A License to License

As an add-on to my recent column about the effects of occupational licensing on competition, I wanted to note an article from Sunday’s Projo that doesn’t appear to be available online:

Pharmacists, barbers, electricians, elevator mechanics, massage therapists, travel agents, landscape architects, acupuncturists, fire alarm installers, auctioneers. All those occupations, and lots more, are licensed by the State of Rhode Island, according to a report by the Reason Foundation, a libertarian organization in Washington, D.C. According to the study released last month, Rhode Island ranks sixth, tied with Michigan, in the number of occupations it regulates. …
[Adam B. Summers, author of the report,] said one of the chief reasons occupational licensing exists is as a means for interest groups to reduce competition, and keep prices artificially high. “They [licensing laws] are simply a means of utilizing government interests to serve narrow economic interests,” he said.

As it happens, during the same time frame that I was writing my column, I spotted the license on the wall of my Main Street barber here in Tiverton, and it struck me, at the time, that it doesn’t just limit competition, but is a hidden tax on a particular form of business. It isn’t a one-time fee for a piece of paper that a barber (in that case) is qualified; it’s a regular source of income for the government. One can almost picture a legislator waiting for a haircut and having an epiphany about an untapped source of revenue.
Oh well. Just one more list on which Rhode Island ranks poorly.

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