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The Licensing Disaster

The New York Times has a deep dive into the rolling catastrophe that is America’s occupational licensing regime. Some bits:

Over the years, states across the country have added licensing requirements for a bewildering variety of jobs, requiring months or years of expensive education, along with assessing costly fees.

Today, nearly 30 percent of the American work force needs a license to work, up from about 10 percent in the 1970s, according to Morris Kleiner, a professor of public affairs at the University of Minnesota, who has studied the issue. […]

Licensing boards are generally dominated by members of the regulated profession. And in Arizona, more than two dozen of the boards are allowed to keep 90 percent of their fees, turning over a mere 10 percent of the revenue to the state.

“They use that money to hire contract lobbyists and P.R. people,” Mr. Scarpinato said. “This is really a dark corner of state government.”

When people on the right say “job-killing regulations,” they usually are referring to health or environmental or social welfare rules that may or may not be wise but which actually have—or are intended to have—some kind of positive benefit for society at large. But a good chunk of America’s occupational licensing system—exemplified by the Times story about the animal masseuse ordered by Arizona’s veterinary board to stop practicing unless she paid a quarter million dollars for four years of veterinary school—falls into a different category entirely. These are cartels, plain and simple, that use state power to minimize competition and maximize rents, without any plausible justification besides self-interest. The result is an array of needless obstacles to gainful employment—especially for less-skilled workers and military families.

Excessive licensing—an impediment to work for millions of Americans—is the type of issue that a savvy center-right party would seize on. But after nearly six years of unprecedented state control of statehouses and governors’ mansions, red state licensing rules are no less oppressive than those of blue states. Perhaps these legislatures should spend less time waging gratuitous bathroom battles and more time ensuring that their governments don’t arbitrarily punish and fine hard-working citizens for trying to participate productively in the economy.

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