The Corner

Occupational Licensing Nonsense

This is one of the reasons we must fight an ever-growing and ever more intrusive government: Did you know that in Washington, D.C., talking without a license can land you in jail for 90 days? Simply pointing out that the National Archives houses the Bill of Rights is grounds for fines and imprisonment.

Thankfully, the Institute for Justice has just launched a big economic-liberty/free-speech case to fight this abuse. Their argument is that the Constitution protects an individual’s right to communicate for a living, whether one is a journalist, a musician, or a tour guide. Here is Matt Yglesias on the issue:

I’m not a lawyer and I’m not really a fan of arguments about the constitution, but this sure seems like bad policy to me. It’s a barrier to entry that’s nice for existing tour guides and for companies in the “help tour guides pass our exam” industry, but that’s ultimately bad for visitors to the city and bad for DC residents who might want to make some money giving tours. You don’t need a license to be a tour guide in Boston and as best I can tell everything’s fine. I’ve taken tours in Boston, and I’ve heard of any time of people visiting the city without incident. Customers there are protected by the general laws against fraud and other forms of criminal misconduct as well as whatever discipline the marketplace and people’s concern for their reputation provides.

Occupational licensing has grown immensely in recent years. In the 1950s, one out of 20 members of the work force needed authorization from the government to do their job. Today, it’s one in three:

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