Video: Asking “Big Brother may I?” in order to work

posted at 8:21 pm on May 9, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Should people require government permission before being allowed to work?  That’s the question today from the Institute for Justice, which fights excessive licensing regulations in many states.  In this video, they identify the worst states for licensing low-income jobs, and those might surprise readers.  However, the comparison between professions will stun everyone:

License to Work: A National Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing is the first national study to measure how burdensome occupational licensing laws are for lower-income workers and aspiring entrepreneurs.

The report documents the license requirements for 102 low- and moderate-income occupations—such as barber, massage therapist and preschool teacher—across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It finds that occupational licensing is not only widespread, but also overly burdensome and frequently irrational.

On average, these licenses force aspiring workers to spend nine months in education or training, pass one exam and pay more than $200 in fees. One third of the licenses take more than a year to earn. At least one exam is required for 79 of the occupations.

Barriers like these make it harder for people to find jobs and build new businesses that create jobs, particularly minorities, those of lesser means and those with less education.

The dirty little secret in licensing, which I’ve mentioned in the past, is that it’s usually pushed by the biggest players in the industries to which they apply.  Why?  As someone who worked in a significantly-licensed industry (burg/fire alarm installation and monitoring), I can speak from personal experience when I say this: the bigger companies want to burden smaller and emerging competitors with overwhelming compliance costs.  It gets even worse when firms work across state lines, as I did in my career, as compliance often means having to get dozens of licenses for each employee, with varying prerequisites and education requirements.  Even for small outfits in a single state, though, keeping up with licensing often requires having someone handling compliance as a full-time job.  That cost ends up getting applied to a much lower sales volume, which keeps prices higher than a smaller, nimbler competitor might otherwise provide — and allows the bigger players to avoid competing on price or responsiveness as a result.

What does that mean?  It means consumers have to pay more than they otherwise would, since licensing artificially suppresses competition.  That may be a good trade-off in certain jobs — like EMTs, for instance, as mentioned in the video, and other industries with life-or-death implications.   Most of the licensing requirements don’t have anything to do with safety, though, as seen by the ridiculous licensing requirements for interior designers.  Perhaps IJ will lead a movement to rethink the assumptions that go into licensing requirements, because it’s an area that badly needs reform.


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The truth is that government often works hand in hand with the industries themselves. See: practicing law without a license. Within the past 10 years my state (Ohio) also moved from certification to licensure for public school teachers at the behest of the teachers’ unions.

cynccook on May 9, 2012 at 8:25 PM

Should people require government permission before being allowed to work?

Should Government require permission from the people before allowed to govern?

Vote them out!

Electrongod on May 9, 2012 at 8:27 PM

Should Government require permission from the people before allowed to govern?

Vote them out!

Electrongod on May 9, 2012 at 8:27 PM

Maybe we should require politicians to be licensed in understanding the Constitution before being allowed to run for Congress or the President. Makes as much sense as requiring a license to be an interior designer.

Bitter Clinger on May 9, 2012 at 8:36 PM

As someone who worked in a significantly-licensed industry (burg/fire alarm installation and monitoring)

The breadth of Ed’s storied career never fails to surprise. Is there anything this man hasn’t done?

bayam on May 9, 2012 at 8:36 PM

This was a problem a few years back in the Dental profession. If you wanted to move to another state, good luck. Costs could reach $25,000 or more to move from say, from New York to California. It wasn’t enough if you were the world’s greatest dentist in New York, published and polished in your profession. California still wanted their money before you could practice there. The California Dental Association was OK with this because it kept the number of California licensed dentists down.

Maybe dentists can afford to pad the government coffers, but it is criminal and immoral for them to ask low wage professions to pay these asinine licensing fees.

NOMOBO on May 9, 2012 at 8:37 PM

Yes, if you want to be a cosmologist most states require a license. On the other hand, if you are a kid that wants to sell lemonade one Saturday afternoon, you’re not going to be able to do that anymore. Freedom is the cost of having a society that prohibits kids from selling lemonade, and the benefit is? None, but let’s do it anyway, because it’s what inertia drives us to do. And you can’t have a bake sale at school, anymore. No can do. That’s a fat and sugar issue. But if you want to be a cosmonaut no one will object.

anotherJoe on May 9, 2012 at 8:38 PM

Ed…

UL

CorporatePiggy on May 9, 2012 at 8:44 PM

The breadth of Ed’s storied career never fails to surprise. Is there anything this man hasn’t done?

bayam on May 9, 2012 at 8:36 PM

Yes, he has never long line fished.

Bmore on May 9, 2012 at 8:50 PM

Local “Contractor licenses” or “Contractor registration” requirements are metastasizing quickly right now. It’s really more of a fee or tax than a license because there is usually little pretense of any qualifications being met, but it’s becoming a big nuisance in terms of wasted time and money.

In a couple municipalities I’ve experienced the contractor license grand slam: the state, the county and the local municipality all required separate licenses. So to do a single job, the contractor had to do all the nonsense paperwork and pay the fees to all three just to be allowed to work. And all of this on top of the zoning, building, electrical etc permits.

forest on May 9, 2012 at 8:52 PM

Already have this in PA. Every year I get a “Employment privilege tax certificate.”

chewmeister on May 9, 2012 at 8:54 PM

IJ is good people. They get a yearly donation from me.

Bartrams Garden on May 9, 2012 at 8:54 PM

Yah, like requiring pilots to have licenses, what’s up with that? And those medical exams they have to take. Every year. And constant training to stay current, and if they fail, they lose their job. Just think how many more pilots we could have employed today, if the government didn’t require all that jazz. Next time you get on a crowded plane, you know who to thank.

keep the change on May 9, 2012 at 8:54 PM

keep the change on May 9, 2012 at 8:54 PM

You didn’t even watch the video. Go watch it.

Bartrams Garden on May 9, 2012 at 8:57 PM

A politician who understands the Constitution?
(Surely your joking Mr. Feinman.)
If that were a prerequisite there’d be no Raul Grijalva’s nor Nancy Pelosi’s making a total mess of our lives every day.

Missilengr on May 9, 2012 at 8:57 PM

the bigger companies want to burden smaller and emerging competitors with overwhelming compliance costs.

Shouldn’t that read the bigger companies and unions want to burden smaller and non-union competitors with overwhelming or unrealistic compliance costs?

Teacher certification requirements are a joke and designed to keep non-education majors from jumping into the realm of the NEA.

Happy Nomad on May 9, 2012 at 8:59 PM

Ed… later at night, and on fire.

Hog Wild on May 9, 2012 at 9:03 PM

Yah, like requiring pilots to have licenses, what’s up with that? And those medical exams they have to take. Every year. And constant training to stay current, and if they fail, they lose their job. Just think how many more pilots we could have employed today, if the government didn’t require all that jazz. Next time you get on a crowded plane, you know who to thank.

keep the change on May 9, 2012 at 8:54

But yet the FAA considers a 70% to be a passing grade on their written exams. Would you like coffee or tea??

WryTrvllr on May 9, 2012 at 9:06 PM

And it’s every 6 months

WryTrvllr on May 9, 2012 at 9:09 PM

Have to disagree about the interior designers. In states that license interior designers, they typically can seal drawings that involve construction of non structural walls, moveable partitions, cubicles etc. That can involve life safety issues and building code compliance….egress capacity of corridors, dead ends, travel distance etc. They are not just picking paint colors and carpeting. The architect lobbies typically fight licensing of interior designers, because it reserves the previously mentioned design to licensed architects only. In this particular example, licensing interior designers may actually reduce costs to consumers.

Animal60 on May 9, 2012 at 9:13 PM

…follow the money.

KOOLAID2 on May 9, 2012 at 9:16 PM

Animal60 on May 9, 2012 at 9:13 PM

What if they just want to pick paint colors and drapes?

Also, I don’t think construction workers undergo six years of school to be licensed.

philoquin on May 9, 2012 at 9:18 PM

keep the change on May 9, 2012 at 8:54

Yes, and since we require pilots to pass licensing tests and physical/mental exams, there’s no good reason for government not to require the same of the decorator who picks out your drapes, or the nail tech who paints ladies’ fingernails.

Maybe Ed should have a licensing requirement for commenters on this site: no submissions will be accepted unless the commenter can first score a passing grade on a test of reading comprehension and basic logic.

AZCoyote on May 9, 2012 at 9:21 PM

======================================

soon we will also need a license to look for work so Obama can even better control the number of people looking for work and the unemployment numbers.

O wait, they are already working on this indirectly…

huntingmoose on May 9, 2012 at 9:28 PM

Those that just pick paint colors and drapes are known as interior decorators. As for construction workers…..those in specific fields…..electricians and plumbers are licensed as well. General contractors are licensed as well…at least for residential work in my “home” state.

I think the licensing has gone to far, even in my field (architecture) It used to be that you could obtain a license by working in the business and passing the test. Now a minimum 5 year degree is required. Little of what I learned in the five years had anything to do with what was required ot pass the tests, and little of the tests involved life safety issues.

Animal60 on May 9, 2012 at 9:30 PM

As a broadcasting engineer, I can tell you some professional licenses aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. All the license tells anyone is that the holder passed an exam once upon a time.

Radio engineering used to be a prime example. Back in the old days, engineers had to have an FCC first class license to work as engineers (especially chief engineers). The problem was not enough people were getting them. Before you know it, schools began to pop up (loving referred to as “license mills”) that would present a six week course that served no other purpose than to train the students to take the first class license exam. So every program director and DJ who built a Heathkit once signed up.

The problem was none of these guys had any real world engineering experience to speak of. The results were predictable. Eventually, the FCC, seeing the futility of it all, scrapped the requirement for licensed engineers. So how would you know if an engineering applicant knew his @$$ from his elbow?

The Society of Broadcast Engineers introduced a certification program. Unlike the license, SBE certification requires a much more stringent process. Certification is awarded by exam or by earning credits for a minimum required level of professional involvement in the industry. You have to apply for it much like applying for a job. If you make through the initial application process and opt for the exam, you must then pass the exam. Then you have to renew every five years. This is to ensure that you are still active in the industry and still keeping up with technological trends.

I’m sure there are other industries that do similar things. The beauty of it is that it’s a private enterprise. The government is not involved in any way. Yet it still ensures knowledgeable personnel.

CurtZHP on May 9, 2012 at 9:33 PM

Maybe Ed should have a licensing requirement for commenters on this site: no submissions will be accepted unless the commenter can first score a passing grade on a test of reading comprehension and basic logic.

AZCoyote on May 9, 2012 at 9:21 PM

What, and stop all of those entertaining trolls? /s

IrishEyes on May 9, 2012 at 10:13 PM

which fights excessive licensing regulations in many states.

All licensing is excessive.

Dante on May 9, 2012 at 10:14 PM

The problem was none of these guys had any real world engineering experience to speak of. The results were predictable. Eventually, the FCC, seeing the futility of it all, scrapped the requirement for licensed engineers. So how would you know if an engineering applicant knew his @$$ from his elbow?

You interviewed them and asked them questions to prove their knowledge or maybe use a probationary 6 month period…?

Or was this a rhetorical question? Because I know in the software development field most certs are obsolete crap, not worth the paper they’re printed on. The only way you know if someone can do the job is to ask them questions, probe them on their knowledge, and offer a trial period. But what do I know… I’ve only been in the field about 20 years…

dominigan on May 9, 2012 at 10:14 PM

And why is the solution always reform instead of elimination?

Dante on May 9, 2012 at 10:17 PM

Or was this a rhetorical question?

dominigan on May 9, 2012 at 10:14 PM

Yeah, basically. The problem in radio is that the guy doing the interviewing for an engineering position is not always an engineer himself. At least if the guy holds an SBE certification, you know other engineers have vetted his experience.

And why is the solution always reform instead of elimination?

Dante on May 9, 2012 at 10:17 PM

Read my initial post.

CurtZHP on May 9, 2012 at 10:25 PM

Read my initial post.

CurtZHP on May 9, 2012 at 10:25 PM

Ok?

Dante on May 9, 2012 at 10:34 PM

Interior designers should need licenses. To be an interior designer, you need to go to school to get the education. Which means you have a diploma. And if you want to be able to use that diploma, you should need to prove you have the education. Ergo the license.

This is what keeps fly by night jokers from setting themselves up in that trade, or any other trade where an education is required.

Roofers need a license. And so they should. I got a guy to fix my roof who wasn’t a real roofer, and didn’t know how to apply roofing shingles. What he did had to be removed and redone.

keep the change on May 9, 2012 at 10:54 PM

As someone who worked in a significantly-licensed industry (burg/fire alarm installation and monitoring)

The breadth of Ed’s storied career never fails to surprise. Is there anything this man hasn’t done?

bayam on May 9, 2012 at 8:36 PM

Sez one of Captain’s Quarters’ World Class getalifes.

Wazzup? You and tom_shipley and sesquipedalian having a slumber party with Axelrod tonight?

(Homer Simpson Grossed Out Shudder)

Del Dolemonte on May 10, 2012 at 12:27 AM

To decipper the what all this means is:

“Ways for the Government to get even MORE money from people” cept, they call them “fees” .

To think they would get rid of them is like saying that they are going to get rid of the deficit of the US. The same reason why you need permits to do your own repairs on your house or even dig a hole in the ground.

watertown on May 10, 2012 at 4:09 AM

Interior designers should need licenses. To be an interior designer, you need to go to school to get the education. Which means you have a diploma. And if you want to be able to use that diploma, you should need to prove you have the education. Ergo the license.

This is what keeps fly by night jokers from setting themselves up in that trade, or any other trade where an education is required.

Roofers need a license. And so they should. I got a guy to fix my roof who wasn’t a real roofer, and didn’t know how to apply roofing shingles. What he did had to be removed and redone.

keep the change on May 9, 2012 at 10:54 PM

Thank you for the status quo’s position.

Dante on May 10, 2012 at 7:49 AM

To be an interior designer, you need to go to school to get the education.

keep the change on May 9, 2012 at 10:54 PM

God forbid someone showed you their portfolio.

WeekendAtBernankes on May 10, 2012 at 8:21 AM

I suspect trend of requiring journalism licenses for blog authors arising after Obama loses the election at the end of the year.

WeekendAtBernankes on May 10, 2012 at 8:22 AM

Roofers need a license. And so they should. I got a guy to fix my roof who wasn’t a real roofer, and didn’t know how to apply roofing shingles. What he did had to be removed and redone.
keep the change on May 9, 2012 at 10:54 PM

Please.

What? Too hard to check out his references?

Cleombrotus on May 10, 2012 at 8:44 AM

What? Too hard to check out his references?

Cleombrotus on May 10, 2012 at 8:44 AM

Do you have any idea how easy it is to cook up references, unless the reference is someone seriously high in a company?

Buddies cover for each other. And it’s not unheard of to, shall we say, ‘buy a reference’.

MelonCollie on May 10, 2012 at 9:27 AM

Do you have any idea how easy it is to cook up references, unless the reference is someone seriously high in a company?

Buddies cover for each other. And it’s not unheard of to, shall we say, ‘buy a reference’.

MelonCollie on May 10, 2012 at 9:27 AM

Ok. That isn’t an argument for licensing; that’s an argument for the consumer to be smarter.

Dante on May 10, 2012 at 9:45 AM

The breadth of Ed’s storied career never fails to surprise. Is there anything this man hasn’t done?

bayam on May 9, 2012 at 8:36 PM

He’s never visited nor worked as a hairdresser. :P

lorien1973 on May 10, 2012 at 10:01 AM

To be an interior designer, you need to go to school to get the education.

keep the change on May 9, 2012 at 10:54 PM

Why? Isn’t interior design subjective to the customer?

lorien1973 on May 10, 2012 at 10:02 AM

Maybe Ed should have a licensing requirement for commenters on this site: no submissions will be accepted unless the commenter can first score a passing grade on a test of reading comprehension and basic logic.

AZCoyote on May 9, 2012 at 9:21 PM

That would seriously cut down on the liberal commenter presence on this site.

GWB on May 10, 2012 at 10:19 AM

Ok. That isn’t an argument for licensing; that’s an argument for the consumer to be smarter.

Dante on May 10, 2012 at 9:45 AM

Foolish comment. I am a licensed plumbing contractor. My licence is just slightly more than waste and vent. Just how would a consumer decide if I am qualified to do medical gas which I do.It takes four years experience to qualify to take the test. The comment regarding the roofer is not unique. I have the Contractors board to answer to.

The qualification issue is not the problem. My problem is with the licencing boards who have “their guys” of which I now am but not because I wanted it. I have been in the office and watched qualified contractors licensed in other states being dealt with in a totally rude manner. No excuse for it. You are correct in saying that one of the functions of these boards are to restrict competition. Personally if I can’t compete in a fair market I don’t belong in business.

BullShooterAsInElk on May 10, 2012 at 10:36 AM

Love the IJ guys!!

If we’re gonna license anybody, how about politicians? The crop we have, especially here in California, are clearly not fit to do their jobs!

Pablo Snooze on May 10, 2012 at 10:44 AM

Occupational licensing is very popular with politicians (especially the leftist variety) because it gives them and their cronies control over the economy of a particular state. In Michigan, Granholm instituted hundreds of new occupational licensing requirements in 2003 – her first order of business. She then proceeded to stack the licensing boards with people from businesses that had a clear conflict of interest in directing the activities of those boards.

The boards are an impediment to competition, and force job seekers (especially those wanting to be self-employed) into paying exorbitant “entry fees” before they can work.

Mr Galt on May 10, 2012 at 10:47 AM

All professions are conspiracies against the laity.
- George Bernard Shaw

Michael K. on May 10, 2012 at 10:51 AM

Ed: …overwhelming compliance costs. It gets even worse when firms work across state lines, as I did in my career, as compliance often means having to get dozens of licenses for each employee, with varying prerequisites and education requirements.

NOMOBO: California still wanted their money before you could practice there.

The sorry State of Illinois and Chicago/Crook County, the Capital of Illinois, according to NATO, is deeply into licensing as a method to raise fee income to the State. And the State will make even more by licensing the companies who supply “continuing education” which are a common requirement for licenses.

“I’m from the government and I’m here to help you!”

CiLH1 on May 10, 2012 at 2:04 PM

Do you have any idea how easy it is to cook up references, unless the reference is someone seriously high in a company?

Buddies cover for each other. And it’s not unheard of to, shall we say, ‘buy a reference’.

MelonCollie on May 10, 2012 at 9:27 AM

Yes. I see it all the time. But a license prevents this? Don’t think so. You usually only need to pass a test and/or accomplish inane activities. This is where consumer information like Angie’s List becomes invaluable. Caveat emptor! Even if some bum has a government certificate.

JSGreg3 on May 10, 2012 at 3:33 PM