To Trust, borrowing from a late president, I often add: "...but Regulate."
So you might think I'm a big fan of licensing requirements for various professions.
And I am. Sometimes.
But sometimes, licensing isn't about protecting consumers from the incompetent, it's about protecting the incompetent from competition.
In today's New York Times, Eduardo Porter evaluates the value of licensing, and its cost (full column, here):
Sometimes professional licenses make sense, ensuring decent standards of health and safety. I'm reassured that if I ever need brain surgery, the doctor performing it will have been recognized by the profession to be up to the task....
But ...state licenses required to practice all sorts of jobs often serve merely to cordon off occupations for the benefit of licensed workers and their lobbying groups, protecting them from legitimate competition.
This comes at a substantial social cost.
For one thing, the variation in licensing requirements across states is ridiculous. While almost every state requires that city / transit and school bus drivers, pest control applicators, and emergency medical technicians must be licensed, fewer than half require that animal trainers and breeders, chauffeurs, and opticians be licensed.
Even where two states agree that an occupation needs to be licensed, the variation in licensing requirements is ridiculous.
Porter gives two examples: "Iowa requires 490 days of education and training to become a licensed cosmetologist; New York requires 233."
And: "An athletic trainer must put in 1,460 days of training to get a license in Michigan. An emergency medical technician needs only 26."
(The details found in these example and the paragraph above come from the report, "License to Work", which can be found here; note that, as Porter writes, the report is produced by "a free-market advocacy group opposed to many occupational licenses".)
Licenses bring higher salaries to those who have them, and substantial revenue from licensing fees to the states, but they do not necessarily provide better outcomes for consumers.
The problem is, of course, that no one wants to say, "My profession should be licensed so that I can keep competition out and my revenues high." So instead we hear "the consumer needs to be protected from the unscrupulous and untrained", all wrapped in motherhood, apple pie, and the flag.
Is it too much to ask that we apply a little common sense? Alas, it probably is.