John Stossel

 Uqdah says the braiding he provides can't be taught in schools and shouldn't be licensed. "I've watched little second-grade girls sit down and braid each other's hair." He says there's evidence of hair braiding in Africa going back 5,000 years. "You cannot license a culture." He says the licensing test is weighted heavily toward the needs of straight or chemically straightened hair, not the kinky hair many blacks have. When he argues that different hair requires different skills, he says, licensed cosmetologists "go into denial. They like to think that they know how to do it all. And they don't."

 Uqdah thought he understood why the cosmetology board wanted to shut down his salon: "Money -- other salons don't like the competition."

 I think he was right. Even if licensing boards intend to protect the public, in time they are captured by the people who care most. Who cares most? Not consumers -- you don't get your hair done that often, and even if you did, you don't care enough about it to want to join a regulatory bureaucracy. Innovators don't join the boards; they're busy innovating. Scientists, economists, doctors, and others with genuine expertise in safety and commerce don't join the boards, either. They're busy doing more important things. So boards are usually captured by the licensees, the established businesses. William Jackson, a former member of the Washington, D.C., Cosmetology Board, admitted, "The board, 90 percent of the time, are salon owners."

Uqdah refused to close his shop. He fought the government instead, ultimately going to federal court with the help of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm, and D.C. changed its law. Now, hair braiders don't have to get training that has nothing to do with what they do. Uqdah says, "I had to spend 10 years fighting the city. And now I've gone out and created a mechanism that other people can do what I've done -- with or without a license."


 He and those others are fortunate that the Institute for Justice took his case. Usually, the established businesses get away with using licensing boards and "safety" regulations to crush competitors. That's unfair. And if the question is who's protecting the public, it seems to me Taalib-Din Uqdah has done much more than the bureaucrats who wanted him to spend 125 hours studying shampooing.

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 > To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at ©Creators Syndicate