Too much occupational licensure

Hugh Morley, Bergen Record:

[New Jersey’s] licensed sector now covers about 20 percent of the workforce. Jobs as diverse — and sometimes as seemingly mundane — as barbers, movers and warehousemen, librarians, and career counselors can’t be done legally without getting state approval in New Jersey, usually by paying a fee, submitting personal information, and taking training or educational courses.

Nationwide, the share of jobs requiring licenses is even higher: 25 percent, up from around 5 percent in the 1950s. With economist Milton Friedman in the lead, libertarians have long criticized occupational licensure for restricting competition, limiting consumer choice, raising prices, and curtailing the opportunities of excluded workers, including many poorer persons and new workforce entrants. But more recently discontent with occupational licensure has spread broadly across the ideological spectrum, as with a Brookings study we linked in February. And now the Obama administration — citing Cato! — lends its weight with a new critique. [David Boaz/Cato, Tim Sandefur/Pacific Legal, Glenn Reynolds/USA Today, Stephen Slivinski/No Water Economists]

More: the city of Austin’s new ban on unlicensed household hauling will hurt informal laborers without helping homeowners [Chuck DeVore]


  • At first I was thinking, “The barber thing sort of makes sense, since there are some health issues if the equipment isn’t sterilized properly.”

    But you know what? The same thing applies to food workers. So long as the employees receive proper instructions from their supervisor, there’s no reason why everyone who works at McDonald’s should need a state license – and there’s no reason why everyone who works as a barber should need one, either.

    There’s absolutely no reason why being a librarian should require a license. I am sure that a trained librarian could do a better job than a man off the street. That doesn’t mean it should be illegal to work that job without the training.

  • I watched as a painter and a helper were fined $4000 by a county inspector while painting the interior of a small apartment building next to where I lived. The fine was for not pulling a permit (you need a permit to paint?) and because the helper was not a licensed painter. He was a kid working during the summer. His responsibilities on this particular job was to spackle and sand, then put tarps over exposed surfaces (appliances, windows, counters, etc) because the painter was going to spray paint the apartment as it was faster.

    Beyond the permit issue, the citation issued to the painter and his helper was for “unlicensed use of masking tape.”

    I kid you not.

  • I was once in the position of regulating all the employment of NJ halfway house inmates. Many were studying for certifications that the pertinent licensing boards would never grant, because they were felons. Some of these made sense? some did not. It’s probably a good idea to keep felons out of daycare facilities.

    Licensure in NJ is largely in the hands of boards. Membership on which is a political plum. All these boards are under the consumer protection division of the Attorney General. So, common sense never came into it.

    Some of the licensure harkens back to previous eras. Barbers used to lance boils and perform other minor surgical procedures. This was so as late as my own father’s lifetime. Barbers were a sort of first line of defense against head lice, ringworm etc. Shaving could kill you in the days before antibiotics. Of course with the marvels of immigration diversity the head lice, bed bugs and worse are here again.

    Clearly too much is regulated and a lot of it could be abolished.