Government Permission to Work

I’m a lawyer, and I think legal licensing is an extraordinary scam. Let people choose an attorney, paralegal, legal secretary, or self-educated legal savant to help with their legal problem. Legal licensure is designed to protect lawyers more than consumers.

Attorneys aren’t the only professionals who rig regulation to their benefit. More than 1,100 professions are licensed by at least one state. In addition to lawyers and doctors are locksmiths, interior decorators, funeral attendants, librarians, hair stylists, food caterers, florists, barbers, music therapists, glass installers, massage therapists, conveyor belt operators, and frozen dessert sellers.

Licensing has been expanding. In 1950, just 5 percent of Americans needed government permission to work. Today nearly a quarter require some form of government approval.

Some of the increase is due to a changing workforce as more people move into professions that have long required licensing. However, roughly two-thirds of the increase results from more professions being licensed.

Even the White House Sees the Problem

A July 2015 report from the Obama administration notes, “Large shares of licensed workers today are in sales, management and even craft sectors like construction and repair” (“Occupational Licensing: A Framework for Policymakers”).

Regulators focus on punishing competition, not incompetence. 

That’s no surprise, explains the administration: “Empirical work suggests that licensed professions’ degree of political influence is one of the most important factors in determining whether states regulate an occupation.”

The Wall Street Journal noted Texas’s requirement that “shampoo speciali…