John Stossel

Every once in a while, people in Washington have a good idea. A really good idea. An idea that creates jobs and provides a service people like.

 Then, the government gets involved.

Some years ago, a married couple, Taalib-Din Uqdah and Pamela Farrell, went into business braiding hair, African-style. They called their shop Cornrows & Co. If politicians' speeches are right, Uqdah and Farrell were heroes: Inner cities need businesses, and the couple had built a booming business in Washington, D.C. They had 20,000 customers, employed 10 people and took in half a million dollars a year. Some women came from as far away as Connecticut, six hours away, to have their hair braided by Cornrows & Co.

 

 Did the politicians honor these entrepreneurs for contributing to the community? Find ways to encourage others to do similar things? Well, the government did respond. But it wasn't with encouragement.

 Local bureaucrats ordered Uqdah to cease and desist, or be "subject to criminal prosecution." Why? Because he didn't have a license. "It's a safety issue," said the regulators. Those who run a hair salon must have a cosmetology license. The chemicals they use dyeing or perming hair might hurt someone.

 Hair dye is hardly a serious safety threat, but even if it were, Cornrows & Co. didn't dye or perm hair. They only braided it. That didn't matter, said the Cosmetology Board -- they still had to get a license. In order to get one, Uqdah would have to pay about $5,000 to take more than 1,000 hours of courses at a beauty school.

 It's unclear what beauty school would have taught him. Beauty schools didn't even teach the service Cornrows & Co. provided. They taught things like pin curls and gelatinized hairstyles that hadn't been popular for 40 years. One rule required students to spend 125 hours studying shampooing . I didn't realize it was that complicated -- have I been doing it wrong all these years?


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate