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Adam Crepelle (MPP '15) on Louisiana Occupational Licensing Rules Stifling the Free Market | The Advocate

Guest column: Louisiana Licensing Rules Stifle Free Market

By Adam Crepelle | August 14, 2016 | The Advocate

An occupational license is a government permission slip to work, and you need one if you want to thread eyebrows in Louisiana. Obtaining the requisite license takes 750 hours of training. None of the mandatory training is relevant to eyebrow threading. Accordingly, a lawsuit was recently filed claiming the license is unconstitutional because it serves no public purpose.

Occupational licenses are supposed to protect the public health and welfare, but many of the Pelican State's occupational licenses only function to keep out competition. Indeed, Louisiana requires a license to work in more moderate and low-income occupations than any other state.

Auctioneers, milk samplers, home entertainment installers, and shampooers are among the jobs that Louisiana unnecessarily licenses. Louisiana's most infamous occupational license is the "retail florist" license. It is the only state that requires a license to arrange and sell flowers. Nevertheless, Louisiana's retail florists have successfully argued the license is necessary to protect the public from horrors like broken bouquet wires and dirt.

Not only are too many trades licensed, licensing requirements often do not match the job's danger to the public. Even ardent libertarians can see the basis for licensing emergency medical technicians (EMTs); unsurprisingly, every state requires that they be licensed. It is much harder to locate the public welfare benefit served by licensing interior designers, which may be why Louisiana is one of the few states that licenses interior designers. However, a 2012 Institute for Justice study found that it takes 2,190 days of education/experience to become an interior designer in Louisiana while the state only requires 41 days of education/experience to become an EMT.

Arbitrary occupational licenses are a symptom of cronyism, and Louisiana has a long and ignominious history of it. Law students are required to read the Slaughter-House cases stemming from a New Orleans ordinance designed solely to provide the politically connected with a monopoly. A century later, the Supreme Court upheld another cronyistic New Orleans ordinance, this time banning food pushcarts not in business eight years before the ordinance's enactment from roaming the French Quarter. The high court affirmed the regulation on the grounds of French Quarter "charm." The Quarter can have new bars, trinket shops, and strip clubs, but heaven forbid a new hot dog pushcart. The Quarter has its limits.

Sadly, licensing lunacy is a national problem. This is not a just a free market perspective. It is the Obama White House's position.

A 2015 White House Report stated, "By making it harder to enter a profession, licensing can also reduce employment opportunities and lower wages for excluded workers, and increase costs for consumers." The report notes that licensing is particularly burdensome on those required to move for work, like military families. It also asserts licensing hits the poor the hardest because they are often unable to afford licensing's training costs. Furthermore, the report concludes that "most research does not find that licensing improves quality or public health and safety."

Louisiana needs to phase out its overzealous licensing regime. If a majority of states do not license an occupation, licensing it is clearly unnecessary.

Certification can be used in licensing's place. Becoming certified requires training and signals competence while allowing uncertified persons to compete in the market. This lets the public choose which provider is the best rather than self-interested regulators.

While those interested in limiting competition may argue for preserving the status quo, the sky will not fall by expanding the number of unlicensed occupations. Unlicensed florists and eyebrow threaders should be the least of Louisiana's concerns.

Adam Crepelle is an adjunct scholar at the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a New Orleans-based group that studies state issues and promotes conservative economic principles.