That is the million dollar question.

Why?  Why do you need a license to become a barber, a beautician, a fishermen, for that matter. 

Heck, why do you need a license to operate a vehicle?  Question for a different day.

Reason Magazine, a libertarian-leaning news organization and magazine, recently did a piece on Arizona’s regulatory state, noting that a license is required to work for 64 occupations, “costing on average $455 in fees and almost 600 days of education and experience.”

Strangely, Arizona’s system, like that of other states, doesn’t even recognize licenses from other states.  You could have been a 20 year veteran in your particular craft – barbering, as an example – and you are still forced to comply with licensing boards, pay hundreds of dollars, and take hours and hours of classes. 

Back to my original question, though: why all the fuss with this licensing?

Well, it comes down to a few things, so the experts and politicians say.

Consumer safety many claim.  Others preach about the virtues of maintaining industry standards.  The government certainly has public safety in mind. 

I’m here to argue the complete opposite.  Most of what is done in the name of consumer safety and professional standards is a bunch of baloney. 

It comes down to a few things which the rest of this post explores.  For now, though, I’ll put it brief.  It boils down to two things: 1. maintaining the status quo and 2. erecting barriers of entry to stifle competition.   The two are virtually the same.  Do one, you get the other. 

Mandating that certain highly regulated licenses be obtained before employment – to say nothing of overpriced mostly unnecessary colleges degrees – works against a free and open system, preventing valued ideals such as equal opportunity for all, instead perpetuating a rigid social, class, and economic hierarchy.

Big claims, I know.  Here are my thoughts on the matter.


The Law of Self-Preservation and Supply-Demand. Quick question: if you belonged to a high status profession with a starting salary of $250,000 and worked tirelessly to get there – four years of sleepless nights, followed by four more grueling years, an internship here, a residency there, on top of thousands and thousands of dollars of educational loans you have to pay back – would you feel entitled to some of that power, status, and pay?  Would you really want others attaining your same level of status and income potential by going through a different, less expensive, less grueling route?  Probably not.

Enter the lofty medical profession.  The barrier of entry is very high—and has been for a long time.  It makes sense for them.  Too many doctors – low barrier of entry to get in – less pay because of more competition.  Less number of doctors – many high barriers only few can overcome – very high pay.  It’s a classic supply-demand scenario.    

The medical profession is still a “good boy” club defined more so by class privilege, more than anything. Not only has the AMA stifled competition for years, but the sheer image of a doctor – white lab-coated health expert to be regarded as nothing less than a genius – is so embedded in the popular imagination that they, and their industry, go virtually unquestioned. No wonder
The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures used the famed MD’s.

After all, the American Medical Association has accredited only 179 medical schools.  Think about that: one body of doctors – legally sanctioned by the government – are endowed with the power to put their stamp of approval on would-be doctors who have attended one of their 179 schools.  We have a population of over 350 million and 179 schools are the only places where doctors can go to be certified and legally cleared to work?  Monopoly, anyone?

Is there any wonder why doctors mostly come from affluent backgrounds and that many are imported from overseas countries every year.  Frankly, it’s a rigged system.   

Who’s to say that you cannot voluntarily arrange a private contract with a practicing doctor to learn the ropes and, overtime, through many years of training and practice, obtain the same level of educational and professional competence to enter their ranks?  Lawyers did this for many years.  Many occupations—mostly construction trades–still do, at least to some degree.   

Perhaps this industry is not as benevolent as the public is lead to believe.  They did, after all, stifle the progress of chiropractors for many years.  This 1991 hard-hitting article on this very battle between the AMA and chiropractors is a MUST read.  Here is an excerpt:

…”But the AMA is a health-care bully. Historically, it has attempted to wipe out every competing health-care provider–podiatrists, doctors of osteopathy, optometrists, and anyone else that COMPETED (my emphasis) with its members.”

If fellow health care providers dedicated to improving the welfare of others can be stifled, I don’t care to know in what light they hold the general public. 

Point being: whether a fancy doctor in expensive commercial real estate space or a hole-in-the-wall hair salon in a major city, neither can afford less costly (and better service) from competitors.  The former paid the piper, took out the loans, are making good money as it currently is, and cannot afford to lose their grip on market share. 


Mandating Licensing Harms the Poor and Unemployed Most. When licensing becomes the prerequisite to entry into select jobs those without the credential are prevented from “getting their foot in the door.”  How else are young people – particularly poor young black and latino men who, statistically, are the most unemployed – supposed to get the necessary skills to move up the ladder if licensing doesn’t permit them an opportunity to work?

Who is a young barber harming by voluntarily engaging in economic activity with local people in his home?  Who or what is the government protecting when young men and women exercise their God-given gifts in their own communities and make a nice profit doing so?  Could it be that the government, in its well-intentioned effort to protect consumer, is actually harming the producer?  Could it be that maintaining the bureaucratic structure filled with workers that depend on the system matters more, to say nothing of the untold sums of taxes the state needs from those “doing their own thing?”

Say you want to drive a truck for a living.   You need a CDL, of course.  Fair enough.  But should you really have to go out of your way to take a 6-month long course (as is the case for a trucking school in my state), shell out thousands and thousands of dollars, spend an inordinate amount of classroom time doing what you could otherwise do yourself? 

Here’s an example of where the establishment benefits again.  Because truck driving schools preparing students for CDL’s in my state are few and far between, these schools can afford to charge way more than what it should really cost to get a license.  One school, in particular, extends the “curriculum” up to six months, essentially charging triple the price, exploiting the fact too that many of these students are going to get government aid anyway.  Why not milk the system for all its worth, right?  Heck, universities do it!

Any sane person  would tell you that you can study the government-issued CDL booklet yourself, learn about all of the endorsements (take those exams when ready), get some time on the road by, say, hiring a personal trucker to show you the ropes, pay him, say, a couple hundred bucks, do this for a month or two, and, BAM, you have a license, without going into debt for thousands and attending a school that exists solely to line its pockets.    

I believe not only in the open source model of education but of economic opportunity.  The two, in reality, are very intertwined.  Most of what you learn in college is thrown out the window anyway.  A benevolent manager is likely to groom you on the “real way” to do things.  Might as well get a head start by working at a younger age and getting experience in various parts of the economy to get a better understanding on how the real world works.  If nothing else, this valuable lesson might lessen those dreadful Monday morning blues by the time you enter the “real world.”

Free open exploration of the world is better than carefully constructed “professionally” managed people being told what to do. In a time when the only certainty is change – I mean, what’s new? – young people especially need to think critically, and develop their personal narrative and place in the world, without the dictates of authority figures and experts. Technology, as I explain in the next paragraph, enables that, creating countless opportunities for the bold and daring. Too much licensing, regulations and the formalities of needless schooling keeps the status quo firmly in place to the detriment of many.


Less Licensing, Less Formal Schooling Means More Opportunity, Progress, and Innovation

This certainly applies in the tech world.  Who could have predicted the explosion of Angry Birds?  That such a seemingly simple concept could later grow into a global empire is out of this world.  More than just an app, the brand today currently has “a catalogue of more than 30,000 Angry Bird-related products on sale in more than 500 locations around the world.”

More broadly, who could have predicted the absolute explosion of mobile app creation?  In 2006, when I was freshman in high school, having a cellphone was seen as a status symbol.  One year later, when the Iphone was released not only did that represent a major shift in technology but it birthed an industry that would later change the modern world as we know it.

In came the app industry, which in only a year’s time, was valued in the billions.  How many students – particularly poor minority kids – got to cash in on this gold rush?  Virtually none.  No schools incorporated this type of tech. Students were mostly berated for having a phone and punished like little children needing a time out. How many students would have foamed at the mouth to get their hands on this opportunity?  Millions.

As is the case with new and powerful mediums of money-making potential, the rich and powerful are able to capitalize.  However, in the case of the tech economy, given that it has, at least in theory, equaled the playing field, anybody can compete.  Students should be empowered to compete in this fast-growing and evolving industry that is sure to define their future work life and income potential.   

The powerful allure of technology is that virtually anyone with enough passion and creativity can compete and become successful.  No expensive degrees are required, no rigged college admissions to worry about, no licensing requirements from the powers-that-be.  Simply you, a computer, imagination, and endless opportunity. 

The manner in which technology still remains on the outskirts of most educational curriculums reflects the outdated structure of schooling and the powerful interests that have a stake in keeping it as such.  With the endless amount of information available online today to learn virtually anything do we really need to keep students in neat rows memorizing mostly useless impractical information that they will never apply in the real -world and simply forget the next semester as they take the next multiple-choice exam? 


When the barriers to certain occupations –  especially high status and high income ones – include obtaining government-mandated licenses, sky high tuition, acing select standardized exams (themselves the product of corruption), socialization in the “right” schools and organizations, the wealth and privilege of select few is perpetuated all the more. 

Meanwhile, those at the lower end of the economic ladder continue on with low wage service sector jobs.  Slight minimum wage increases are championed as “progress” when, in reality, they fail to address the foundational issues at work.


Please stay tuned for a follow up article on the untold side of the minimum wage, and how it is possible to overcome traditional licensing and educational requirements.

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