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by Thomas Casey

The role of licenses is to protect the public. The state government will set up a educational requirement along with a fee that allows an individual to work in a certain position. There are plenty of occupations the public generally knows to be licensed. Doctors, accountants, teachers are the obvious ones. The government requires these individuals to meet educational standards because they hold positions that have a great deal of influence over public well being. Licenses are a form of assurance for the government that workers with high influence over the public well being are prepared for the job. Through licenses, the government can keep track of the powerful practitioners. Licenses give the government the authority to arrest anyone who practices without the license. The previously listed occupations have a clear purpose for licensing requirements.  A clueless doctor could seriously harm patients. An inadequate accountant could distort an audit and deceive the public. A bad teacher could indoctrinate the youth with a deranged alphabet that begins with Q. Right, so those need protection, but how about a tour guide? Think the people who walk around parks or monuments and share fun facts. Does the government need to protect the public from terrible tour guides?

There’s an important distinction to make here. I would sure hope that the South Dakota tour guides would know the names of the four presidents on Mount Rushmore. The public in general wants the tour guide to be good. We want all workers everywhere to be good! The question is if the tour guide’s profession is important enough that the state government should require potential guides to undergo government education and pay a fee to get a license. Also, the state government must arrest anyone who gives tours and doesn’t hold the golden tour guide approval badge. Now that’s not necessary. The point here is that, though we want all workers to be good, the government should not fiercely license a whole bunch of occupations. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what governments have been doing lately.

Back in the good old days, circa 1950, about 1 in 20 jobs required a license from the government. Today, 1 in 3 jobs require a license. The good people at the Institute of Justice ran an extensive overview of the states for their licensing requirements. License to Work is an incredibly insightful study of states’ onerous licensing processes. The study found that all 50 states are guilty of upping the regulatory burden. The Institute of Justice report is amazing, and you should check it out to see how broken the seeming small time policy decisions can be.

I want people to get angry. Licensing seems like a small time policy issue, but the government is wielding it cluelessly. One instance in particular really got me riled. A common license the government mandates is for commercial cosmetology. We’re talking haircuts and foundations here, nothing remotely close to endangering public policy. Think back to the doctor. Now she needed a license from the government because if she were bad, she’d soon be jumping rope with your spleen than successfully operating on you. Now consider the haircutter. If he’s no good, you’ll look like a weirdo for a few weeks. Again, I emphasize that we surely hope that both the doctor and the haircutter are good. It’s just that only the doctor is important enough to have the government threatening arrest if she doesn’t get licensed.

Anyway, ignoring that it shouldn’t really be licensed in the first place, cosmetology is a ridiculously broad category. Leave it to the government to utterly botch the codified definition. Absurdly, an ancient art that requires no equipment whatsoever falls within the entrepreneurial death block of cosmetology. African style hair-braiding has existed long before petty state governments started throwing out arbitrary licensing rules. The braiding is technologically simple, but complex in practice. It’s also invaluable culturally. Commercial African hair-braiding began somewhat recently. Immigrants escaping war from the heart of Africa began seeking the American Dream in spectacular entrepreneurial fashion. Women arrived into this country without high school education, limited English skills and few contacts. They began making their way using the art of hair styling within their communities. We had a beautiful cultural exchange bringing economic prosperity to a new wave of Americans.

Enter the government.

I really, really get mad when the government is terrible. Seriously, take a guess as to how the government handled this situation. Tax breaks, promotions, a visit from the governor for a new doo? The government tried to arrest these women. You see, just because the braider consented to shape the hair, and the customer wanted to receive the service and there was very, very little danger involved doesn’t mean that we are “following public policy.” Our gracious, watchful government swooped in to arrest the hair-braiding menace before society crumbled.

“No, no, no,” the government said (probably condescendingly). “You must first obtain a license in cosmetology before performing this service that poses no risks and that you are an utter expert in.”

The government’s deal was that the hair-braiders had to go to a 14-month cosmetology school and spend between $7,000 and $14,000 to get a shiny license. Until then, the braiders had to shut down. If they so much as touched another person’s hair, off to jail they went. The real kicker is that none of the cosmetology schools in these states have classes on hair-braiding, let alone in an African style. The whole requirement is an utter waste.

A good deal of liberals I meet don’t understand what calls for “small government” are all about. The hair-braiding incident is a perfect example. At some point, the government became powerful enough to have full control over all things hair. Predictably, the government used this ability to strike against the people. And to whom did the government go against? Newly immigrated African women. I don’t want government to be able to send African women to jail because of hair-braiding.

I’ve given my super angry one example, but there are a ton of similar problems throughout the economy. The story usually goes that some sort of industry gets really complacent. The longtime industry members don’t want new workers to take their gigs. To protect themselves, the old guard gets the legislature to pass crazy obstacles to be legally allowed for the job. The whole thing flies by under the false guise of public protection. The super sad fact about this showdown is that the burden ultimately falls on the poorest Americans. Rich folks can afford a year of unpaid training and sky high fees to get a useless paper license. The poor, on the other hand, are immediately prevented from stepping into the industry. Safe to say these licenses are hurting the poor and vulnerable immigrants. It’s time for them to go.

There’s definitely been progress with the anti-license movement. Some state legislatures have realized that archaic rules hushed away in the monstrous bureaucracy have lasting negative effects. They’ve tossed them out in the name of a freer economy. Still though, a lot of states continue to fight tooth and nail in court. I guess the government is still super desperate to throw hair braiders in jail no matter what.   

In summation, a bulky, bureaucratic government absolutely trashes the rights of the least powerful members of our society. The economy needs an effective, but small government presence. The elimination of horrible licensing laws is a good step towards a small government. Hopefully one as small as the micro braids Mai African Hair Braiding styles in Des Moines.              

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