Politics & Policy

Liberty vs. License

Greg Abbiott
Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott leads the charge.

A fun fact: The emergency medical technician (EMT) responsible for aiding the victim of a car accident undergoes, on average, 33 days of training. The cosmetologist whose salon that driver just left studied for 372 days.

That the typical rescue worker requires fewer hours of training than the typical manicurist, barber, and interior designer is the upside-down result of occupational licensing, the wormhole of training courses, examinations, fees, and other hoop-jumping required by many states to ply a number of trades. As unions decline, occupational-licensing requirements are on the rise, facilitated by back-scratching among industries and legislators both state and federal.

In 2012, the Institute for Justice (IJ) released a study identifying 102 occupations that require licensing somewhere in the nation and in which practitioners made less than the national average income: EMT and cosmetologist are on the list, as are preschool teacher, vegetation-pesticide handler, florist, and a host of others. According to economists Morris Kleiner and Alan Krueger, just over one-third of jobs in the United States today require some sort of licensing.

And, of course, occupational licensing has its place: Health and safety concerns are often genuine, as is the instinct to protect consumers from fraudsters — hence all states and the District of Columbia require licensing for city-bus drivers and EMTs, and 39 states license mobile-home installers.

But licensing frequently serves as a regulatory mechanism to bar new competitors from entering a market and to drive up employees’ wages. As Kleiner and Krueger reported in the British Journal of Industrial Relations in 2010, “having a license is associated with approximately 15 percent higher hourly earnings.” Current players in a given industry, angling to safeguard their market share and to keep earnings high, have incentives to adopt or toughen licensing requirements.

The result, says Texas’s attorney general Greg Abbott, is “reduced job growth, decreased competition, higher prices, and discouraged innovation and investment.” Abbott, who is the Lone Star State’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, has a plan to fix that.

Texas requires licenses for only 34 of the 102 occupations IJ names, but IJ ranks the state’s overall licensing requirements — which apply to some 150 trades — 17th most burdensome in the country. “On average,” Abbott’s plan notes, “Texas’ regulation of the 102 identified professions requires an average of $304 in fees, 326 days of training, and two examinations.” Those requirements lock many people out of the job market, especially minorities, who already tend to be at an economic disadvantage.

Additionally, if, say, an unlicensed 22-year-old goes to work as an interior designer in Texas, she could go to prison. Willful violations of interior-design licensing requirements are Class C misdemeanors — of a piece with criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, and issuing bad checks, under Texas law.

Abbott’s plan would abolish criminal penalties for licensure violators and deregulate several occupations — interior designer, school athletics coach, auctioneer, and cosmetologist, among others. The plan would also require that future licensing regulations pertain only to those occupations having to do with health and safety (e.g., doctors in, florists out), and prohibit grandfather provisions.

The economic benefit to states would be significant. Job-seekers barred from the market by current licensing procedures could enter, as could entrepreneurs previously excluded by extensive red tape. Increased competition would drive prices down and spur innovation. Abbott’s is a simple plan that could occasion big gains.

The attorney general’s likely victory in November’s general election — his opponent, Democratic flash-in-the-pan Wendy Davis, has been trailing by an average of 13 points since April — means that most eyes are focused elsewhere. But candidates looking for a straightforward, actionable plan to give their state’s economy — and the national economy — a boost would do well to look to Texas’s future governor.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

Ian Tuttle — Ian Tuttle is the former Thomas L. Rhodes Journalism Fellow at the National Review Institute.

Most Popular

PC Culture

Hate-Crime Hoaxes Reflect America’s Sickness

On January 29, tabloid news site TMZ broke the shocking story that Jussie Smollett, a gay black entertainer and progressive activist, had been viciously attacked in Chicago. Two racist white men had fractured his rib, poured bleach on him, and tied a noose around his neck. As they were leaving, they shouted ... Read More
World

Ilhan Omar’s Big Lie

In a viral exchange at a congressional hearing last week, the new congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, who is quickly establishing herself as the most reprehensible member of the House Democratic freshman class despite stiff competition, launched into Elliott Abrams. She accused the former Reagan official ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Strange Paradoxes of Our Age

Modern prophets often say one thing and do another. Worse, they often advocate in the abstract as a way of justifying their doing the opposite in the concrete. The result is that contemporary culture abounds with the inexplicable — mostly because modern progressivism makes all sorts of race, class, and ... Read More
PC Culture

Fake Newspeople

This week, the story of the Jussie Smollett hoax gripped the national media. The story, for those who missed it, went something like this: The Empire actor, who is both black and gay, stated that on a freezing January night in Chicago, in the middle of the polar vortex, he went to a local Subway store to buy a ... Read More
U.S.

White Progressives Are Polarizing America

To understand how far left (and how quickly) the Democratic party has moved, let’s cycle back a very short 20 years. If 1998 Bill Clinton ran in the Democratic primary today, he’d be instantaneously labeled a far-right bigot. His support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, ... Read More
Elections

One Last Grift for Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the antique Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate, is not quite ready to retire to his lakeside dacha and so once again is running for the presidential nomination of a party to which he does not belong with an agenda about which he cannot be quite entirely ... Read More
PC Culture

Merciless Sympathy

Jussie Smollett’s phony hate-crime story could have been taken apart in 24 hours, except for one thing: Nobody wanted to be the first to call bullsh**. Who will bell the cat? Not the police, and I don’t blame them. Smollett is a vocal critic of President Donald Trump who checks two protected-category ... Read More
U.S.

Questions for Those Who Believed Jussie Smollett

The “we reported the Jussie Smollett case responsibly” contention has been blasted to smithereens. Twitter accounts and headlines in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times reported as fact Jussie Smollett’s wildly implausible allegations, and many other journalists did so as ... Read More