OK, while licensing of florists, interior designers and yoga teachers is ridiculous, what about more important professions, like law? Surely people need protection from people who would practice law without a license. Again, I say no. Lawyers' monopoly on helping people with wills, bankruptcies and divorces is just another expensive restraint of trade.
David Price recently spent six months in a Kansas jail because he wrote a letter on behalf of a man who was wrongly accused of practicing architecture without a license. When Price refused to promise never to "practice law" again, a judge sent him to jail.
All he did was write a letter. Price didn't misrepresent his credentials. However, he did save a man from paying $3,000 to a lawyer. Perhaps that was his real offense.
Some of the most famous lawyers in American history, including Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo, had no license from the state. Their customers decided whether they were worthy of being hired.
Competition is better than government at protecting consumers from shoddy work. Furthermore, licensing creates a false sense of security. Consider this: When you move to a new community, do you ask neighbors or colleagues to recommend doctors, dentists and mechanics even though those jobs are licensed? Of course. Because you know that even with licensing laws, there is a wide range of quality and outright quackery in every occupation. You know that licensing doesn't really protect you.
A free competitive market for reputation protects consumers much more effectively than government can. Today, online services like Angie's List (www.angieslist.com) make it even easier for consumers to get better information about businesses than government licensing boards will ever provide. We do need protection from shoddy businesses. But it's freedom and competition that produce the best protection.
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