Sometime ago, I happened upon Anthony Bourdain on CNN. He was driving through Detroit with a buddy and observing the damage wrought by global trade, short-sighted unions, and decades of inept government.
Detroit’s a mess. Here’s a picture from a blog that uses Google Streetview and Bing Streetview to chronicle the ongoing demise of the once mighty city. And this squalor is not confined to a small area of the city. The destruction is far and wide. It’s as if the city has been turned into a national training center for vandals, arsonists, and scavengers.
But as Anthony discovered, all is not lost. There are glimmers of hope in the Motor City. In the video below, we see a DIY BBQ stand that Anthony and his buddy stumbled upon.
When I was watching this inspiring example of Detroit-style entrepreneurialism, I remember thinking three things:
- Damn! That’s the kind of dining experience Mrs. Groovy and I would love to stumble upon. Good food. Good hosts. And a great story to share with family and friends.
- This DIY BBQ stand can’t be legal. No permits. No food inspections. And I seriously doubt that Greedy Greg’s kitchen is up to code. The only reason it’s around is because Detroit’s authorities have far bigger problems than undocumented BBQ stands operating on residential front lawns.
- And why can’t this be legal? Why can’t citizens of a supposedly free country sell food on their front lawns? Does every activity under the sun require regulation from the state?
For almost a year, I forgot about Anthony Bourdain’s CNN piece. But I was reminded of it (and my gut reaction to Greedy Greg’s) the other day when I came across a blog post titled…
In this post, author Andy Koenig discusses how occupational licenses are making it increasingly difficult for Americans to become entry-level tradespeople. He believes our occupational licensing laws are “out of control.” And to prove his case, he chronicles some of the more absurd barriers that would-be tradespeople face.
- Alabama is the only state that doesn’t license barbers.
- In Nevada, it takes 890 days of education and training to become a barber.
- Commercial carpenters and cabinet makers are licensed in 29 states.
- All states license cosmetologists. A cosmetology license costs on average $142 and typically requires a year of education.
- Tree trimmers require licenses in 7 states.
- In 3 states and the District of Columbia, you need a license to become an interior designer. The average cost of this license is $400 and it can take up to 6 years to get it.
- Louisiana requires licenses for 71 entry-level and mid-level trades. Arizona requires licenses for 64 such trades. The least restrictive state is Wyoming. It requires licenses for 24 such trades.
The Myth of Deregulation
Many people believe that a lack of regulation is what ails America. Bernie Sanders, for instance, believes that the Great Recession was the result of deregulating Wall Street. And maybe he’s right. All I know is that Main Street hasn’t been deregulated. It has regulations coming out the ying-yang.
And if you doubt this is the case, and you want to discount everything I introduced above, try to start a business. Try to run a daycare center or a restaurant out of your home. Look at all the trouble Uber and Airbnb have when they enter a new city. And consider the thousands of unemployed and underemployed PhDs in this country. If we are so deregulated, why aren’t new colleges with new business models popping up left and right?
And it’s not just lowly carpenters and barbers who have to overcome the regulatory gauntlet. Why does a public school teacher, for instance, have to go to graduate school to get tenure and a raise? What are graduate schools teaching that teachers can’t learn on their own? And why do would-be lawyers have to get an undergraduate degree before they go to law school? Why can’t an 18-year-old just go to law school? The barriers to economic advancement go on and on. From starting a business to entering a trade, it’s a giant freakin’ hassle in this country.
Who is the Government Protecting?
Why is it so hard to start a business or take up a trade in this country? The pat response is consumer protection. Without all these rules, the consumer will get screwed.
But is consumer protection the real motivation?
Uber, Airbnb, and unlicensed barbers expose their customers to a certain amount of risk. No doubt about that. But how much risk? As much risk as that posed by the typical American college? After all, aren’t our colleges engaged in a fierce struggle to rid their campuses of unconscionable racism and widespread sexual predation? Call me nuts, but if I had a daughter, I think I’d worry more about her going to a frat party than using Uber.
I’ve worked for over twenty years in government. I’ve seen up close and personal how people use money to influence the decision-making of pols. And not once have I seen someone make a political “contribution” for purely selfless reasons. It was always for something that benefited the contributor at the expense of the public. So am I to believe that all these barriers to start a business or take up a trade exist for the benefit of the consumers?
Competition is Opportunity
Our politicians didn’t decide to regulate the hair-cutting industry because they got bad haircuts. Nor are they opposed to Uber because they are offended by consenting adults engaged in ride-sharing. No, they created barriers to becoming a barber and starting a ride-sharing business because existing barbers and cab companies paid them to stifle competition.
Not all regulations are bad, of course. There should be regulations to operate a nuclear power plant or use airplanes to transport people and goods. So I’m all for regulations that concern safety. Regulations that frustrate or eliminate competition, however, are another story.
We complain a lot about income inequality and the lack of social mobility in this country. And many people believe that increasing taxes on the rich and making college free are the solutions. But will more taxes and more welfare make it easier to start a business, become a barber, or drive for Uber? Will more taxes and more welfare save Detroit?
Okay, groovy freedomists, my rant is almost over. I just want you to keep this in mind. Too much of our regulatory state is designed to protect the established players from the up-and-coming. If we want to increase opportunities for the young, the poor, and the unemployed, we need to increase competition. More welfare, more free this and free that, is the equivalent of “giving a man a fish and feeding him for a day.” It’s not a long-term solution. Want a real solution? Get rid of all these freakin’ regulations that thwart competition. Set the little guy free, dammit.