John Stossel

The people of Louisiana must sleep soundly knowing that their state protects them from ... unlicensed florists.

That's right. In Louisiana, you can't sell flower arrangements unless you have permission from the government. How do you get permission? You must pass a test that is graded by a board of florists who already have licenses. To prepare for the test, you might have to spend $2,000 on a special course.

The test requires knowledge of techniques that florists rarely use anymore. One question asks the name of the state's agriculture commissioner -- as though you can't be a good florist without knowing that piece of vital information.

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The licensing board defends its test, claiming it protects consumers from florists who might sell them unhealthy flowers. I understand the established florists' wish to protect their profession's reputation, but in practice such licensing laws mainly serve to limit competition. Making it harder for newcomers to open florist shops lets established florists hog the business.

Other states are considering adopting Louisiana's licensing law, but before any do, I hope that the law will be stricken. The Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm, has challenged the licensing in court, saying it violates liberty and equal protection, and so is unconstitutional.

"One of the most fundamental tenets of the American dream is the right to earn an honest living without arbitrary government interference. What could be more arbitrary than saying who can and who cannot sell flowers?" IJ President Chip Mellor says.

Others states have their own sets of ridiculous licensing rules. In Virginia, you need a license to be a yoga instructor. Florida threatened an interior designer with a $25,000 fine if she didn't do a six-year apprenticeship and pass a test, at a cost of several thousand dollars. Fortunately, the Institute for Justice got that law overturned.

I'm rooting for IJ because licensing interferes with the freedom to make a living, harms consumers by limiting competition and protects established firms. It's an old story. Established businesses have always used government to handcuff competition. Years ago, small grocers tried to ban supermarkets. A&P was going to "destroy Main Street," the grocers cried. Minnesota legislators responded to their lobbying by passing a law that forbade supermarkets to hold sales. Consumers were hurt.


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