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Laws and regulations that limit entry into or continued exercise of a particular occupation

Occupational licensing, also called occupational licensure, is a form of government regulation requiring a license to pursue a particular profession or vocation for compensation. Professions that can have a large negative effect on individuals, like physicians and lawyers, require occupational licenses in most developed countries, but many jurisdictions also require licenses for professions without that possibility, like plumbers, taxi drivers and electricians. Licensing creates a regulatory barrier to entry into licensed occupations, and this results in higher income for those with licenses and usually higher costs for consumers.


Crony-in-Chief: Donald Trump epitomizes Ayn Rand's "Aristocracy of Pull", by Steve Simpson, 2 Feb 2017
Examines the issues of "cronyism" or "pull-peddling", suggesting—as Ayn Rand did—that the solution is "to limit government strictly to protecting rights and nothing more"
[T]erms like "favors," "privileges," and "benefits" ... obscure the fact that what people are competing for when they engage in cronyism is the "privilege" of legally using force ... to prevent [others] from contracting or associating with others ... When individuals in a given profession lobby for occupational licensing laws, they are asking government to grant a select group of people a kind of monopoly status that prevents others who don't meet their standards from competing with them—that is, from contracting with willing customers to do business.
The Federal Ripoff, by George Leef, Freedom Daily, Nov 2006
Review of The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money (2006) by Timothy P. Carney
Just to give one ludicrous example, Arizona has a regulation on weed spraying that makes it illegal for unlicensed workers to spray to kill weeds. Getting the license requires proof that one has 3,000 hours of weed-spraying experience. Existing companies that do landscaping and gardening work are thus protected against competition from new firms. This regulatory scheme also gives agents of the Arizona Structural Pest Control Commission something to do—slap stiff fines on people who unknowingly violate the law. Again, it's a win for existing businesses but a big loss for the free economy.
The Fight for Free Speech in the Courts, by Trevor Burrus, Aaron Ross Powell, Paul Sherman, Free Thoughts, 18 Mar 2016
Burrus and Powell discuss with Paul Sherman, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, about freedom of speech issues, particularly political speech, and occupational licensing
So if you want to go to Chicago or San Francisco, you can go on a tour in those cities and that tour guide is totally unregulated. He never had to pass a government-issued test and yet the tourism industry in those cities doesn't seem to be suffering as a result ... We have done occupational speech cases that involve real estate listing services where people want to put up for-sale-by-owner websites and the government says, "Well, if you want to do that, you have to be a licensed real estate broker," even though basically all you're doing is putting up an online classified ad.
Frédéric Bastiat: Two Hundred Years On, by Joseph R. Stromberg, 2001
Extensive survey of Bastiat's life and writings; "EH" refers to Economic Harmonies, "Sophisms" to Economic Sophisms, "Essays" to Selected Essays in Political Economy (all three from FEE, 1964)
[Bastiat] wrote much on "spoliation," of which "plunder" is a fitting translation. The insight that plunder is central to political life was one that Bastiat shared with French laissez faire liberals ... The forms of political plunder were legion. "We have, first of all, licenses of all kinds. No one can become a barrister, a physician, a teacher, a broker, a deal in government bonds, a solicitor, an attorney, a pharmacist, a printer, a butcher, or a baker without encountering legal restrictions" (Essays, p. 181). The result was (and is) fewer competitors and higher prices.
Freedom, Virtue, and Responsibility, Part 2, by Jacob G. Hornberger, May 1994
Provides examples from taxes, the "dole", public housing and licensing that show how the welfare state and managed economy undermine human well-being, contrasting life in Russia under socialism vs. the supposed freedom in the United States
[S]uppose a person with little money has a natural aptitude to be a lawyer. He is told by the state that he must first spend twelve years of his life in ... government-approved schools; then he must spend the money to attend a state-approved college; then ... a state-approved law school; then ... take a bar-review course; then he must hope that the state grants him the permission after risking all of this time and money; and then he must spend the money to pay his annual "dues" to the state for the "privilege" of doing what comes naturally to him—helping others through the practice of law.
UpdGertrude B. Kelly: A Forgotten Feminist, by Wendy McElroy, The Freeman, Oct 1998
Biographical essay on Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly, Irish immigrant, individualist feminist and contributor to Benjamin Tucker's Liberty
"I maintain," Kelly insisted, "that you have no right to decide what is happiness or knowledge for him, any more than you have to decide what religion he must give adherence to ... Woe to the nation that would strive to increase knowledge or happiness at the expense of justice. It will end by not having morality, or happiness, or knowledge." Using similar logic, Kelly opposed any government attempt to license physicians or regulate medicine because government could not guarantee the safety or quality of medical care. It could only create a quasi-union of medical elites and block progress.
Government Keeps People Poor, by Sheldon Richman, 28 Jun 2006
Enumerates five ways in which, although politicians claim to care about the poor, government keeps people in poverty
[G]overnment occupational licensing is a devastating one-two punch against low-income people: Licensing makes the number of practitioners of many occupations artificially low, raising the price of needed services. Obviously that harms low-income people more than others. Moreover, licensing raises the cost, and often makes it impossible, for low-income people to enter certain occupations ... In the early 20th century a poor person in New York could become a taxi driver by obtaining a cheap used car. Today that is impossible. Taxi licenses, the number of which is limited by government, cost a fortune.
Health Care, by Michael F. Cannon, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Discusses various aspects of healthcare from a libertarian perspective: control of contagious diseases, self-directed treatment, occupational licensing, sale of human organs, health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid
Licensing laws restrict entry into the medical professions, dictate what tasks each profession may perform, and deny patients the right to be treated by the practitioner of their choice. ... Proponents of licensing argue that it enhances the quality of care, but libertarians point to the fact that low-quality care is widespread despite licensing, that licensing does not improve overall quality because it reduces access to care for the poor, and that the chief proponents of licensing are incumbent practitioners who profit by restricting entry.
Related Topics: Health, Health Care
How to Help Fast-Food Workers, by Sheldon Richman, 1 Aug 2013
Discusses contemporaneous strikes by fast food workers seeking a doubling of the minimum wage, the economic realities behind wages and alternatives that would truly help the workers
Occupational licensing restricts entry into many kinds of work by raising the cost of going into business. Zoning restrictions prevent people from using their homes for commercial purposes. Restrictions on street vendors and cabbies quash small-scale entrepreneurship. Intellectual-property law inhibits or harasses those whose products might be construed as violating patents or copyrights ... All this and more shrink the options of those with limited skills and meager resources, forcing them to vie with one another for the remaining, perhaps less-desirable jobs with reduced bargaining power.
An Independent Judiciary, by Jim Powell, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Lengthy biographical essay of Edward Coke; first chapter of section 9, "Protecting Liberty"
In Bonham's Case (1610), Coke ruled that the common law stood above Parliament. Dr. Thomas Bonham had been imprisoned for practicing medicine without a certificate from the Royal College of Physicians. Coke ruled that "when an Act of Parliament is against common right and reason, or repugnant, or impossible to be performed, the common law will control it and adjudge such Act to be void." This was his most controversial decision.
Let's Make 2014 the Year of Freedom for Low-Wage Workers, by Sheldon Richman, 2 Jan 2014
Examines various hindrances to economic independence, in particular occupational licensing, but also zoning, intellectual property, taxes and regulations
Hundreds of occupations are closed shut unless one has a license. To get the license, one has to comply with costly requirements. This prices low-income people out ... The licensing regime is overseen by the current practitioners, giving them the power to limit the number of their competitors. This ... locks people out of occupations, and it raises prices to consumers. We're told that licensing exists to protect consumers from shoddy work, but licensing does not protect consumers. Ask yourself: When you ... are looking for a physician ... do you randomly choose one from a list of licensed practitioners ...?
A Libertarian Visits Cuba, Part 3, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Freedom Daily, Aug 1999
Describes how, when asked to explain libertarianism, Hornberger highlighted American socialist programs, challenged by libertarians but similar to those in Cuba, and then various conversations he had with ordinary Cubans
To avoid massive starvation after the Soviet subsidies had terminated, the Cuban authorities began permitting a small number of people to engage in self-employment activities, all licensed of course. I talked to many of these self-employed people, and every one of them recognized ... that occupational licensure is a form of government control, not government protection. One old woman—about 80 years old—was selling ice cream. She told me that she had to pay the state (in pesos) the equivalent of $200 per month for her license. She also told me that she had to pay taxes on her income ...
Lysander Spooner, Part 1, by Wendy McElroy, Freedom Daily, Oct 2005
Lengthy biographical and bibliographical essay; from Spooner's birth to 1850-1860, examining his writings on economics, money, banking, mail delivery and slavery
[In 1836], Spooner launched his first attack on an unjust law. Massachusetts required would-be lawyers who had college degrees to study in a law office for three years before applying to the bar. Those without a degree had to study for five years. Spooner considered the discrepancy to constitute an unjust discrimination against the "well-educated poor," of whom he was a member. Thus, he opened an unlicensed practice and successfully petitioned the General Court to repeal the offending statute.
The Many Monopolies, by Charles W. Johnson, 24 Aug 2011
Describes four ways in which markets are distorted by government interventions, explains Benjamin Tucker's "Four Monopolies", examines five present-day monopolies and discusses Tucker's libertarian views
Regulatory Protectionism may be the most widely dispersed of the Many Monopolies ... Established businesses stifle competition from below by lobbying for regulatory red tape, extortionist fees, and complex licensing for everything from taxi-driving to hairdressing. Industry standards, which would otherwise be set by social convention and market experimentation, are removed from competition and determined by political pull. High compliance costs insulate incumbents who can afford them from competitors who cannot, shutting the poor out of entrepreneurial opportunities and independent livelihoods.
Monopoly, Competition, and Educational Freedom, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Mar 2000
Discusses monopolies and competition in the religious, postal delivery and educational realms and criticizes a speech by Gary Becker about competition in religion and education
[I]f people do indeed prefer a private education for their children, why haven't more private schools simply entered the market to meet the demand, which would drive the price downward to a more affordable level? What effect do government licensure requirements have on freedom to enter the private-education market? In the interests of competition, wouldn't the repeal of educational licensure laws be preferable to ... reforms ...? After all, wouldn't repeal of educational licensure increase competition in the supplying of education as well as reduce ... governmental control over education?
A National Wealth Tax to Fund Education?, by George Leef, 25 Mar 2005
Examines a proposal from Robert Reich to do away with local property taxes and instead levy a national wealth tax to fund public education
Thanks to strict state licensing laws, it is almost obligatory for anyone who wants to teach in public schools to go through a lengthy course of study in a college or university "school of education," where the emphasis is on dubious pedagogical theories ... rather than on the mastery of subject matter and how best to impart that knowledge ... School administrators seldom have the freedom to hire teachers who haven't been through the ed school swamp, no matter how much more competent uncertified people who happen to really know their math, chemistry, history, English, et cetera may be.
Related Topics: Educational Freedom, Taxation
Piercing through Myths, Lies, and Stupidity, by George Leef, Freedom Daily, Aug 2006
Review of Stossel's Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity (2006)
[Stossel] gets to ... prohibitions against the unauthorized practice of law. Those are laws that restrict the field of legal work and advice to members of the lawyers' guild—that is, licensed attorneys. Stossel introduces us to a man who was arrested and jailed ... (by a squad of seven policemen!) for the crime of helping some residents of a nursing home fill out legal forms for wills and bankruptcy ... When Stossel confronts the district attorney who is prosecuting the case, the DA justifies his action by saying that an unlicensed person might not give good legal advice. Stossel replies that not all lawyers give good advice either.
The Sanctity of Private Property, Part 1, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Freedom Daily, Aug 1990
Contrasts, using a Christian religious context, the attitudes of 19th century and earlier Americans with respect to economic liberties (such as income taxation and occupational licensure) with those of later Americans
By and large, the 19th-century American rejected licensure [of occupations, professions, and businesses]. So, American society throughout the 1800s was highly unusual because ... a person did not have to seek permission from the political authorities before he began pursuing a living. Lawyers, doctors, hairdressers, blacksmiths, and so forth learned their trade and went into business without asking anyone's permission ... The 20th-century American, resorting to the Old World way of thinking against which his ancestors had rebelled, rejected this dramatically different way of life.
Related Topics: Private Property, Taxation
Socialized Medicine in a Wealthy Country, by Lew Rockwell, Mises Daily, 2 Dec 2006
Discusses the view of socialized medicine held by left-socialists, examining the problems that existed in Soviet-controlled countries as well as current U.S. problems, and urges a "complete separation of health and state"
When we want our car fixed, we can go to the dealer or we can go to another 40 places with a range of mechanics ... In medical economics, however, we are supposed to believe that physicians are a class set apart like ordained priests with special powers ... The limits on the numbers–which are built into the cartel of medical schools as well as the licensure system–are nothing but a mercantilist effort to increase prices and incomes. Of course every profession has its licensure system, but the medical one has been uniquely successful in making the barriers to practice incredibly high.
Speaking to Nonlibertarians, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 11 Jul 2014
Suggests an approach by which libertarians can try to persuade others of the undesirability of government-provided services and the benefits of free markets
Even more important, abolition of the myriad ways by which government rigs the market would maximize workers' bargaining power. These ways include the many impediments to starting small-scale home-based businesses and cooperative neighborhood enterprises, impediments that harm low-income people most of all, who are already hampered by the rotten product delivered by government schools. Killing occupational licensing, permit regimes, zoning, intellectual property, and eminent domain would only begin to free us from this virtually guild-ridden economic system.
Spooner, Lysander (1808-1881), by Randy Barnett, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
At the time, the rules governing Massachusetts courts required a student to study in a lawyer's office before admission to the bar. College graduates were required to study for 3 years, whereas nongraduates were required to do so for 5 years. Spooner's first act as a lawyer was to challenge what he thought was a rule that discriminated against the poor. ... In 1835, Spooner published a petition ... He argued that 'no one has yet ever dared advocate, in direct terms, so monstrous a principle as that the rich ought to be protected by law from the competition of the poor.' In 1836, the legislature abolished the restriction.
Test your freedom IQ, The Orange County Register, 18 Jun 2006
20 multiple-choice questions covering the role of government, free enterprise, taxes, property rights, free speech, religion, civil liberties, transportation, war and foreign policy, the Nanny State, gun ownership, education and immigration
4. You discover the handyman who has been doing odd jobs around the neighborhood, including some construction projects, does not have a state contractor's license. Do you:
a) Call the state licensing board ...
b) Offer to study and take ... the exam for him ...
c) Rejoice that someone is finding a way around the state's occupational licensing laws, which function mainly to reduce competition and raise prices for consumers while offering little if any real protection for consumers? If consumers believe they need an accreditation process for a profession, it could be accomplished privately ...
We Shouldn't Have to Ask the State's Permission to Work, by Robert Fellner, 13 Mar 2017
Discusses occupational licensing laws, focusing on the onerous requirements imposed by the state of Nevada
Decades of empirical research has found that the "degree of political influence" is "one of the most important factors in determining whether States regulate an occupation," according to the authors of the White House report [Occupational Licensing: A Framework for Policymakers, July 2015]. In other words, excessive licensing laws are often advanced by industry insiders — who directly profit from the ability to legally exclude potential competitors. This is cronyism at its worst.
Related Topics: Institute for Justice, Nevada
Will You Be Safer If Guns Are Banned? Part 1, by Jarret Wollstein, Freedom Daily, Jul 1994
Considers whether banning guns would reduce crime, citing studies, articles and statistics that show the apparent paradox that gun-control laws tend to increase crime and violence, and explores some reasons for the continued increase in violent crime
... in our tax-ridden, regulation-crushed economy, many people cannot economically survive through low-end jobs. ... In Washington, D.C., it costs $7,000 in city fees to open a pushcart. In California, up to 80 federal and state licenses are required to open a small business. In New York, a medallion to operate a taxicab costs $150,000. Over 700 occupations in the U.S. require a government license. Throughout the country, church soup kitchens for the homeless are being closed by departments of health. No wonder so many people turn to crime and violence to survive.
Your Money or Your Life: Tackling Rising Costs in Health Care, by David J. Theroux, 19 Jan 1984
Discusses the trend of rising healh care costs and attributes it to regulation, particularly licensing, and the proliferation of third-party payers, both Medicare and Medicaid as well as group insurance plans
For instance, laws prohibit the treatment of relatively simple ailments, such as hangnails, by nurse practitioners at much lower rates; similarly, technicians who fit dentures have had great difficulty gaining the right to perform those chores; and midwives, who charge less than obstetricians, are often prohibited from delivering babies. The number of American medical schools, and therefore the number of doctors, is legally controlled through licensing laws supervised in each state by the American Medical Association ... These restrictions to entry and other factors ... have pushed up costs.
Related Topics: Health Care, Taxation

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Occupational licensing" as of 19 Oct 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.