A few months ago, we critiqued an essay that gave a critical look at the arguments against occupational licensing. We wholeheartedly disagreed with the authors’ analysis, but they made serious points that deserved serious consideration.
Meanwhile, a Texas bill to delicense cosmetologists has brought out proponents of licensing (mostly industry representatives), and they brought with them a whole host of bad arguments for licensing.
First is our old nemesis, the consumer protection argument:
“I [want to] make sure that we’re hiring people that are trained and licensed,” said Monica Ybarra, owner of Alter Salon in Belton. “My biggest concern are obviously the safety of the public.”
“Staph [infection], ringworm, things like that. We learn these things and take the precautions in our salon so that doesn’t happen,” said Emily Ingraham, a Redken professional colorist. “As a client, how would I know that I am going to be receiving the care that is deserved it to me and that I’m paying for?”
My own scan of the evidence found that there’s no research to point to licensing of cosmetologists having benefits to public safety (to be fair, all states plus D.C. require cosmetologists to be licensed, so it’s difficult to make comparisons.)
Next is a rather curious argument related to liability insurance for practitioners:
“Without regulation, [said Steve Sleeper of the Professional Beauty Association] many service providers could not obtain liability insurance, [false] leaving providers financially liable if a customer took legal action following an injury during a service. The passage of this Bill would be detrimental to both Texas-based consumers and professionals and would set a dangerous precedent for lawmakers in other states considering passing similar legislation.”
The idea that an unlicensed professional couldn’t get liability insurance is laughable. Indeed, mandatory bonding is a market-friendly alternative to licensing.
Finally, we have Reason’s Eric Boehm covering an argument that is just plain wrong:
Barbers and cosmetologists in Texas warn that repealing mandatory licenses for their professions would be as dangerous as having unlicensed chefs preparing your meals.
Chefs are not, in fact, subject to government licensing.
“Would you just sit down and just let anyone cut your hair? Or, would you allow your daughters, or your wife go out and just have anybody do their hair? I don’t think so,” hairdresser Lyn Doan tells News 6. “Are you just going to let anybody cook your food, and eat it, and not know if the kitchen is clean or not? I mean this is ridiculous, I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
While it’s quite embarrassing (though unfortunately common) for someone opposing legislation to be so unambiguously wrong about it, I would argue that the nebulous arguments against consumer safety are more destructive for the licensing debate.
When someone makes a mistake like Doan’s, we can quickly debunk it and have a good laugh while we’re at it. Concerns about consumer protection are far more nebulous and capture the public’s imagination, despite there being precious little evidence to confirm them.
Instead of focusing on the shadows of what might be, we should focus on what we know about licensing: that it raises licensed workers’ salaries (read: rents), decreases employment, and drives down wages in related, unlicensed professions.