The reach of state-level occupational licensing requirements has crept steadily outward over the past several decades, raising the barriers to entry into working class fields like hair braiding, tree trimming, and eyebrow threading. (Five percent of workers needed a license in 1950, compared to 35 percent today, according to one study). Over at USA Today, Glenn Reynolds highlights a particularly alarming example of this regulatory expansion:
In my home state of Tennessee, for example, it takes 300 hours of training to be licensed to shampoo hair. That’s right: 300 hours. That training covers things like applying shampoo, rinsing and conditioning and answering the phone and taking appointments. Shampoo hair without a license, and you can get six months in jail. […]But it gets worse. It turns out that, according to a lawsuit filed by the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a libertarian public-interest group, you can’t even get the 300-hour curriculum because there isn’t anyplace in Tennessee that teaches the course that is required to obtain the license. So to shampoo hair you have to get a full-scale cosmetologist license, which takes even longer and costs even more.
The proliferation of needless licensing regulations is the result of successful lobbying by entrenched insiders, who see them as a tool for choking off competition and monopolizing markets so they can command higher rates. But consumers aren’t the only victims of this kind of cronyism: As Reynolds notes, it is also devastating to less-skilled Americans looking for work, who can’t afford the fees or time investment associated with gratuitous training courses. In many cases, the real barrier to mobility in America is not an excess of capitalism, but the distortion of it by those with political power.