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“No state shall convert a liberty into a license, and charge a fee therefore.” (Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105)
“If the State converts a right (liberty) into a privilege, the citizen can ignore the license and fee and engage in the right (liberty) with impunity.” (Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, Alabama, 373 U.S. 262)
The Regulated States of America: Occupational Licensing Gone Wild
The United States is far from the land of the free these days. The governments in state capitols and Washington DC have confiscated our rights and are selling them back to us. American culture has shifted in a frightening way that has expanded the number of professions and industries that now require an occupational license to legally provide a service or start a business. This stifles business creation in many states and disproportionally affects low and middle income individuals the most.
Governments have overreached yet again in requiring a license to perform work that is not in the realm of public safety for consumers. Sandefur stated how it started and what it has become today, “Okay, yeah you gotta get licensing to do something that might be really risky to public health and safety and we accept little by little and eventually we have this growing trend where people are not allowed to work or start a business at all without first getting government permission.” Our insistence on government telling us what to do has hopefully peaked, but recent examples around the country might suggest otherwise.
Over the last 50 years, Sandefur pointed out, 1 in 20 Americans were required to get permission from the government to work by obtaining a license. This included obvious professions in the medical or educational fields. However, today, this number has exploded to 1 in 5 Americans being required to obtain an occupational license, essentially a permission slip from the government, to do their job. Other figures peg the number at closer to 1 in 4.
Is there any reason to believe this grotesque trajectory won’t continue?
Incredibly, over half of all jobs that require licenses are only required in one state. Examples include graphic designers, audio engineers, and travel agents. Consequences of not obtaining permission from the government to work include massive fines and even jail time. This government intervention in the economy restricts liberty and confiscates our freedom to make a living. Many people do not have the money to go to school, so they try to start a business and provide a service, only to run into the pointed gun of government telling them they can’t unless they spend an enormous amount of time and money to get the “proper training.”
Even more disturbing is the fact that when one challenges these licensing laws, they are guilty until proven innocent. Prospective entrepreneurs have to show the government why they should be free to work without permission from the government, but there is no burden of proof for the government to prove why the occupation should be licensed in the first place.
One atrocious example is requiring a license to blow dry hair. To get this permission, one must spend $15,000 in schooling and put in 1,000 hours to be “trained.” This training includes things like perming and drying hair, activities not performed when you are merely blow drying hair.