someone has a dispute with a general contractor, it boils down to one of three things:

        (1) Neither the customer nor the contractor filed for a building permit, and the work is not to code.

        In this case, it’s typical that in the jurisdiction in question, it’s not the contractor’s job to file for the permit, it’s the customer’s job to file for the permit. That the customer failed to do so puts the customer already outside the area of legal redress. They screwed themselves. The legal system will not help them, typically. This could potentially be covered under licensing, if you make it a requirement for the contractor to not perform work unless/until the customer presents them with a building permit.

        But I have to be honest, I don’t see this helping people much because typically if they’re not the sort of person to pay attention the the building code, they’re the sort of person who is going to go with an unlicensed contractor in the first place.

        (2) The contractor failed to conform to the customer’s understanding of the scope of work.

        In this case, it’s very typical for the contract to already be written in favor of the contractor, because the customer doesn’t understand what might need to be done that isn’t covered under the scope of work. This isn’t something that could be covered by licensing, because you can’t make it part of the licensing process that the contractor can exhaustively inform the customer of every possible thing that might require a change of work order. I see this all the time from the other side, in the IT world. I can tell you how much I think it will cost given how well you’ve explained the problem, and I can even tell you how much it might cost if some of the things I have to assume are incorrect, but I can’t possibly tell you how much it always will cost for certain because I have to assume *some* things to draw up a scope of work in the first place.

        (3) Failure to complete in a timely fashion.

        In this case, it’s almost always the customer’s fault for signing off on a contract and on payment terms that don’t dictate timely fashion. Again, this is a contracting problem, not a licensing problem.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        What I’m saying is that disputes between general contractors and customers are typically not of the sort that are covered by licensing issues.

        Well, yes. I was saying that I was sorta assuming that _all_ contractors were unlicensed. I am aware there actually are licenses, but they don’t cover what anyone would have disputes over. Licensing stops things like decks falling off houses, not the fact the contractor didn’t move the rosebushes from what is now underneath the deck.

        (1) Neither the customer nor the contractor filed for a building permit, and the work is not to code.

        Although there perhaps the licensing needs to be stronger. At the minimum the customer should have to sign something stating they understand they need a permit. But, as you pointed out, people who don’t bother with building permits don’t bother with licensed contractors either.

        (2) The contractor failed to conform to the customer’s understanding of the scope of work.
        (3) Failure to complete in a timely fashion.

        What would actually help _here_ is the state supplying some sort of sample contract and recommended process to follow: Write stuff down here, take pictures of this and that, provide a sketch of the intended result, state where the contractors is allowed to go and drive(1), etc.

        Like I said, the real problem in a lot of this is that the legal system is out of reach. Here, it’s _lawyers_ that are out of reach, so you end up with a really crappy verbal agreement that is impossible to figure out in court, instead of an actual contract.

        Now, licensed contractors could do that, but if you’re going to have them suggesting a contract, it really should just be a state-created one.

        1) You’d be amazed, or possibly not, how often I’ve heard people hiring contractors complain they ‘ruined something’ like a garden or a rug or something, and I’m like ‘Did you actually tell them not to drive through the garden? How would they know not to do that? And as for your rug…you did know they would be in your house, right? They didn’t just break in?’Report

      • Kim in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        a fee for service contract is unreasonable for most people. ($1000 in the bank is unreasonable for most people, apparently)
        Take that away, and you stack the deck for the contractor doing a shitty job.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        A quick Googling reveals a whole host of freely available boilerplate contracts for a host of situations, including contractor services. I searched under “washington state contractor boilerplate agreement” and found some from wa.gov, as well as the US Chamber of Commerce, and a number of other sites, both public & private.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        I’m aware there are sample contracts.

        As Patrick pointed out, though, almost all contracting disputes are _due_ to contractual problems, and hence it appears that no one is actually _using_ those sample contracts. (Or they are really crappy.)

        It would be simple enough for the state to require, for example, all licensed contractors to use a written contract for all work, with specified scope of work, completion time and any penalties for going over, and an acknowledgement of who has to get the building permit.

        This wouldn’t solve _every_ problem, of course, and wouldn’t help with people who do not use licensed contractors (Unless it was an actual law instead of just a licensing condition.), but it really seems like some sort of basic start.

        There’s a reason the law requires signed contracts for certain things. There’s really no reason not to expand that.Report

  12. Mad Rocket Scientist says:


    Sorry, that thread was getting really damn long.

    I think your first 3 questions are good, although I’d want specific, legal definitions on them all, since as they stand, there is a whole lot of wiggle room in interpretation there.

    Question 4 I would leave out of it altogether. That should be, for the most part, a question left to the market. Otherwise there is too much incentive to try & restrict the supply arbitrarily in order to maximize the wages.Report

    • Rod in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      I kind of got lost on my own head when I was writing that. Let me try again.

      The original contention was that occupational licenses were categorically a form of rent-seeking. At least it would appear so given the wording of Aitch’s proposed amendment. This was later reinforced by Roger outlining the theoretical reasoning behind it, again very categorically. And again, I want to acknowledge that they have both backed off somewhat to a more measured stance incorporating words like “may” and “can” and admitting that some forms of licensing are justifiable. Given that, it wouldn’t be unfair to say my comment is coming too late since it really speaks to their original position.

      Anyway, for that argument to hold you would need to show that the license was in actuality a barrier to entry over and above whatever else was required to enter the profession instead of just an administrative detail. So is the bar exam, for instance, really the relevant obstacle compared to however many years of school, not to mention the basic intellectual chops and interest in law? How many people actually make it all the way to graduating from law school but can’t pass the bar exam?

      And then, as a practical matter, is there actually a shortage of practitioners in the field? I may be mistaken, but my impression is that there’s no real shortage of law graduates, so even if the bar exam were a significant barrier in and of itself it still wouldn’t follow that it’s causing salaries to be higher than they otherwise would be.

      At the opposite end of the spectrum CDL really isn’t terribly hard to obtain. Not much different than a regular driver’s license really. All I did was go to the DMV and pick up a (free) study manual. Took it home, studied up on it, and went back a couple days later. Took the test, passed, and they issued me a commercial learners permit. Then I went out with an experienced driver for two weeks, went back to the DMV, took the road test, passed, and the issued the CDL. Two more weeks driving team* and I’ve been solo ever since. Now it’s easier to lose my CDL than it is to lose a regular license. The point system is different and I face the possibility of infractions like log violations and overweight tickets. And my threshold for a DUI is half of normal (.04 vs. .08) even when I’m driving my personal vehicle on the weekend. And random drug tests, too. (You know, this kinda sucks.) To the extent all that’s a barrier it seems not unreasonable to me. It’s more like stepping over a curb than climbing a wall. If there’s anything that limits the pool of drivers it’s the actual job itself. A lot of guys try it but just can’t handle the lifestyle. Or their spouse at home can’t.

      * That second two weeks of training is really to compensate the trainer. Those first two weeks he has to be awake in the passenger seat monitoring the student, so it has to be logged as on-duty, not driving time. He’s getting paid by the mile but the miles aren’t going to be any better than solo and likely a little less. The second two weeks he’s getting paid for close to double. The student is just getting a stipend pretty close to minimum wage.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Rod says:

        How many people actually make it all the way to graduating from law school but can’t pass the bar exam?

        A good number, and over the years I’ve made a habit of asking lawyers I meet whether the bar exam is really functional for distinguishing between those who can be competent and those who cannot. I’ve had maybe two give a hesitantly positive affirmation to that question, and a couple dozen say no, some to the point of laughter. The bar is, after all, just one more paper test.

        Also, it does go beyond the bar, as some states require law school, whereas an apprenticeship used to be the norm, and it’s not evident that it wouldn’t still be sufficient, at least for certain areas of law.

        they have both backed off somewhat to a more measured stance
        Yes, and happy to acknowledge it.

        kind of got lost on my own head
        So is that more like getting lost in a cluttered museum or getting lost out on the empty tundra? 😉Report

      • Rod in reply to Rod says:

        As to the bar exam, it was an honest question that I didn’t know the answer to. Apprenticeships harken back to the guild system so I’m not sure how much better that would really be wrt to limiting market entry. “Sorry. You’re a bright lad but I’m not taking any apprentices right now.”

        As to your last question: More like Warehouse 13. Some really weird shit in there.Report

      • Rod in reply to Rod says:

        And BTW, my niece just recently passed the bar for the State of Vermont. I’m terribly pleased and proud. And a little confused by her. Her first ambition coming out of high school was Cosmetology School to be an Aesthetician. Whatever the fish that is. Then she decides “I want to be a lawyer and sue polluters.” So now she’s a lawyer. Good on her.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Rod says:

        Rod, to be clear I wasn’t advocating apprenticeship systems instead of law schools, but as alternate, complementary, routes. And while it certainly does derive from the guild system, it doesn’t necessarily have to involve that.

        As a curious historical note, Abe Lincoln neither went to law school nor formally apprenticed nor passed the bar to become a lawyer. I don’t know how good a lawyer he actually was, though.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Rod says:

        The bar passage rates from some law schools is astonishingly low. Even some recognizable schools have law schools with passage rates around or below 75%. U of San Diego, UC-Davis, North Dakota, UNLV.

        I think that is only “pass on the first attempt” but with some of those numbers, I would be surprised if a non-negligible number of people who spent tens of thousands of dollars on law school cannot actually pass the test to practice law.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Rod says:

        Congratulations, of a sort, to your niece, Rod.

        I think first-time pass rates ought to be publicized. Sitting for the bar exam is a generally unpleasant thing to do, and not an experience which I would relish repeating.

        To be fair, I’m not entirely sure if I could pass the bar, even in my own state, were I to sit for it right now. I’m not sure I remember all the rules about offensive non-mutual collateral estoppel that they cover in the civil procedure section, or the community property stuff, or the felony murder rule, or any of a number of other subjects that I don’t use every day. And the rule against perpetuities? Fuhgeddaboudit. More newly-minted lawyers like @newdealer or Rob’s niece could run circles around me, I’m sure.Report

      • Trumwill in reply to Rod says:

        I think both “pass on the first attempt” is important, but “passes ever” is also important. More important. Because as much as it sucks to take it again, it sucks to not be able to pass it at all.Report

      • Rod in reply to Rod says:

        As a curious historical note, Abe Lincoln neither went to law school nor formally apprenticed nor passed the bar to become a lawyer. I don’t know how good a lawyer he actually was, though.

        To be fair, there were a lot fewer laws back then. I imagine we’ve accumulated a few in the last 150 years.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Rod says:

        See, Burt demonstrates that to be protected from mayhem…er, lawyers like him, we need even more strict licensing standards. I say make them pass the bat triennially to keep the public safe. 😉Report

      • Rod in reply to Rod says:

        As long as you don’t try to enforce ethical standards. That creates a hostile work environment. 😉Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      So in Engineering there are two exams you can take, the FE/EIT exam (Fundamentals of Engineering/Engineer in Training), and the PE (Professional Engineer) exam. The FE/EIT exam is an 8 hour slog of engineering questions from all major engineering disciplines, but it is the basic stuff that every engineer should know, regardless of their discipline (basic chemistry, physics, electrical theory, etc.). I spent about 4 months studying for it, and I passed with a respectable score.

      The PE exam is (I believe) 2 days worth of questions covering your specific discipline (so the questions are much more detailed).

      You have to have passed the FE/EIT & have 4 years professional experience as an engineer before you can sit for the PE. Alternatively, if you get a PhD in an engineering discipline, you can write a letter & be granted an honorary PE.

      What does all this get you?

      For most engineers, it’s a few extra letters after your name, bragging rights, & a notation on the resume. Neither is required to find engineering work at a respectable salary. For civil engineers & other engineers in certain jobs, the PE is necessary before you can become a supervisor/manager, as it allows you to legally sign off on work.

      Take that for what you will.Report