The Case For Occupational Licensing

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167 Responses

  1. pillsy says:

    I’m not sure I follow the argument that the tendency for barbershops to become sites of criminality, or the history of predatory ballroom dance instructors, really provide support for licensure. Is there something about being a licensed barber that is going to make one less likely to allow, say, illegal sports betting out of one’s shop? Is that something more than just a criminal background check that may be involved with the licensing process?

    As for the argument about barbers being the first step for many immigrants really does cut both ways. That “little moat” we create around them with licensing requirements is mostly going to keep out other immigrants. I’m reasonably certain, in all the years I’ve heard about unnecessary licensing requirements, I’ve never heard of overpriced haircuts being offered as one of the problems with them.Report

    • PD Shaw in reply to pillsy says:

      It might be useful to re-read the Chesterton quote after reading the piece. That’s how I’m taking it at least.Report

      • pillsy in reply to PD Shaw says:

        People who want to reform or eliminate what they see as superfluous professional licensing requirements believe they know why that metaphorical fence is there, though.

        They may be wrong about the reason, but Chesterton’s Fence isn’t a useful admonition in such cases.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to pillsy says:

      It’s not like licensing makes people more ethical as many disciplined lawyers and doctors would demonstrate.Report

      • Catchling in reply to LeeEsq says:

        That just demonstrates that it doesn’t make them perfectly ethical. I’d still much, much prefer my chances with a licensed doctor or lawyer than an unlicensed one. Sometimes the licensed ones do terrible things… but are there even any anecdotes about unlicensed ones doing good things?Report

        • Murali in reply to Catchling says:

          Occupational licensure is not an all or nothing process. Consider doctors. At least until 2 years ago, GPs just needed an MBBS which they would get after 5 years of medical school. But, there were already efforts among doctors to create a family medicine specialisation. The move was spearheaded by specialists in other fields who felt that GPs weren’t managing patients properly and making mistakes in deciding when to refer their patients to specialists. Now, I’m not sure how successful the effort was (since its been 3 years since I’ve really spent any significant time in Singapore) but if it had been successful, primary care would have gotten a lot more expensive. Now, the GPs may have been making mistakes, but is the tradeoff worth it?Report

    • James K in reply to pillsy says:


      This is the right question to ask – the existence of a problem does not automatically imply this as a solution.Report

  2. Saul Degraw says:

    I’m with Pillsy here. We have other laws that can prevent these things.

    I support some levels of licensing for different reasons. Mainly consumer protection. I am against the concept of caveat emptor. A license indicates a modicum of training. Plus there would be unofficial licensing absent state involvement.

    However it seems that a license requirement can get out of hand and be burdensome. Doctors and Lawyers need training before they practice. So do barbers but in some ways barbers get more hours in before they get their license than lawyers.Report

    • pillsy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Also, one thing I don’t see mentioned enough but that has caused no small amount of irritation in my own life is that licenses are often hard to transfer between states. Now this makes some sense with lawyers (since the law varies a lot by state) but for most other applications it makes no sense at all, and constructing pointless barriers to mobility is bad.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to pillsy says:

        It doesn’t make sense with lawyers because the bar exam has only slightly more to do with practice than law school. Good lawyers will still research the case and bad lawyers will not.Report

  3. LeeEsq says:

    Hi, I do dancing as a hobby and I’m siding with Pillsy and Saul. Yes, dancing is potentially dangerous. You have students that want to take classes that are too advanced with them and do really fancy stuff fast. Every studio and teacher I took a class with have ways of squashing this fast because they know the danger. Common sense prevents it from happening. They usually also have waivers for students to sign. In fact, they use the term student rather than customer because of the psychological effect to put people in their place.

    As a lawyer, an owner of a ballroom studio approached me on the idea of licensing ballroom teachers in New York, where they are currently unlicensed. I turned him down. He just wanted it for rent seeking. It’s a bad idea.Report

  4. Marchmaine says:

    In defense of Chesterton and his increasingly cited Gate metaphor: This is a good essay looking at the gate(s) and why they are there. Much obliged.

    After reading, I think we either need to remove the gates or finish the fence; I’m inclined to remove the gates because the larger part of the pasture is already fenced.Report

  5. George Turner says:

    I support requiring a license to dispense relationship advice, just because I want to see the social implosion that would occur when everyone has to keep their mouth shut about ‘that guy’ and instead talk about weather and sports.Report

  6. Jaybird says:

    “What are the requirements to become a barber?”
    (Long list)
    “Okay. Here are some reasons that that long list is important.”

    “What are the requirements to become a police officer?”
    (Short list)
    “Wait. That can’t be right.”

    It’s not necessarily the problem that the licensing to become a barber is so high. Hey, people get lice and you need to learn how to clean your barbering tools so you don’t become a vector, after all. Some barbers might think that it’s okay to be a criminal on top of being a barber. Sometimes that takes 500 hours of coursework to make sure that people know what to do and what not to do.

    It’s when the requirements to become a cop are less stringent than the requirements to become a barber that I feel that something hinky is going on.

    Something hinky is going on.Report

    • PD Shaw in reply to Jaybird says:

      I don’t think your comparison is accurate. Even if you can reduce the requirements to a list, the list for police office screens out more people out than barber. For instance, age requirement. Go study the fence some more.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to PD Shaw says:

        I can’t help but notice that this fence was put up in the last couple of decades and we’re discussing it like it was put up by the Nephilim themselves and discussing taking it down as if it will result in the chaos that existed in the Middle Ages rather than in the chaos that existed in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

        I’m pretty sure that Chesterton’s Fence refers to fences that were there before we were born.

        Because if Chesterton’s Fence applies to stuff that we did yesterday, I’m calling bullshit.Report

        • PD Shaw in reply to Jaybird says:

          That may have been Chesterton’s view as well. But from an interpretive approach, laws are always examined through the rearview mirror. Before I can decide what the proper interpretation of this law is, let me look at its form and function.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to PD Shaw says:

            Can we look at what we had before the fence was there?

            I mean, if we’re talking about taking the fence down.

            If we put it up a couple of days ago we, presumably, know the reason we put it up and we can know whether the gate worked out the way we thought it would.

            We’re not talking about the gate put up by our forefathers at this point and us not knowing exactly why they put it up. We know why they put it up. They wrote it down when they passed the law. Half of them are even still alive. Some of them are even still in office.Report

            • PD Shaw in reply to Jaybird says:

              At its simplest it seems like the person advocating change has a burden of persuasion; the Chesterton quote seems to further advocate a value of studied consideration, not mere reflective action.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to PD Shaw says:

                So the argument about Chesterton’s Fence shouldn’t be used after studied consideration has been demonstrated when an argument about why things should be changed that include general concepts about societal requirements (and maybe even numbers) has been provided?Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird says:

      The detailed barber licensing requirements largely replace school accreditation. One of the requirements to be a professional engineer is a four-year degree from an accredited program. One of the requirements (at least in this state) to sit for the bar exam is a degree from an accredited law school. One of the requirements to be a law enforcement officer is successful completion of an accredited POST program. For barber/beautician, the state has opted to spell out its own requirements rather than adopting those of any of the (several) regional or national accrediting bodies.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

        I think my reply to this got nabbed by the ether bunny.

        This causes me to ask, why has the state felt the need to set it’s own requirements? Are the requirements a parallel path to license, or do they supersede all accredited schooling? If they supersede, why? Is there a problem with school accreditation? Or is this just rent seeking &/or capture?Report

        • My speculation, without digging for actual historical details, is that it’s mostly about timing. Engineering, law, and medicine have all been in a position (and I certainly don’t discount wealth as a part of “position”) to establish their own set of standards for something like “what’s the minimum math, science, etc needed to be an engineer?” for a long time. Cosmetology, not so much.

          Some of it is when things got “complicated”. My daughter, who has a state cosmo license, says that the large array of hair products, with complicated detrimental interactions, emerged during my lifetime. When she was working in the field, she says that she sometimes annoyed customers with her questions. “But what brand of red dye did you use at home?” She asked them because Brand A used one chemistry, Brand B a different one, and if you did the wrong thing to someone who had used Brand B, their hair all broke off at the length that had grown out since the treatment. As she moved around when her husband changed jobs, she declined to work at places that didn’t consider her knowledge of such interactions a Good Thing.Report

          • Slade the Leveller in reply to Michael Cain says:

            One of my places of employ in the past was at a manufacturer of hair products. Some were innocuous, like shampoo, and some were not, like relaxer or dye. Believe me, you want someone who knows what’s going on putting the latter stuff in your hair.Report

  7. Richard Hershberger says:

    I don’t have an opinion, or at least not a considered one, on the specific examples here, but support as sound the general principle of looking at why that apparently silly rule was put there in the first place. This is a subset of those who forget history being doomed to repeat it. Consider the Interstate Commerce Commission, so unbeloved of libertarians. It was created to rein in railroads’ appalling behaviors. Railroads are, outside of large cities, natural monopolies. Once the Podunk, Hicksville, and Boondocks Railroad is in place, it doesn’t make economic sense for someone else to put in a competing parallel line, except as a strongarm maneuver by a larger railroad to put the PH&B out of business. In the ordinary course of business, the PH&B has a monopoly on the transit business of these fine communities. Which is to say, it is in a position to outrageously extort the local businesses, if they want to get their products to market. This was pretty much routine in the later 19th and early 20th century. It worked its way down the system. It might be the PH&B regional manager, or even the Hicksville station master, doing the extorting, and pocketing the boodle. These practices got so out of hand that eventually Congress was forced to act in favor of smaller businesses over the big railroads. You know its bad if it came to that. So if someone wants to complain about the ICC, start by examining why it was created and make the argument that this no longer applies. (See also: cable and internet providers.)Report

    • PD Shaw in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      Before the ICC, railroads were common carriers under the common law. The requirements of common carrier were frequently litigated by Lincoln, both for and against railroads. I point this out not to get into whether the ICC was good thing or a bad thing, but the alternative to federal preemption was not nothing; there was a fence.

      More generally, there is often a choice overlooked between whether ex ante regulation is better or worse than ex post adjudication.Report

  8. Brandon Berg says:

    As noted by that court, Florida’s laws define interior design as “designs, consultations, studies, drawings, specifications, and administration of design construction contracts relating to nonstructural interior elements of a building or structure.”

    So…not like, architect architects?Report

    • Marchmaine in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      I was wondering that myself.

      Went to Lowes the other day and sat down with the cabinet guy about an idea we had for the kitchen… all we had were measurements and weren’t sure if the stuff we wanted to do would fit. In 20-minutes he designed the nonstructural space including a partition and cabinets on a simple CAD(ish) program. No idea if he was licensed (or if he needed one (or if I thought he needed one)).Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Marchmaine says:

        I’ve been involved in two* kitchen installation projects designed by “certified, licensed kitchen designers”, one who charged $4500, the other $3000. Both times they made mistakes on some combination of measurements, cabinet size, or cabinet style. Why pay more when the Lowe’s guy can make the same mistakes for less?

        *Three actually. The third guy ordered two cabinets at the wrong size.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Even architect-architects don’t design the structure; We call those folks Structural Engineers.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Structural elements prevent the whole building falling down.

      Nonstructural elements can include lots of stuff that prevents a building falling afoul of building codes, fire codes, restaurant health codes, disabled-access codes, chemical storage codes, ventilation requirements, etc. Just, in ways that don’t specifically involve the building falling down.Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to dragonfrog says:

        @brandon-berg quick – how many seats are allowed in a theatre row that has an aisle on both sides? How about one that has an aisle only on one side? How wide must the distance between rows be if each row has 12 seats? How wide must an aisle be if it runs perpendicular to the seating rows? If it runs parallel?

        Do you want to find out the answers from the fire marshal on opening night, or the interior designer six months before?Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to dragonfrog says:

        Non-structural can also mean any construction that falls outside of the codified standards. A stick framed 2×4 wall can support X many stories. A 2×6 wall can support Y. If you want Z stories (where Z > Y), you need a structural engineer.Report

  9. North says:

    I hear they’re requiring licensing for dog walkers in some states now.

    Also it’s interesting how the focus is on current barbers when arguing that they deserve a little moat. What about the would be barbers who’re moated out? Why do they get no consideration here?Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to North says:


      What is interesting to me is that a lot of non-Americans (even fellow Anglos) have a much higher tolerance for occupational licensing then Americans. The debate doesn’t even seem to exist in other countries about what the proper scope of occupational licensing.

      I learned this because most non-Americans seem to think it is insane that babysitting is considered a good teenage job in the United States.*

      *This might be changing. I remember being 9 or 10 and being left in the house without a sitter by my parents for a few hours while they went to dinner and movie. Apparently this is verboten now.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Where did you learn this about babysitters? My European friends said they had teenage and other unlicensed baby sitters as kids. These were people who were born in the 70s and 80s.Report

      • North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I wouldn’t necessarily consider that a strong argument in favor of occupational licensing. Creating red tape is also a way to create government jobs when your country runs as a petro state. The Arab spring started in part because an infuriated would be business men flipped out over onerous regulation surrounding fruit vendoring. There’re a lot of failed and struggling states that are absolutely rife with that kind of regulation stuff.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to North says:

          It was more of a cultural observation.

          Still the debate over occupational licensing feels controlled by maximalists on both sides and that is displeasing. You have libertarian anarchists obsessed with cost lowering and minimalist states. Their view seems to be to fuck health, safety, and fraud prevention. And then you have rent seeking maximalists.

          I think good liberalism requires using government to protect health and safety and prevent as much fraud and grift as possible. A license is a good way of proving that someone has a floor of skill.Report

          • North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Doesn’t do anything about fraud or grift tho.Report

            • CJColucci in reply to North says:

              It gives the licensing authorities the ability to pull your license.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to CJColucci says:

                Provided the license can be pulled absent a criminal conviction. People tend to get real anxious when the government can strip away your livelihood without due process.Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                There is a vast and complex body of law about what process, if any, is due when the government either refuses to grant, revokes, or declines to renew a license. Just for a sample, you might enjoy Ace Partnership LLC v. Town of East Hartford (2d Cir. 2/28/18) involving pawn shops and metals dealers who dealt with suspicious goods. If I may make a somewhat cynical observation, however, it isn’t so much the case that A gets nervous when the government can yank B’s license and livelihood without due process as that A gets nervous when the government yanks A’s license, due process or not.Report

          • Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            This is pretty much where I am at, that maximalism, or as I would put it, ideology, is mostly the driving force behind much of this.

            Its hard to find people with actual standing to speak in their own voice about the harm they have suffered.
            As the OP notes, if barbering were unlicensed, how much of the fee would we get back into our pockets?

            I’m actually ok with sunset provision requiring us to re-evaluate these things every so often, and I wouldn’t defend every license and regulation.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              I like sunsetting. I wish that was something we used a lot more often when it comes to laws and regs.Report

              • Joe M. in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                I do too, but it looks not all that useful. US Congress has regularly passed pretty much the same pile of sun setting tax provisions. Again and again, year after year. I am relatively certain that no close look is taken at the individual pieces, outside of a congresscritter having a hate on for one specific one. But the onesey twosey congresscritters are not enough to stop the train. I would expect much the same once a substantial pile of individual sunsetting items accumulates. It’s even harder at state and local level where their legislators have drastically less time/resources.

                It’s better than nothing, but only barely.Report

          • Joe M. in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Fraud and grift should be addressed by the civil and, in extreme cases, the criminal justice system. Pulling it into the administrative licensing system seems to be doing it poorly. If the civil and criminal systems are not up to the tasks of dealing with these criminal and civil issues, fix them. Forcing people to purchase a stick so an administrative system can beat them instead of improving the existing sticks seems poor. If there is a problem with rampant fraud in dance classes, there is probably similar fraud ready to run rampant in other industries. Fix the core problem.

            Basic health and safety standards, that seems right for licensing. If you can’t do it safely, you cant do it at all. Beyond that there are options for signaling to consumers about other cost/quality vectors. Certifications/accreditations/ratings/reviews/etc.Report

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        This might be changing. I remember being 9 or 10 and being left in the house without a sitter by my parents for a few hours while they went to dinner and movie. Apparently this is verboten now.

        Maryland actually has this in its code, in the Family Law article:

        (a) A person who is charged with the care of a child under the age of 8 years may not allow the child to be locked or confined in a dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle while the person charged is absent and the dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle is out of the sight of the person charged unless the person charged provides a reliable person at least 13 years old to remain with the child to protect the child.

        I don’t know the history of why this was enacted, but I suspect it was to give clarity. There are obvious problems with a fixed cutoff age like that, but it avoids the problem of a mother getting arrested for leaving her ten-year old at home while running to the store.

        Also, my kids were entirely aware of this law. I don’t think I told them. I suspect that it is common schoolyard lore.Report

      • @saul-degraw

        The debate doesn’t even seem to exist in other countries about what the proper scope of occupational licensing.

        I could point to some controversies in Canada over licensing of coal dealers in the early 20th century.Report

  10. Murali says:

    In Singapore, barbers are not licensed and a haircut costs between SG$7-10. The current exchange rate between Singapore and US $ is 1USD = 1.31 SGD*. So a simple haircut is at least 60% cheaper in Singapore or a haircut in the US costs anywhere between 250% to 370% of a haircut in Singapore. How much of that is due to licensure? I dont know. Maybe some of it. Maybe a lot of it. But licensure contributes to some of the costs. As do general business regulations, minimum wages and other difficulties associated with doing business in America. A haircut in the UK costs me about £10 which is about 18 SGD. Again, nearly double of what I’d pay in Singapore.

    Barbershops are fronts for prostitution in Korea. They are not fronts for prostitution in Singapore. Probably not in India and Malaysia (not that I’ve noticed anyway). Do you know what tends to be a front for prostitution? Massage parlours and spas.The barbershop prostitution thing is a korean phenomenon as far as I can tell on Reddit. It’s not all over Asia.

    This is actually quite weak. Usually the exchange rate is about 1 USD = 1.6 SGD That means haircuts in the US would normally be more expensive if not for the devaluation ofthe dollar. If said devaluation persists I expect the nominal price to go up accordingly.Report

  11. Jaybird says:

    The Institute for Justice came out with a list of jobs that require licensure and ranked them by the burden of licensure. It’s from 2012 but that’s still close enough to today to complain about.

    Check it out.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

      (And the Reason link in the original story was from 2008. Here’s one from a few months ago that talks about the most outrageous licensing stories of 2017.)Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

      I am not outraged that many of these professions require licensing.

      One thing that barbers are allowed to do is give old timey shaves with a straight razor. I like to get these done as a treat every now and then. I would like my barber to know how to do this before they put a blade to my face and neck.

      Aesthecians apply hot wax and other chemicals to people. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to require training before this is allowed.

      Health, safety, and fraud prevention are valid government exercises.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Come the revolution, barbers could use a straight razor, AND serve meat pies downstairs.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        To be cliche, the devil is in the details. Does it take 4500 hours of school to learn the technique for using a straight razor on another man’s face? Or can that be done in maybe 8 hours, or perhaps through a simple skills assessment (shaving with a straight razor is a skill one can learn at home)?

        Licensing should have more than one path for verification whenever possible. If the only path available is a bevy of long, expensive classwork or subjective testing, we should call BS on it.Report

        • Jason in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          Yeah, I don’t think we can say that the licensing is onerous without looking at how one obtains a license. I doubt it takes 4500 hours of school (except for flat tops; it’s really hard to find a good flat top barber). It seems people here are automatically assuming the process is herculean and not reasonable.
          I’m not for “‘everything must have a license” but one possible benefit of a license is that it ensures people have at least a minimal interest in the occupation. It’s not perfect–I’ve been to licensed barbers who shaky-jaked me–but it could be worse.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jason says:

            Some folks take a more ‘trusting’ stance, and assume that the government would not put those requirements in place unless those were the absolute minimum requirements. The idea that such requirements could be the result of capture seems to escape them.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          I concur and this is my stance. The current licensing requirements might and probably are too onerous sometimes but then again maybe not.

          Since I do a lot of plaintiff-side law, I see a lot of people get injured because people have a tendency to get lazy and take ill-advised shortcuts instead of following proper procedures and instructions. I’m guilty of this too and it is something I try to combat and be aware of because best practices usually ends up saving time in the end (even if it feels like a burden at the time).Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            It’s why I think outfits like the IJ are doing a good thing. Take a look at existing law, find the low hanging fruit, and go after it. Grab all the PR you can because it might get people who would otherwise not care to be a bit more aware of how smaller government can be captured.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Also, hygiene. I’d prefer not to get lice from a previous customer because you didn’t clean your combs.Report

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Aesthecians apply hot wax and other chemicals to people. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to require training before this is allowed.

        We had a case where a hair stylist applied an undiluted chemical that was supposed to be dliuted. It caused permanent damage to her scalp, such that parts of her hair would never grow normally. Got mid-five figures for that one.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

          Was that a case of “should have known and didn’t”, or a case of “thought it was but it wasn’t” (mislabeled)?Report

          • Richard Hershberger in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            It was a student at a hair styling school. The issue from a legal perspective was negligent supervision.Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            Either way it is negligence from a legal position. Knew or should have known is a standard language in a complaint.

            The point still stands that a lot of people are injured with varying degrees of seriousness because people get lazy and want to take short cuts.Report

        • DavidTC in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

          We had a case where a hair stylist applied an undiluted chemical that was supposed to be dliuted. It caused permanent damage to her scalp, such that parts of her hair would never grow normally. Got mid-five figures for that one.

          Yeah, I was about to say…a lot of people seem to be ignoring the fact that ‘barbers’ are often are in charge of applying chemicals to human beings that need to be applied in specific ways or they are dangerous.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to DavidTC says:

            Are these chemicals that can’t be had at my local Walgreens?

            One can make the case that the chemicals that a barber/stylist gets need to be diluted, but I fail to see how that requires any special training beyond RTFM.Report

            • DavidTC in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              Are these chemicals that can’t be had at my local Walgreens?

              They usually can be found there, yes.

              One can make the case that the chemicals that a barber/stylist gets need to be diluted, but I fail to see how that requires any special training beyond RTFM.

              We generally are a lot more lax with stuff you do to _yourself_ than stuff that other people, especially paid professionals, are allowed to do to you.

              I mean, this morning, I stuck my fingers in my eyes. Putting in contacts, obviously.

              If someone else needed to put their fingers in my eyes, this would probably be some long and complicated process, with some amount of training.

              Me? Nah. The eye doctor showed me how to hold my eye open (Left hand holding the eyelid, contact on right index finger, rest of right hand holding the bottom of the eye.) , and stick it in, and tada. Like two minutes of training, over twenty years ago.

              Because it’s my eye, and if I become lazy or something and screw up, and injure myself, I only injured myself.

              If I was trying to put contacts in other people’s eyes, the state would be entirely right to say ‘Uh, wait a second. Do you have any training in sticking-your-finger-in-people’s-eyes at all?’Report

        • PD Shaw in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

          The hair stylist had a license or didn’t have a license?Report

          • Richard Hershberger in reply to PD Shaw says:

            It was a student at a hair styling school. The issue from a legal perspective was negligent supervision.Report

            • PD Shaw in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

              Wasn’t the teacher licensed?

              The point being that licensing doesn’t necessarily cure negligence. Anybody can be negligent from time to time; that’s why there is insurance.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to PD Shaw says:


              • Richard Hershberger in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Not this. I have seen libertarians make precisely the same argument about why we shouldn’t have drunk driving laws. The underlying argument is that money can always be adequate compensation for death or injury. It is the only compensation the courts have available for these matters, but that is far from the same thing as being adequate, and an absolutely terrible argument against prevention.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

                No, this. In your case, you had a student (not licensed) being supervised by a teacher (licensed). The person holding the license still made the mistake. The license is not a shield against mistakes. Seriously, what does the license add to the case you handled that could not be gotten at by other means? The best the license can do is impose a duty upon the holder to be aware. I’m not sure why that same responsibility can’t exist absent the license (you are running a business and this product is a normal part of that business, you have a duty to understand how to use the product safely and ignorance is not an excuse for negligence).

                Also, I’m not sure how it relates to DUI/DWI? The libertarian argument against DUI is that it is something that can already be addressed through reckless driving laws, and the fact that it exists as a primary violation (rather than as a condition that makes the reckless driving more egregious) creates an incentive to keep the BAC limit as low as possible while giving police a reason to harass people while looking for drunks (check points, or things like LO8 on the recent Law & Order linky).Report

              • Richard Hershberger in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Prevention is better than compensation. The license adds the assurance that the person screwing up knew better. No, this doesn’t mean that the screw-ups won’t happen, but this is better than someone screwing up out of sheer ignorance. If you believe that compensation is just as good as prevention, then yes, this is all irrelevant. I think the idea bizarre, but apparently that’s just me.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

                Prevention is obviously preferred over compensation (for most people). But could that assurance of ‘knew better’ be achieved some other way? Insurance requirements do work when structured properly. I’d argue they can be more effective than licensing requirements, since insurance hits people in the pocket now, rather than some future possible date (if they screw up, which people always assume they won’t).Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                “could be achieved in some other way…”

                The answer is always yes, of course. Its rare that there is only one precise way of accomplishing a goal.

                But to what end, and why should we prefer that?

                This is the question that never seems to be answered, is what sort of alternate future is being proposed, and why should we find it more appealing to what we have now?

                I mean like in this particular instance, it seems like the proposal is instead of having a license, we pass a law mandating a mandate to buy insurance (which I am sure would not be controversial in the least!).

                But then to make sure it is actual, real insurance, we would have to have a bureaucracy draft regulations describing what insurance needs to cover, mandatory minimum levels, and make sure that the whole thing is affordable enough to not price out those at the bottom end, and yet make sure it is robust enough to pay off those injured.

                And then what we end up with is Obamacare, except for liability.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:


                Occupational insurance is a thing, and AFAIK, it doesn’t operate like that. Do you have an example of such a messed up occupational insurance scheme where there are insurers who are so sketchy but still manage to slip past the state insurance commissioner (whose main job is to make sure insurers are on the up and up)?Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Well no, because occupational licensing also exists, such that insurance is not used as the first and only remedy.

                Again, why would insurance-only be a preferable state of affairs?

                As the OP says, how much money would I get back? Where would the average person realize a benefit?Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Fair questions, and I assume the answer varies across occupations with regard to how much one gets back.

                My question would be, given that a business would get occupational insurance anyway in order to protect themselves, what does the license scheme provide that insurance can’t (and I don’t accept your hypothetical that absent licensing, insurance would become overly complicated unless government required it to be, re: Obamacare) versus what barrier to entry does the licensing impose?

                Is the licensing scheme so well done that people with a license see a significant decrease in their insurance rates? If it wasn’t a legal requirement, would insurers care about the license, or would they be fine evaluating the risk of the customer through other means?

                So it isn’t just my cost that concerns me. I’m not terribly concerned about the very minor costs that licensing adds to my bill, but rather the cost it imposes upon a person trying to gain entry.

                Hell, insurance absent licensing might actually cost more over the long term ($X premium/yr x Y years > cost of license), but if it’s a lot less than the cost imposed by the licensing, it might be preferable so a person can get started while they satisfy any licensing requirements.

                But in the end, look at all my comments here, and the thread you’ll see running through it is that there should be more than one way for a person to gain entry to a market. Some that have high upfront costs, but long term benefits; some with lower upfront costs, but additional restrictions , yadda yadda.

                I mean, we all know how I feel about ‘one size fits all’ approaches.Report

              • Damon in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

                There are plenty of reasons why “drunk driving” laws are bad-from the whole violation of the constitution, to actually not doing any harm, etc.

                As for the “money”. Unless you’re cool with “eye for an eye”, that’s about as good as you’re going to get. Or are you suggesting that we bring back the stocks or pillory?Report

              • Richard Hershberger in reply to Damon says:

                Prevention is better than compensation. In some cases, monetary compensation is utterly inadequate. Which would you rather have: a million dollars and spend every day in pain, or no money and not spend every day in pain?

                I have had this discussion before. The notion that every harm can be compensated (even before the practical consideration of will it be) is part of the libertarian mindset I just don’t grok.Report

              • Damon in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

                Hey, I’m all for “prevention”, just not at the cost of gutting the constitution. I kinda think that if our society wants a law that prevents something we should alter the constitution to allow that law to be passed, not do an end run around it.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I am not outraged that many of these professions require licensing.

        So that was the debate we were having?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Is a license the only means by which someone can learn and/or demonstrate the ability to perform these skills? How exactly does your barber learn to give a straight razor shave? Have you looked into this? Or do you just assume that license = competency?Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:

          Usually you go to school/take classes and then get your license. It probably varies from state to state. A woman I know from high school is an aesthecian in Portland. She trains/monitors and supervises people on how to apply wax while they are training for their licenses based on her FB posts.Report

      • PD Shaw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Given how few barbers give old timey shaves, this does not justify the size of the fenced-in area.

        (My barber used to give them, but he since fewer and fewer requested them over the years, he stopped. I personally think the license doesn’t offer any protections that a few questions wouldn’t improve upon)Report

        • Marchmaine in reply to PD Shaw says:

          Right… seems you might then license for “old timey shaves” and if you as a Barber wanted to risk Saul’s business, maybe don’t offer old timey shaves. That’s where licensing gets weird or turns in to the proverbial gate in the middle of nowhere.

          Are we laboring under some sort of out dated Barbery conceit that they are also apothecaries and blade masters? It seems curious to (partially) defend the idea of licensure for things nobody gets… or for things that many Barbers would have no problem dropping from their service. Then the stranger thing becomes the fact that you can’t be a barber at all until you master a practice nobody wants from a Barber.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to PD Shaw says:

          Questions are the caveat emptor part. I know I can book a shave without asking questions. Why should the burden be on the consumer? Why not the one who wishes to offer services?Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Why on the consumer? Because it’s your neck.Report

            • Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:

              This is the concept of caveat emptor that I’m explicitly rejecting. Consumer protection allows for more facilitation because it allows the consumer a relative ease. You don’t have to spend hours calling andquestioning each restaurant about what they do to avoid cross-contamination as an example. You can look at the posted grade from the local health and safety department and decide whether you can live with a restaurant with a B grade on these issues or not.

              It isn’t 100 percent but it seems to work more often than not.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                This is where I would speak from the POV of the interested third party, namely the public.

                There is a public benefit to making transactions frictionless and risk-free, where people can just buy the service and trust that the safety and efficacy have already been established by others.Report

              • Marchmaine in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Yes, but at what point is risky neck and straight edge work required to be a Barber? That’s the weird thing in this tangent.Report

              • PD Shaw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                Restaurant licensing is different because the system is backed by routine inspections. How frequently is your barber being evaluated for competence to give a shave with a straight razor?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                Curious you cite a DRAMATICALLY different system to justify the one you prefer.Report

              • @saul-degraw

                True story. In 1998 I got a summer job at a bagel shop and in order to work there, I had to get a “food handler’s license.” The process involved going to the place that distributed the license, shelling out $5, accepting a sheet with the answers on it, and taking a test (answer sheet in hand) about food safety. As far as I could see, the function of this particular license was to tax low-income workers. (I don’t know the original intention behind the license.)

                I realize you admit such regulation “isn’t 100%” and I suspect you probably don’t agree with the particular regulation* I’m relating in my example. But I just wanted to put it out there.

                *It might not necessarily have been a “regulation” in the sense of mandate. It might have been something like the bagel shop (which is a chain everyone has heard of) “voluntarily” complied even when it didn’t have to, all so it could claim, “we require all our employees to get a food handler’s license.”Report

              • Kazzy in reply to gabriel conroy says:

                Interesting story, @gabriel-conroy . I’ve had a few different jobs in food service… on campus dining hall, on campus catering, a day at the snack bar at a country club, and food delivery (with side work that involved handling and preparing food). None of them required a license of any kind or any formalized training that felt “official” even though all were pretty legit gigs (i.e., all paid on the books, even the delivery job which included an above-minimum-wage hourly wage).

                Which isn’t to say I didn’t get trained and/or observed for the requisite skills necessary for food safety and the like. It just came directly from my employer. Whether that was by mandate or their own choice, I don’t know.

                So it just has me thinking that in the places where we probably do want some level of oversight, licensure is not always the best option for many of the reasons you’ve cited.Report

              • gabriel conroy in reply to Kazzy says:


                Sorry it took me so long to respond….I just noticed your comment.

                Now that I think about what I wrote above, I’m not sure it was right of me to call it a “license.” And while I’m sure I showed the card (or “license” or whatever one should call it) to my supervisor, it’s probably the case that I could have not gotten the card and my supervisor(s) wouldn’t necessarily have cared. In other words… might not even have been a real employer requirement, but just something the chain, as an official policy, claimed to require so they could say they required it, but really didn’t care one way or the other.

                At any rate, my real “food safety,” etc., training was on the job. (Not that I didn’t know the basics already, having worked a lot of food service before that.)Report

          • PD Shaw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            You don’t care whether your barber is experienced in shaving with a strait razor, so long as he got a license sometime ago? You are a brave man.Report

          • Murali in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            In Singapore, when I get a haircut, the barber scrapes my nape, temples and sideburns with straight razor. There are some who even get a shave with a straight razor. Notably, he doesn’t have a license. But, being handy with a straight razor just is something you expect an Indian* barber to know how to do. And if you tend to get cut, you don’t go to him anymore. It’s just a nick. The question of whether caveat emptor should apply can usefully be answered by assessing what risks are being imposed and what burdens are we asking people to bear in order to avoid imposing the risk. If I have to impose a relatively heavier burden so that I avoid a small risk of minor harm then it would be wrong to impose that burden. So, in barbershop cases caveat emptor applies because the consequences are small on the customer end.

            *When I was a child I used to go to one at seletar market**. After my dad had a falling out with the barber (because he refused to cut my hair for a particular religious ceremony), we went to one that was slightly further away at Lorong Lew Lian. This guy happens to be the same guy who used to gut my father’s hair when he was young and his father’s hair and so on.

            **Of course Seletar Market burned down and doesn’t exist anymore. It used to be where Greenwich village is now. (and so now you know roughly where I would stay if I were in Singapore )Report

  12. Oscar Gordon says:

    Chesty and his damn gate. Sometimes the purpose of a gate is obscure, and some research is required as to the intent behind erecting it. And sometimes the original intent is relatively pointless because the current purpose is obvious, given that there is a guy with a sword offering to open the gate for you, for a ‘reasonable’ fee.

    I’m fine with the idea of a service provider being required to demonstrate competence when incompetence can result in significant injury or property damage. Doctors, architects, engineers, etc. @saul-degraw has a point that caveat emptor isn’t a very efficient method of handling frauds. And yes, I recognize that definition is a bit vague (this is a blog comment, not a formal policy proposal).

    State Licensure should not be used to counter bad business practices (re: dance school), and it most certainly should not be controlled by local entities (cities, etc.). Ideally (in my libertarian utopia), the state would not be in the business of licensing anyone, but would instead simply regulate professional orgs (so as to avoid cartelization of the orgs) and the professional orgs would set and enforce standards.

    Failing that, what I’d like to see is for states to pull all licensing up to the state level, and for the feds to set a requirements floor. So, for instance, your Interior Designer[1] license would have to meet a federal minimum standard that shows basic understanding of how residences are normally constructed in the US, and if a state could show cause, they might have to demonstrate a small amount of knowledge that is specific to that state (e.g. CA has earthquake concerns, LA us swamp/flooding concerns, etc.). That way, if your designer has to relocate, all they have to do is bone up on the subset of local issues.

    Also, licensing can be somewhat granular. To take an example from LA, if all you want to do is make caskets, you shouldn’t have to get licensed to prepare bodies for internment (funeral director). Or if all you want to do is braid hair, you shouldn’t have to get trained in all forms of hair styling[2]. And the process needs to be as objective as possible. No being required to demonstrate subjective skill to a board of entrenched parties. If it can’t be assessed with a written test or an objective skills test, it shouldn’t be part of the licensing process.

    Finally, licensing should not have any equipment requirements. Licensing should only be about objective skill & knowledge. Any kind of legitimate equipment requirements should fall under the business license and be limited toward whatever the person is licensed to do (so, again, the casket maker can’t be required to buy internment equipment if they have no intention of preparing a body for internment).

    [1] I actually just contracted with a designer to prepare drawings for a planned addition to my house.

    [2] Hair styling should not be licensed. If there are concerns that hair styling chemicals are hazardous, the business license can address what a person should know if they intend to keep such chemicals on hand.Report

    • James K in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


      State Licensure should not be used to counter bad business practices (re: dance school), and it most certainly should not be controlled by local entities (cities, etc.). Ideally (in my libertarian utopia), the state would not be in the business of licensing anyone, but would instead simply regulate professional orgs (so as to avoid cartelization of the orgs) and the professional orgs would set and enforce standards.

      Milton Friedman suggested using mandatory liability licensing as a solution – the idea is that the insurance companies will mandate standards to manage their costs, but because there will be competing regulators to choose from they can’t afford to be overly risk-averse either.Report

      • PD Shaw in reply to James K says:

        At what time, our state required a tree-cutting license; the sole purpose of which was to require insurance. In other words, someone filled out the application and provided proof of insurance, sent it to the state to be filed. Eventually, they cut the middle man and simply passed a statute requiring people in the business of tree-cutting to obtain insurance.Report

        • Michael Cain in reply to PD Shaw says:

          When I was working for our state legislature’s budget committee, the subject of inspections for small-town traveling carnival rides was proposed. One of the alternatives I included in the analysis was a simple insurance requirement, in effect shifting the inspection burden to the insurance companies. Nothing got passed — the carnies and the small towns argued that the premiums would drive price increases large enough to make the entire business unworkable; the state inspection proposal died when one of the legislators described it as “the Front Range funding another subsidy for the rural areas.”Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      And sometimes the original intent is relatively pointless because the current purpose is obvious, given that there is a guy with a sword offering to open the gate for you, for a ‘reasonable’ fee.

      A guy with a sword doesn’t prevent the gate from keeping the bulls in the pasture and out of the soccer field, unless he accepts payments in cud. Taking the gate down because the guy with the sword is the obvious thing you see when you walk up to the gate, does…Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to dragonfrog says:

        Chesty’s gate isn’t the pasture gate, it’s the gate across the road. If the guy with a sword is keeping the gate closed because of the bull, then some farmer has just co-opted a right of way for his own private purposes.Report

        • dragonfrog in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          Sure – wouldn’t you want to know that so you can make the farmer put in a proper fence all the way along the side of their pasture before you take out the gate that they built to save a few grand on fence materials?

          You still need to know why the gate is there.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to dragonfrog says:

            Sure, verify why the gate is there. When I ask the guy with the sword why there is a gate, he tells me about the bull. When I ask him to show me the bull, he says, “trust me, there’s a bull”.

            Since he’s covering the road, I think I have a right to demand he show me the bull, and prove it’s dangerous.Report

  13. LeeEsq says:

    Another point on dance stufio. The franchise dance studios are notorious in the business for shady business practices, Aurthur Murray in particular. You need to go to the independent studios to get the real deal.Report

  14. Kaleberg says:

    So many laws are just scar tissue. We used to have a wonderfully high death rate from infectious disease. Nowadays, just about every profession that involves touching another person or preparing food has some level of licensing. Many yearn for the good old days. Our town recently dropped fluoridation, and I’m sure there will be pressure on the vile and dangerous practice of chlorination soon enough.

    I know some regulations are kind of ridiculous, but the government is just like the private sector. If you deal with any large organization, you’ll find yourself dealing with perfectly reasonable people behaving insanely. The difference is that you can do without a phone, food, banking and so on, but you are stuck with the government.

    P.S. Someone should point out that the ICC was killed by the completion of the interstate highway system which opened the railroads to competition by truckers. When those hair cutting nanobots they promised us any day now, back when I was an undergraduate in the 1970s, are working properly, they’ll lighten up on this barbershop thing.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Kaleberg says:

      I like that phrase, “scar tissue”. I may appropriate it in the name of the people.

      The building code is essentially an oblique history of building disasters. After every catastrophic fire, earthquake, or collapse, the code committees revise the section dealing with whatever happened, in an attempt to prevent another one.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        Largely true re: building codes, but every once in a while you find a bit of capture or rent seeking tucked in there, usually with some thin justification.

        Will had a link a while ago that talked about how US codes often greatly inflate the cost of solar power installation without adding any real safety benefit.Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          I agree with that.
          One thing I am thinking of is that up until about 20 years ago, you could sit for the Architect’s license in California without having gone to any school; all you had to do is demonstrate 8 years of apprenticeship under a licensed architect.
          They changed it to require a Bachelor’s degree, in no small part due to lobbying by schools.

          Without going into the weeds of why, I am firmly of the opinion this was unnecessary and did nothing to benefit the public interest and if Reason or CATO started agitating to have this removed, I would join the cause.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            My wife’s grandfather worked as a mechanical engineer for decades without a degree. He apprenticed, then sat for the EIT & the PE exams[1].

            A lot of states still offer this as a route to professional accreditation, although most larger companies that hire engineers aren’t interested in that game (so you have to find work with a smaller firm will to take on an apprentice).

            [1]Since my wife won’t let me chase rainbows, I mean, a PhD, I’ll probably sit for the PE in a year or two.Report

          • PD Shaw in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            The apprenticeship aspect is what ultimately makes me ambivalent about some of the licensing here. If I wanted to start working as a barber, I would have to find a way to learn the skills, which would mean either on-the-job training or schooling. Requiring schooling is more about precluding the former option, which I don’t favor, but it’s not like apprenticeships are that attractive these days anyway.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to PD Shaw says:

              Family businesses still exist. The person who grew up working in their family barber shop probably doesn’t need the schooling, or as much of it.

              Likewise, immigrants may have learned a trade back home but have no credentials that are recognized, and have no path to licensing beyond going to school.

              I’m with you on this, it isn’t the school requirement that bugs me as much as the environment being set to only accept a single path toward license.Report

              • Jason in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                I totally agree with the need for multiple paths for occupations that need licensing. As an example, I’ve taught many people in our school’s teacher education program, but I couldn’t get a school district job because I don’t have a license. This is reasonable if I were going to an elementary school as I don’t have the experience/training to deal with kids at that level. I could handle high school students, though.
                There is a short cut: a temporary license while I would take required courses to earn the license, but even that seems superfluous. (this seems similar to your family barber shop example)Report

  15. Roger says:

    I like that Chesterton quote. It gets to a problem with deregulation in general. If the regulation was designed to correct some problem, no matter how ham-fisted, eliminating the regulation can create a hole in a complex system, which affects how the rest of the system works.

    Hayek’s insights that institutions are usually not exactly rationally designed applies both to care in setting regulations and to eliminating them. Unintended consequences and externalities (usually but not always negative) are a reality.

    That said, I could easily come up with a number of reasons why licensing serves a purpose. I could also come up with a list of how many (not necessarily all) these restrictions could be replaced with general rules, regulations, certification, competition and other solutions which don’t require licenses.

    I could also come up with a huge list of absurd licensing restrictions, which obviously reveal the rent seeking nature of the cartel. And this gets to the heart of the matter and the cost of cartels.

    The victim of the “privilege seeking”isn’t so much the person paying a few bucks extra for a haircut, shave or weave. Indeed, any familiarity with Public Choice literature and the works of Mancur Olson reveals that is one reason why they get away with the rent seeking — the benefits are concentrated and the costs are diffuse, invisible and frankly, negligible.

    No, the direct victim of the licensing is the potential worker who is barred from offering their services at a lower price. Cumulatively, this then adds up to an inefficiency “tax” as more and more trades set up higher hurdles to entry, and unions set up barriers to employment, and cartels set up barriers to competition. This makes the network of decentralized economic cooperation less effective and efficient. It locks people out of opportunities, it locks them out of moving to better markets (needing a new license), and it incentivizes employers and entrepreneurs to take their ideas and capital elsewhere (sound familiar).

    The lesson I take from it is that licensing may be called for in some examples. But the burden of proof I would place on it would be extremely high. Other problems can and should be handled other ways, top down in some cases bottoms up in others (such as competition and certification).Report

  16. DavidTC says:

    Let’s flip this around and ask the opposite question: Even if there is a problem, is licensing people the solution?

    A lot of people are saying that dance studios used to be hotbeds of fraud. Same with barber shops being hotbeds of crime.

    And…I do not really see how ‘licensing’ does anything about either of those.

    For the barber shops, licensing to stop crime doesn’t make any sense at all…no one is suggesting that those aren’t real barbers, and the crime seems completely incidental to what is going on. So I can’t figure out how this is supposed to work as a justification, unless the theory is that it would somehow create less barber shops so less crime. But even if somehow it stops happening at barber shops, it would still happen at coffee shops or fast food places or wherever. (This is to not say that we should not license barbers, just to say that that specific reason isn’t a good reason to license them.)

    Dance studios, however, maybe be often fraudulent and preying on people, and perhaps should be paid attention to by the government…but does _licensing_ people seem like a good way to do that?

    The fraud here seemed to be the basic ‘educational fraud’ of over-selling the benefits of the ‘education’ with absurd promises of future earnings while in reality the plan are just to bilk people out of all their money. (Aka, Trump-University-style fraud.)

    The problem with trying to use ‘licensing’ to solve this is…this sort of fraud can happen in literally any field that could conceivably lead to a career. Do we want to license _all_ ‘amateur’ education? People giving piano lessons? Classes in how to use a computer? People who make monetized how-to videos on YouTube?

    We have, specifically, sectioned off a type of education called ‘higher education’ and require people (Or, really, institutes) to be licensed (or accredited) to operate there.

    All the rest of education is just ‘some guys you pay to teach you stuff’, and while we do need laws about them over-promising results and defrauding people by claiming they will make their money back because they will instantly have a successful career in whatever stuff they were taught, we _have_ those laws, as far as I am aware.

    And I’m not sure how creating a barrier to entry is supposed to stop this. Presumably, the license would be about dance skill and knowledge, and not ‘you cannot promise people they will instantly get jobs’. (Unlike Trump University, where they hired people who didn’t know any thing about real estate, I presume even fraudulent dance studios have to hire people who can dance to some extent, and can convey something that _feels_ like a dance lesson.)

    I can think of much more reasonable laws that would cripple this sort of fraud, in addition to ‘You are not allowed to make promises of employment or money-making’.

    For example, ‘you must publically post the prices of all your classes’, which would cause people to become suspicious when they notice that some classes are really cheap, some fairly expensive, and some very very very expensive. Because the intent is to slowly lead the marks up each level…and that falls apart when they can see what is going on.

    There are probably other things to do so. Maybe ‘average payments from each student’. I dunno.Report

    • Marchmaine in reply to DavidTC says:

      Turns out Sensei Ira was a bit of a sheister. Sensei Billy says most people don’t spend $150k over twenty years to earn their black belt
      ~Dwight K. Shrute.

      Then again, I think Karate instructors have to be certified and licensed… but I can’t even tell where our argument stands anymore.


      • DavidTC in reply to Marchmaine says:

        And the thing is, as long as ‘Sensei Ira’ doesn’t make any specific promises about anything, it’s hard to see what sort of fraud there even could be.

        We, as society, assume people can, in some manner, judge the ‘non-professional’ education they are purchasing, but that doesn’t help if they fall too far down the competency level to judge that.

        When you think about it, this isn’t really too different than anything else. There are a lot of bad but really expensive steakhouses out there, for example. Legally, they are serving steak, even if it’s not very good steak. They are not committing fraud in any manner, so whatever. They can legally buy $5 worth of steak of Walmart, cook it poorly, and sell it for $60. There is a bare minimum definition of the cut of the steak they called it, and as long as it meets that, it’s not fraud.

        And, likewise, how could we know how much karate lessons should cost? I mean, there probably is some super-expert in the field who charges outrageous amounts and is ‘worth it’, I dunno. Karate experts travel to see him from all across the globe, seeking private lessons, ready to pay any amount, hiking up the side of a mountain in…Kenya, because this hypothetical guy is Kenyan. (Bet you thought I was going to go with a stereotype, huh?)

        Admittedly, this expert is probably not Sensei Ira, but it _could_ be.

        All we can really do, besides barring outright lies as fraud, is make people aware if something is _structured_ like a con, which means letting them know how long and how much money things are going to take before they get into it. And perhaps barring high-pressure sales tactics like ‘You must accept this offer for this new advanced (read more expensive) class _right now_.’

        Honestly, just some sort of basic transparency rules like ‘Everyone offering classes to the public must post the cost of all scheduled future classes and deadlines for application, and cannot lie about how full a class is to instill a false sense of urgency in the signup’ would sabotage a lot of the scams, which rely on people not knowing the cost going in, and later falling for the sunk cost fallacy.

        And this requirement would not bother actual honest educational businesses, who would mostly be baffled at being ‘required’ to post something they do already.

        Of course, some people will always still sign up for obviously scammy things. But what can you do? Some people are just easy marks.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to DavidTC says:

      The fraud that went on in dance studios didn’t involve fake lessons. It more involved preying on people’s loneliness and fantasies. Things like learning how to dance will make you popular with the ladies or you will be the next Ginger Rogers.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to LeeEsq says:

        The fraud that went on in dance studios didn’t involve fake lessons. It more involved preying on people’s loneliness and fantasies.

        Yes, I know, which is why I’m not sure making sure that licenses, which would ensure that the instructors can ‘really dance’, has anything to do with it.

        Heck, it’s possible to come up with a situation where not only are the instructors licensed, they don’t have anything to do with the fraud…the people signing people up are the ones over-promising, and the instructors are just teaching a real, legit dance class.

        Things like learning how to dance will make you popular with the ladies or you will be the next Ginger Rogers.

        Promising students they will have a career like Ginger Rogers can be fraud. What sort of career former students have can be objectively determined, with statistics, and people should not be allowed to make random claims to get new students or encourage them to keep with their studies. Unless the studio can show that their average graduate is in Hollywood dancing in movies under contract, in a career that averages to be roughly like Ginger Rogers (Which is a bit absurd, because if there were hundreds of Ginger Rogers everyone would know), they should not be allowed to promise that.

        Higher education institutes are required to keep statistics, or at least try to keep statistics, of people who get jobs ‘in their field’. I am not saying that, uh, ‘lower education’ institutes should be required to keep statistics, but if they are making promises, they better have those statistics. Or, better, not make such promises.

        The theatre I volunteer at offers summer day camps to children for acting. We don’t make any promises at all except ‘We will try to teach your kid acting’. The closest we come is anecdotes of ‘Here is a success story of us…this person was in our camps, acted in our shows, and is now traveling the world, singing as part of the entertainment on a cruise ship.’ or ‘And this person is currently acting at Disney World'(1) or whatever, but we don’t ever say that ‘This will happen to your kid’, because, well, we’re honest people and we have no idea.

        But I am not sure that promising that you will ‘popular with the ladies’ can, or should be, fraud, because there is no way to measure that. Also, that is sorta the implicit promise of a _lot_ of advertising…it seems a bit silly to let a body spray promise that and not a dance studio. Honestly, the dance studio has a better chance of actually pulling that off, as learning ballroom dancing will teach a minimal level of confidence, body awareness, and ability to interact with women, so can be advantageous for men who do not currently have those things, whereas I’m dubious that body sprays on a man have ever attracted a woman in the entire history of hetrosexuality.

        1) Disney World is the inescapable black hole of local young amateur theatre actors. At least here in Georgia, I’m sure it’s stronger in Florida, and probably peters out as you get farther away. I am convinced Disney wanders around actively recruiting young adults from productions. At some point, we stopped telling those Disney ‘success’ stories because they’re kinda dumb and repetitive…it sounds exciting at first, working for Disney, until people realize there is basically no career there, and they will be walking around in that Goofy outfit or singing in the pirate stage show forever. They’re not going to suddenly become Miley Cyrus (replace that with whoever the current Disney star is, I have no idea), that’s an entirely _different_ talent pipeline.Report

  17. Aaron David says:

    I hold an EPA universal license, under 608. It took me about a half hour of studying, followed by a quick memorization test. Cost $40 bucks. This allows me to work with substances that if improperly handled will result in phosgene gas in your building. That is the technical name for mustard gas.

    The test didn’t cover that.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Aaron David says:

      On the plus side, next time you need to get rid of some pests down hill and down wind, call Aaron.Report

    • DavidTC in reply to Aaron David says:

      The test didn’t cover that.

      I sometimes wonder if a lot of these tests, especially the things that are blatant ‘memorize some stuff and then take a test on exactly what you memorized’, are actually a combination of intelligence/Dunning-Kruger test.

      As you smart enough to figure out what is going to be on this test, and know enough to know you should look it up?

      If so, congratulations, you are smart enough to hopefully read the labels of dangerous chemicals before using them!Report

    • scott the mediocre in reply to Aaron David says:

      Phosgene (POCl2) is indeed a gas chemical warfare agent (by standard statistics the source of most chemical warfare deaths in Big Mistake 1, though that statistic is somewhat complexified by the fact that the Germans at least often used Phosgene-Chlorine mixtures), and it’s nasty stuff in a variety of ways, but it’s not mustard gas (a family of chemicals, the most common of which is Bis(2-chloroethyl) sulfide).

      I’m curious in a morbid way what the pathway to phosgene from chemicals you would normally work with is – I assume chloroform plus an oxidant? Or do you typically use carbon monoxide sources in your work? (CO + Cl2 plus something that resembles activated carbon for the reaction surface => instant phosgene plus heat for good measure)

      I dunno, but in terms of worries associated with pesticides and not as competent as one would hope applier of some, I’d worry more about persistent agents like organophosphates, although I would also hope the EPA pays more attention to them.Report

      • Aaron David in reply to scott the mediocre says:

        Not pesticides, but refrigerants. Specifically non-blended (neither azeotropic or zeotropic) of the CFC class such as Halocarbons. When an open flame is applied it forms phosgene. Open flame is used when brazing a leaking high pressure system. Normally, the system is evacuated to 4 microns, but when the leak is so bad as to completely empty the system there is no requirement to evacuate.Report

        • scott the mediocre in reply to Aaron David says:

          My apologies – I shoulda looked up the EPA 608 reference. Certainly chloroform plus open flame => phosgene, but I’m kind of surprised that fluorine bonds (the “F” in CFC) would dissociate at an energy that would give significant phosgene yield. Is the problem with refrigerants that contain only chlorine? (a quick glance at the standard R-numbers suggests that chlorine or chlorine-bromine refrigerants are not in common use; the standard replacements for the ozone-depleting CFCs in consumer-like uses seem to be fluorinated ethanes, e.g. R-134A, R-404A, R-407C, R-410A). What sort of equipment uses chlorinated or chloro-brominated refrigerants like R-20, R-30, R-110, or whatever? Or do the combo chloro-fluoros have a pathway to phosgene in dangerous quantities? Interesting …

          Thanks in advance for the knowledge!Report

          • Aaron David in reply to scott the mediocre says:

            R22 (Freon) was the standard refrigerant for decades and although azioropics such as R410 are now common in the residential world, when you get to the big building system that are over a decade old, the older Rs are very common, as the newer blends cannot be retro fitted to a built up system*. I am not sure if you are an engineer or chemist so pardon the reschooling, but the bottom line on that is the fittings, tubing, compressor, etc. (in other words the system) is not built for the pressure that newer, more environmentally friendly, refrigerants require. Let alone the run times, a topic that many older HVAC profesionals feel negates the gains made from the new AC types.

            *By built up system, I am not talking about a package or split system dropped into a residential unit, but rather the formulated system of combined boilers, chillers, ice storage, cooling towers and the other energy saving systems, all of which are designed to get around the raw costs of energy.Report

            • scott the mediocre in reply to Aaron David says:

              Chemical engineering degree here, which I have not used in ages. But I was going at this from my P chem background, according to which burning R-22 (in open air) should not have produced much phosgene, i.e. not much in comparison to the amount of chlorine, which should have given anybody breathing the fumes a warning to get the hell out. After reading some accident reports, what I suspect is going on is that the fire in the presence of monochlorodifluoromethane (R-22) produces lots of free chlorine, and secondary incomplete combustion of wood, paper, etc. is producing carbon monoxide – recall from my original post that carbon monoxide and chlorine over activated carbon is one of the two standard industrial syntheses of phosgene, chloroform plus oxygen being the other.

              So you are probably not at as much risk as you think brazing leaks on piping etc., since there should not be any carbon monoxide to speak of present, but no point in taking the chance.

              BTW, before I got to nearly-primary literature, I was amazed by how often I read on various HVAC fora that phosgene and mustard gas are the same thing – I don’t know if you have access to some sort of professional education group that might be ample to stamp that error out, but it might be worthwhile along with clarifying the R-22 – phosgene risk, as I also found a variety of people arguing back and forth about whether or not R-22 + fire can or cannot produce phosgene, when clearly it can (n.b. I don’t have the requisite HVAC engineering knowledge to understand when replacing R-22 with a pure fluorocarbon like R-410 is not feasible, but I can guess that in older plants it is often an iffy proposition).Report

              • Aaron David in reply to scott the mediocre says:

                I will defer to your greater knowledge of the chemical processes involved and simply state the the mustard gas idea was passed down to me via the classroom, so it is probably been passed down for generations in the field. I know at least one four year school with a great engineering rep, CPSLO, that had once offered a BS in refrigeration engineering, but as the field has slipped down to trade schooling, info such as you just presented seems to be lost. Mores the pity.

                As far as the mechanical side of things and swiching out refrigerants, every piece is sized by the amount of refrigerant that flows through the system, its gas or liquid volume at various points, the pressure it operates at, etc. This is a primary job, especially with the larger, built up systems, of mechanical engineers. And due to the cost of these systems, along with projected life spans, changing them out for newer refrigerant using systems is certainly possible, but not high on any building engineers list. The longer they are kept working, the more money is “found.”

                In any case, this is a field I no longer work in, but it is nice to test the old noggin, and learn new things!Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to scott the mediocre says:

        This subthread has gotten way more interesting. I’m taking notes.Report

        • scott the mediocre in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          I am most honored, given your vastly greater knowledge set on almost all topics (I guess this is one where I am the stopped watch). Phosgene is indeed one of the nastiest substances that can be relatively easily produced with modestly low tech methods (i.e. by a non-state actor using chemicals that are easily divertable); for terror purposes though it has the undesirable properties that the action is pretty slow – you can get a fatal dose and not know it for 24 hours or so (i.e. fatal given late 20thC first world medical treatment if treatment is only sought after you become symptomatic). Slowness of action is why the Germans in WW1 switched to faster acting and/or more persistent agents once they had them, although ISTR that the Japanese used phosgene on the battlefield in China once or twice in the late 30s.Report

  18. Kolohe says:

    bookmaking, selling stolen merchandise, drug dealing, brothels

    3 out the 4 of these are only illegal because of what is also an occupational licensing for those professions.Report

  19. David J. Hamburg says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

    I do like the metaphor of “scar tissue” mentioned by Kaleberg above. Sure, we can overreact to bad things happening, but often time there is a very good reason that the law stepped in.

    Perhaps the barbers or whoever are overdoing it. But I would like to see someone take it the reasons seriously, instead of seizing upon regulatory capture every time and thinking everything is absurd. No doubt, there are absurdities, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. I mean, maybe all that hygiene training or whatever is paying off. I’ve never had lice and hope never to have them. I’ve never had polio either, but that doesn’t mean I think the vaccination is stupid.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to David J. Hamburg says:

      The problem with the vaccination analogy is that a vaccination costs you a moment of discomfort and maybe a $20 copay. Licensing can incur significantly greater costs for the person seeking it.

      This is not to say OL is bad, only that it is a system that can be captured and abused (and has, quite often) and thus it is a legitimate cause of action to regularly review and question the need for, or the specifics of, any given licensing scheme.Report

    • Aaron David in reply to David J. Hamburg says:

      The bottom line seems to be that in most cases OL is there for a formerly good reason (scar tissue) that may or may not be relevant at this point. And so, on a case by case basis, we should be looking to see if the licensing protecting the public from some malady. Or,alternately, is simply gov’t rent seeking coupled with creating a walled garden for those who already posses the license. See also taxi medallions.

      Chestersons fence is is a handy tool, but it wont tell you about dangers you don’t believe in.Report

    • j r in reply to David J. Hamburg says:

      I agree with @oscar-gordon. The vaccination analogy doesn’t work. Vaccinations go through multiple rounds of clinical testing that attempt to determine that the treatment is safe, does what it claims, and doesn’t have harmful side effects. If we think that occupational licensing is the way to go, then let’s submit it to same approval and re-approval processes.

      Also, just how much can we trust the people who make these licensing rules? Maybe we ought to make them pass a test first…Report

  20. I haven’t read the comments yet, but I wanted to say this: I think I’m mostly on the other side of this issue from where you are…..But I, too, am sometimes bothered by the (usually libertarian) “ohmygosh, can you believe the stupid things that require licenses!!!!!!!!!!”….and I think your framing it in the context of Chesterton’s fence is a good framing.

    Even if (I think) I ultimately disagree, yours is an argument that needs to be made and made more often. Thanks for writing it.Report

  21. Patrick says:

    I suspect that when you unpeel a lot of regulation regarding licensing you’re going to find a lot of courts cases that went the obviously wrong way.

    The occupation was X, which folks generally assume has a set of competencies C. Some customer ran afoul of getting X from some person, the customer attempted to get redress through the court system, and got bufkus because the jury didn’t believe that C was the right set of things. The general public (or, more likely, a legislator) looked askance… wait, shouldn’t that guy (or gal) have known they were supposed to know about C?

    Very well, we will codify C. Now if a customer runs afoul of someone providing X and not knowing about some element of C, the case is pretty cut and dried: they weren’t following the requirements (also, they can be independently fined and lose their license).

    The fundamental error, which I think the Chesterton quote obscures over to some extent (although I’ve always been a fan of that quote), is that we’re not talking about gates and pastures, because this stuff isn’t *designed*, per se.

    Instead we’re coming across what appears to be some utterly bonkers animal and looking at it and saying, “Well, God was drunk when he designed this platypus thing!”

    The reality is that the platypus isn’t designed at all. There’s no purpose for it, except to survive and produce offspring like anything else, so the reasons *why* it is the way it is aren’t aesthetics or optimizing resource gathering… it’s “did your version of the platypus beat out previous versions of the platypus”.

    I suspect that most licensing has evolved like that; it’s a political construct and thus has an evolutionary history, not a architectural history.

    And yes, I suspect some rent-seeking is involved. Also there’s the tendency of folks to glorify their own jumping through hoops and use that as a justification for hoop jumping: “In my day, I had to take a civil service exam and six competency tests to get a job as a clerk! Why are these kids bitching about a seventh exam?” So there’s a ratchet and it usually only goes one way.

    Unfortunately, folks who are predisposed to see how the ratchet only goes one way all too often just default to “well, throw away the ratchet”. Which ignores that the ratchet was there for a reason, and the turning of it one way was occasionally for good reasons, so maybe the right thing to do is just uncrank the ratchet 80 degrees.Report

    • Roger in reply to Patrick says:

      Well said, Patrick. I agree the ratchet is there for a reason. I will add that we should be very careful before we ratchet, and more careful, not less, over time.Report

  22. David J. Hamburg says:

    Part of the ballroom dancing example I think is being missed, in that, although the stories are rendered rather antiseptically as reported in court cases, I think you can see that the hapless clients romantically fell for the instructors (whether or not consummated), who used that to exploit them. It wasn’t simply overpraise or whatever.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that, if you’re reading this website or Reason magazine or whatever, although you are far from unvulnerable, you are more likely to possess above-average intelligence and communication skills. When you hire someone, you are more likely to ask around for recommendations, from your likewise high-SES friends, family, and acquaintances. You’re likely to check Google and Yelp. You can state your complaints in such a way that makes it more likely that others will take you seriously. You are more likely to know how to file a claim in small-claims court or, if need be, go to the police. So, even if there were no licensing, you are less likely to be the consumer who will either be victimized by the predatory or neglected by the incompetent.

    And even if someone did not have such advantages, there are ways of overcoming them. I have come to understand that many, many people have complaints about undertakers. The situation that is inherent when their services are necessary do not lend themselves to an arms-length bargaining – the body needs to be buried soon and the people arranging for it aren’t likely in an emotional state that would suit extensive shopping around.

    Nevertheless, I have only read about such complaints. Just over 20 years ago, I had the unfortunate experience of having to arrange my father’s funeral. I went to the undertaker and it was fine. He didn’t ask me for any money up front, didn’t sell me an overpriced casket or anything else. Of course, that guy and his father have been burying my family for the better part of 100 years. He grew up right next-door to my great-grandmother. My “network”, at least in this case, served up a competent, decent guy, and yours probably do most of the time, too. It took me a while to understand that – because of the nature of the underlying transaction – many people have been upset about how they’ve been treated by undertakers.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to David J. Hamburg says:


      In the ballroom dancing case, the question that hasn’t been answered is, how does licensing solve the problem of high pressure sales tactics bordering on fraud? A licensed dance instructor can still vastly over promise and over sell.Report

      • David J. Hamburg in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        What licensing or permitting generally does is prevent people from holding themselves out to the public as offering the licensed services. You can serve however many of your friends and family out of your kitchen, but once you put a sign up or whatever, the state takes an interest. It is much easier for a licensing authority to obtain an injunction ordering you to cease and desist, rather than after-the-fact reliance on criminal or contract law. If you should violate such an injunction, then that might be criminal contempt or there may be particular laws barring offering such services (e.g., the unauthorized practice of law). Is it going to stop someone from offering such lessons in their home or whatever? Maybe not, but it probably would be pretty effective at keeping someone from having a storefront on Main St. or a prominent website.

        The idea is to force our would-be ballroom dance instructor (and this goes for more than them) to obtain a license, which I presume would be accompanied by a disclosure as to whether that person has ever been convicted of a felony or other crime of dishonesty or been sued as a result of dance instruction. Again, such a disclosure would be under a criminal penalty, if false. In the real world, a false declaration is only going to be revealed if something bad happens. That would be a helluva lot easier to prove than some he-said-she-said. It’s not perfect and not going to catch every single one, but the idea is to take people at the greatest risk out of offense or re-offense out of the pool.

        Incidentally, I am somewhat struck by how much confidence people have in the criminal or civil court systems to provide post facto redress. Do you think these are working well?Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to David J. Hamburg says:

          I’ve taken lessons from unlicensed dance teachers and the pressure tactics really depend on the individual inclinations. Some are high pressure and others are not. The ones who emphasize the amount of hard work necessary tend to be the most reliable.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to David J. Hamburg says:


          Do they not have business licenses where you live? I know my office has to have one, and we are a satellite office of a global conglomerate. If the city or state pulled our license, we’d have to shutter the office.

          So given that business licenses are a thing, and pretty ubiquitous across the US (it’s how cities collect local taxes, after all), what does an OL do that can’t be done via a BL?

          Do you think these are working well?

          No, but for those of us questioning your position, harm to a customer is not the primary concern.Report

          • David J. Hamburg in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            Perhaps some local jurisdictions require them, but neither New York State nor New York City requires a general “business license”.Report

            • Colorado doesn’t have a “general business license”. For some types of business, you’ll need a business-specific license. But if you’re going to do anything except be a sole proprietor with no employees and with everything done in your name, you’ll need some sort of state document (incorporation, LLC, a tax number, etc). As I understand it, same deal at the federal level — unless it’s just you and very, very carefully kept that way, you’ll need an Employer Identification Number for tax purposes, even if there are no employees.

              The local bank wouldn’t let me open a business checking account unless I had a federal EIN.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to David J. Hamburg says:

              So in my mind, something like a general business license, or even some kind of business specific license, is a lot better for dealing with fraud than an occupational license. When I ran a business (long ago) it was a flat $50 fee and I was done. No significant cost barrier, no significant time investment, but if the state felt the need to pull my business license, I could not ‘do business’ legally until I got it reinstated.

              An OL is appropriate when it is imperative that a degree of competence must be demonstrated to protect public health and safety. For our hair stylist, their ability to style hair is not a public safety issue. Their knowledge of salon chemicals and their related interactions could arguably be, but that is a chemistry class, and has nothing to do with whether or not they know how to style hair. Or at the very least they should demonstrate that they know how to read an MSDS and look up chemical interactions.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to David J. Hamburg says:

      I’d note that all the court casss involve Arthur Murray rather than independent studios like the ones I attend. Arthur Murray is notorious for their ruthless practices in the dance scene. Most dancers tell people interested in dance to stay away because even st their best, Arthur Murray studios want the most money for the least instruction.Report

  23. LeeEsq says:

    Cracked provides a unique defense for occupational licensing. Licensing allows governments to train people as diverse as hair dressers, plumbers, cab drivers, and bankers to find signs of abuse, trafficking, and other evils and combat them.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to LeeEsq says:

      That’s a utility, not a defense. Could government not find other ways to get people trained without tie it to their license?Report

    • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

      From the article:

      While this is not a new idea, Illinois is the first state to actually require cosmetologists to go through the one-hour training class every two years if they want to renew their licenses.

      One hour every two years? I’m down.

      I don’t mind barbers needing 80 hours of training. I mind them requiring 400+.

      My problem with occupational licensing is *NOT* that it exists, it’s that it is onerous.Report