John Stossel

Politicians care about poor people. I know because they always say that. But then why do they make it so hard for the poor to escape poverty?

Outside my office in New York City, I see yellow taxis. It's intuitive to think that government should license taxis to make sure they're safe and to limit their number. It's intuitive to believe that if anyone could just start picking up passengers, we'd have chaos. So to operate a taxi in NYC, you have to buy a license, a "medallion," from an existing cab company (or at a once-in-a-blue-moon auction). Medallions are so scarce, they now cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Licensing prices poor people out of the business.

"Compare New York City, where a license to own and operate a taxi is $603,000, to Washington, D.C.," George Mason University economist Walter Williams told me. "There are not many black-owned taxis in New York City. But in Washington, most are owned by blacks." Why? Because in Washington, "it takes $200 to get a license to own and operate one taxi. That makes the difference."

Regulation hurts the people the politicians claim to help.

People once just went into business. But now, in the name of "consumer protection," bureaucrats insist on licensing rules. Today, hundreds of occupations require expensive licenses. Tough luck for a poor person getting started.

Ask Jestina Clayton. Ten years ago, she moved from Africa to Utah. She assumed she could support her children with the hair-braiding skills she learned in Sierra Leone. For four years, she braided hair in her home. She made decent money. But then the government shut her down because she doesn't have an expensive cosmetology license that requires 2,000 hours of classroom time -- 50 weeks of useless instruction. The Institute for Justice (IJ), the public-interest law firm that fights such outrages, says "not one of those 2,000 hours teaches African hair-braiding."

IJ lawyer Paul Avelar explained that "the state passed a really broad law and left it to the cosmetology board to interpret."

Guess who sits on the cosmetology board. Right: cosmetologists. And they don't like competition.

One day, Jestina received an email.

"The email threatened to report me to the licensing division if I continued to braid," she told me.

This came as a shock because she had been told that what she was doing was legal.


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