What kind of money does it take to get into the business of African-style hair braiding? The main inputs are the skills and a place in which to braid. However, in some states -- such as Utah, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio and California -- a person had to spend thousands of dollars in tuition and anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 hours at a cosmetology school to obtain a beautician's license. Safety is not an issue, because African-style braiders do not use chemicals, shave or give facials. Most of what's in cosmetology school curricula is irrelevant to hair braiding. As a result of Institute for Justice lawsuits on behalf of hair braiders, a number of restrictive state licensing laws have been struck down or repealed by state legislators under the threat of suits. Nonetheless, hair braiding restrictions remain in some states.
As I have documented in my recent book "Race and Economics" (2012), historically, occupational licensing and economic regulation have been used to keep blacks out of particular trades. For example, the Plumbers, Gas and Steam Fitters Official Journal, in January 1905, wrote, "There are about 10 Negro skate plumbers working around here (Danville, Va.), doing quite a lot of jobbing and repairing, but owing to the fact of not having an examination board (licensing agency) it is impossible to stop them, hence the anxiety of the men here to organize." Black scholars Lorenzo Greene and Carter G. Woodson said, "A favorite method of barring (Negroes) from plumbing and electrical work was to install a system of unfair examinations which were conducted by whites."
Today we don't hear racist intentions for restrictive economic regulations and licensure laws, but the intentions behind those laws do not change their effects. Their effects are to prevent people with meager means and little political clout from getting a foothold on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. Politically, it's preferable to give handouts than attack these and many other vested interests.
Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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