Back in the 1980s, a friend who worked at the Federal Trade Commission reported that she spent a full day listening to representatives of interior designers from Texas tell the FTC that no one without a government-issued license should be permitted to practice interior design in the Lone Star State.
Interior designers argued that unlicensed designers endanger unwary customers. To illustrate the hazards of unlicensed designers, Texas designers set up mock draperies in the FTC conference room and placed a baby doll just beneath these drapes. By moving the doll along the floor as if it were crawling, one of the designers caused the draperies to crash down and crush the doll.
So you see, improperly hung draperies will kill your children. And because fly-by-night interior designers will hang draperies improperly, such designers will kill your children. To prevent this peril, government must license designers.
The interior designers who pleaded with the FTC to allow the Texas government to license members of their profession understood that they would be granted licenses. It's the inexperienced, new interior designers who cannot be trusted to offer their services to the public without first having gone through years of rigorous training, apprenticeships and testing.
Texas, alas, does today license interior designers “to ensure” (as it says in its statute books) “that the public health, safety, and welfare are protected.” How thoughtful.
Not coincidentally, however, another effect of this licensing scheme is to raise the incomes of licensed interior designers in Texas. By artificially restricting the number of people who can sell their services as designers, incumbent designers are protected from the full force of competition — i.e., consumers have their range of options artificially restricted. Interior-design customers have less choice and pay higher prices.
Sadly, this example of occupational licensing is only one of hundreds throughout America. Physicians and lawyers are, of course, widely known to be licensed. But did you know also that, in some states, people without government licenses cannot practice trades such as florist, lobster seller, motion-picture projectionist, hair braider, junkyard dealer and manure spreader?
In all cases, of course, industry incumbents proclaim only their public-spirited interest in protecting consumers from incompetent practitioners. In all cases, of course, consumers should reject these self-serving proclamations by incumbent producers.
Consumers should ask themselves why they need government to screen for them which particular interior designers, florists and junkyard dealers they are permitted to do business with. Are consumers really so naïve as to shop for the services of the likes of hair braiders and physicians only on the basis of price? I think not. Indeed, especially for professionals such as physicians and attorneys, consumers have strong incentives to search for, and pay attention to, information about the quality of different doctors and lawyers.
Government licensing is a widely used way to (allegedly) protect consumers from shoddy service, but as I'll explain in my next column, it is neither the only nor the best way.
Donald J. Boudreaux is a professor of economics and Getchell Chair at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. His column appears twice monthly.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Distracted Steelers show nothing in loss to Eagles
- Scientists hope tiny robotic bee’s big dreams take flight
- Friday’s scouting report: Pirates at Brewers
- Google Maps opens business doors to online views for shoppers
- NFL could delay punishment
- LaBar: Hulk Hogan wants to fight Brock Lesnar?
- Pirates, Brewers possess strengths up the middle
- Pitcairn police department 1st in Western Pennsylvania to carry Narcan for heroin overdoses
- Will soft foes mean fast start to the season for Pitt football team?
- Pittsburgh city vehicle repair delays elicit gripes about Cincinnati company
- Accountant unwound with family, outdoors