George Will

Placing furniture without a license? Heaven forfend. Such regulations come with government rationing of the right to practice a profession. Who benefits? Creating artificial scarcity of services raises the prices of those entitled to perform the services. The pressure for government-created scarcity is intensifying because the general public -- rank amateurs -- are using the Internet to purchase things and advice, bypassing designers.

What has happened in Las Vegas will not stay there. It will come to Arizona, and to other states that do not already have it, unless the likes of Robert Lashua and Lynne Breyer succeed in turning back the minority of this state's interior designers who are trying to erect barriers to entry into that profession.

Lashua and Breyer have the help of the Arizona chapter of the Institute for Justice, libertarian litigators with many successes in resisting such "rent-seeking." That phrase denotes the practice of using public power to confer private advantage -- generally, getting government to impose a regulatory hardship on your competitors.

It is not true that businesses, as a matter of principle, want to fend off government regulation. Businesses have a metabolic urge to make money, which is as it should be. But when a compliant government gives them the opportunity to use government regulations to enhance their moneymaking, businesses' metabolic urge will overpower any principles about the virtues of free (from government intervention) enterprise.

Commercial interests solicit regulations to obtain commercial advantage, as with titling laws. Such laws are instances of rent-seeking.

Beyond the banal economic motive for such laws, they also involve a more bizarre misuse of government. They assuage the status anxieties of particular groups by giving them the prestige, such as it is, that comes from government recognition as a certified profession.

But government licenses professions to protect the public and ensure quality. It licenses engineers and doctors because if their testable skills are deficient, bridges collapse and patients die. The skills of interior designers are neither similarly measurable nor comparably disastrous when deficient. Perhaps designers could show potential clients a portfolio of their work and government could trust the potential clients to judge. Just a thought.

Thomas Hobbes thought that liberties "depend on the silence of the law." From lawmakers here, and everywhere else, more silence on the matter of titles would be welcome.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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