Let's Make 2014 the Year of Freedom for Low-Wage Workers

Our regulations price low-income people out of greater job potential. That is a crime.

The federal budget deficit was big in 2013, but not as big as the freedom deficit. We should all resolve to make 2014 the year that we secure our freedom from government, the biggest threat we face.

We can start with freedom for low-wage workers.

Hundreds of occupations are closed shut unless one has a license. To get the license, one has to comply with costly requirements. This prices low-income people out. That is a crime.

Licensing is one way that freedom is limited on behalf of special interests. The licensing regime is overseen by the current practitioners, giving them the power to limit the number of their competitors. This is a double whammy. It locks people out of occupations, and it raises prices to consumers. We’re told that licensing exists to protect consumers from shoddy work, but licensing does not protect consumers. Ask yourself: When you move to a new area and are looking for a physician, dentist, lawyer, hairdresser, plumber, mechanic, or electrician, do you randomly choose one from a list of licensed practitioners, or do you ask a neighbor or check a web-based rating service?

If you use either of the latter two options, then I’d like to know why you have so little confidence in the licensing regime. Is it because we all know that licensing does not really filter out the cons and incompetents? If it did, who’d need Angie’s List?

Thus, we can’t even claim that the loss of freedom from occupational licensing is compensated for by the elimination of poor products and services. Without licensing, independent rating and certification services would flourish, because the mirage of government protection licensing would be gone.

This is no trivial matter. By raising barriers to self-employment, occupational licensing reduces low-wage workers’ bargaining power and helps lock them into jobs they would rather escape. We see a good deal of lobbying on behalf of raising the minimum wage and facilitating union organizing, but if the goal is freedom, autonomy, and prosperity for low-wage workers, these proposals miss the target badly. What people need are real alternatives to working for someone else. (The minimum-wage law destroys and degrades low-skilled jobs.) A worker can cut a better deal with an employer if he or she can say, “Take this job and shove it,” and pursue self-employment instead. But even the kind of independent work that would be accessible to most anyone — driving a taxi, say, or being a street vendor — is mired in special-interest government decrees if not outright prohibitions.

Licensing is not the only barrier to independence. Zoning and other kinds of land-use restrictions often rule out home-based income-producing activities. The dramatically falling cost of computers and software — and new technologies such as 3D printing — are opening up the prospect of highly decentralized small-scale manufacturing that could be done from a home or garage. Never before have people had the opportunity to pursue such work on their own or in small groups of peers. But that route to independence is thwarted by government at all levels.

Another way that government thwarts independence is through “intellectual property”; individuals wishing to develop, manufacture, and sell a product can never be sure that they won’t be sued for patent infringement. Claiming ownership of ideas is dubious in itself; in practice it permits one person to control the noninvasive productive activities of others.

Things that we may not think of as targeting the freedom of the most vulnerable people nevertheless do so. Taxes and regulations may formally apply across the board, but they take a greater toll on microbusinesses than on big businesses, which have accounting and legal departments expert at dealing with government-imposed burdens. As a result, small businesses remain small and people with good ideas may not get them to the marketplace. Government should never protect the market share of established firms.

The tragedy is that progressives, who claim to care about the working poor, never talk about these barriers to independence. Why not? Are progressives ignorant of economics, or are they beholden to special interests?

The working poor don’t need crumbs from the power elite’s table. They need independence, which means they need freedom, the path to prosperity.

This column originally appeared in the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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  • Pro Libertate||

    Might help the economy a bit to make starting and running a small business less expensive and less bureaucratic, along with not raising or even having a minimum wage.

  • RightNut||

    Richman must not have finished this piece, I don't see a single paragraph blaming Israel for our problems.

  • OldMexican||

    Our regulations price low-income people out of greater job potential. That is a crime.


    It is also the result of mercantilist ideas that refuse to die.

    Taxes and regulations may formally apply across the board, but they take a greater toll on microbusinesses than on big businesses


    Which is why we must tax the rich even more!

    /Progtard

  • Bramblyspam||

    I really hate it when an article on a worthy theme gets all histrionic with stuff like "that is a crime" - referring to something which, quite obviously, doesn't run afoul of criminal law.

    I like sending Reason links to my lefty friends, but they'd tune out this article without even getting past the third paragraph.

    You won't persuade anyone by preaching to the choir. Reason can do better than this article.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Bramblyspam,

    I like sending Reason links to my lefty friends, but they'd tune out this article without even getting past the third paragraph


    I don't think they get past the third paragraph even if the article was written for 4 year olds (or Denzel Washington) to understand.

    I tried many times to politely and carefully explain to Tony (our resident progressive blockhead) the many reasons why many of the economic policies followed by the American government cannot and will not work; he does not even try to address any of the points, instead going on a platitude-laden rage. My proggy sister is exactly like that; now I simply send incendiary cartoons and comments on Facebook to see if I can get at least one line of true engagement with her. So far, no luck.

  • Bramblyspam||

    I don't know that I've ever gotten one of my lefties to admit they were wrong, but I have on occasion gotten them to admit that I have a point. I know I'm having an impact.

    In facebook debates, the key thing to remember is that you're really not trying to convert the hardcore lefties. The folks you convert are the silent bystanders who are watching the debate. If you come across as intelligent and respectful while the lefty comes across as hysterical and deranged, then you've accomplished your goal - even if other posts in the thread don't reflect that.

    Unfortunately, this particular article doesn't come across as particularly intelligent and respectful.

  • OldMexican||

    Claiming ownership of ideas is dubious in itself; in practice it permits one person to control the noninvasive productive activities of others


    That's blasphemy! Every cosmotarian knows that true property is whatever the government says it is, which is ideas - you know, that spawn relentlessly through many minds and thus not subject to scarcity - and not yucky things like your land, your production... or your own body.

  • ||

    Kinda ironic to claim the cosmos love them some IP when Reason has written extensively on getting rid of it and 90% of the commentariat agrees. And also that nobody who supports IP on this website has ever argued against "real" property rights to the exclusion of IP.

    Also ironic that you believe in self ownership of every part of the human body except the grey matter that pretty much defines human existence.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    You have to spend money to make money.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Becoming an entrepreneur in green industries is apparently a big leftie meme right now.

  • Sevo||

    Particularly if you're a FoO and can get a nice package of 'seed money'!

  • Raston Bot||

    Meme as in internet joke theme or an actual trend? Because more people trying to start a business and stumbling through tax hoops, the better our chances at reform.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I think it's just talk, and I'm extrapolating from things my wife is seeing posted by leftists. It might just be the ones she's hearing from, but it sounds like something broader.

  • Enough About Palin||

    You have to spend money to mtake money.

    /US Government

  • Drake||

    Most of them have no desire for freedom - many are deathly afraid it.

  • Nando||

    Charity suggests social justice is optional and not a right and obligation of a society to take care of its people in an organized and fair way. Charity is fine but rely on it for nothing. A social safety net is a requirement for a civilized society and that's not optional.

  • Irish||

    Three arguments by assertion in a row with half a dozen undefined terms and a slew of strawmen.

    It's cool seeing the products of a brain that runs entirely on logical fallacies.

  • Nando||

    It is up to our elected governments to redistribute the wealth, and our government health agencies to decide where monies should go for health-related research.
    All charities need to be abolished

  • Sevo||

    You should try growing a brain cell.

  • MJGreen||

    Charity is fine

    All charities need to be abolished

  • Christophe||

    Mask straps are getting really shitty these days. Damn things just keep slipping off!

  • some guy||

    Three arguments by assertion in a row with half a dozen undefined terms and a slew of strawmen.

    I'm sure his definition of "civilized society" involves some form of circular reasoning or No True Scotsman.

  • SugarFree||

    Theft is not a right.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Might makes right, dude. Why are you so out of touch with leading philosophical thinking?

  • SugarFree||

    Justice with a modifier isn't justice at all.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Sexual Justice is a right!

  • Pro Libertate||

    You can lead a horse to water, and you can make him drink by shoving his head under water.

  • Libertarius||

    Back in the 60's, "intellectuals" of the New Left seriously considered whether the government should legislate a right to orgasm.

  • Nando||

    The real objective of the those who fund the Charity-Industrial-Complex is to lead to the end of most government social services and create a private alternative assistance system that forces those in need to bow and scrape to "their betters" and to listen to said betters finger-wagging lectures on "morality" and "personal responsibility"-concepts the betters, of course, always exempt THEMSELVES from having to follow.

  • Sevo||

    I'll bet you thought there was a point buried in there somewhere.
    But then you're an imbecile that way.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Yes, those charities. Much more powerful and insidious than the government, with their constant begging for money rather than the much more enlightened redistribution of wealth by force.

  • Nando||

    One problem with Charities is they are undemocratic. It gives the rich huge power over how money ends up being spent vs. everyone else.
    It comes down to the Mazlow Hierarchy of needs. Everything on the bottom 2 tiers of the Pyramid should be covered by Government.

  • Pro Libertate||

    You're just screwing with us, aren't you? Who are you, Episiarch?

  • Nando||

    "But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible. And the altruistic virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim. Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it, so, in the present state of things in England, the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good; and at last we have had the spectacle of men who have really studied the problem and know the life - educated men who live in the East End - coming forward and imploring the community to restrain its altruistic impulses of charity, benevolence, and the like. They do so on the ground that such charity degrades and demoralises. They are perfectly right. Charity creates a multitude of sins."
  • Sevo||

    Ah, yes, promoting socialism, since it is so compassionate that it's only responsible for about a hundred million deaths in the last century!
    What a wonderful little turd you are!

  • OneOut||

    "social justice is optional and not a right and obligation of a society to take care of its people in an organized and fair way."

    What is fair about me being forced at gunpoint to buy someone else a smartphone or a silver plan when I can only afford bronze for my own family ?

    "the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good; "

    Lord please the world from those who think they are the ones to save the world

    I once read a paper by a deconstructionist where he asserted that Tom Sawyer and Jim were homosexual lovers. His proof was that because the possibility of their union was never, ever mentioned in the book that Twain must have meant it to be so.

    This mismash reminds me of that.

  • Sevo||

    Pro Libertate|1.2.14 @ 2:15PM|#
    "You're just screwing with us, aren't you?"
    Nando's been around now and then. Could be a sock, but seems to be a true abysmally ignorant lefty pile if shit.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I vote that we put him in a commenter concentration camp, then. I mean, that's the democratic conclusion of this polity, right?

  • Mercutio||

    The bottom tier of the pyramid includes sex. Do you believe the government should provide hookers for people who can't get laid on their own?

  • ||

    The bottom tier of the pyramid includes sex. Do you believe the government should provide hookers for people who can't get laid on their own?

    No, he thinks the government should cut out the intermediary and just fuck everybody.

  • blcartwright||

    You are assuming the government is altruistic. What happens is that the lefties run for office saying "vote for me so I can take things from other people and give them to you". Once in charge of the distribution the pols will make sure to take a cut for themselves, after they decided which of us needs what. And how is that better than the private system you criticize?

  • PapayaSF||

    You do know that a huge proportion of charity money is controlled and dispensed by very left-wing people, right? It's not as if the Ford Foundation etc. are working for less government.

  • Mock-star||

    3/10. Apply yourself!

  • some guy||

    Welcome new troll. How long will you last? Will you become as beloved as Tony or shrike? Only time will tell...

  • ||

    D- trolling. Lurk the Bo Cara, Tony and Shreeek threads and go practice at Red State until you up your game a bit.

  • waffles||

    Are progressives ignorant of economics, or are they beholden to special interests?

    Yes.

    It seems so clear to me that the biggest barrier to self-employment is all of the "cost of compliance" entailed in performing any work. No wonder that the fastest growing industries seem to be the least regulated.

  • Pro Libertate||

    And, of course, there are barriers to entry built up through unholy alliances between established companies and regulators that help prevent the rise of smaller competitors.

  • Sevo||

    "No wonder that the fastest growing industries seem to be the least regulated."

    Those and the ones proposing to help people through new regulations.
    "Fixers"; the new growth industry!

  • PapayaSF||

    Those two things, plus a sense that they are compassionate people with good intentions, heroically helping the poor by voting for more government.

  • ||

    I would love to know if there's a study out there that measures how many progs actually own businesses.

  • waffles||

    The way this article specifically picks out the "working" poor is insulting. Why only help the lucky people who are able to work? It's disgustingly unfair to the people who are unfit for work. These individuals, through no fault of their own, have been left behind to more in the wastes left by unchecked capitalism. Real freedom isn't freedom to work. Real freedom is universal health insurance and a basic guaranteed income. We must show compassion to all Americans, not just the privileged workers. Anything less is slavery.

  • Christophe||

    People who are unfit for work would benefit from greater economic growth too. Our social safety net needs a productive private economy to sustain it.
    Even a die-hard socialist should understand that making it harder for people who want to work to actually get a job or start a business is a net loss for everyone. Isn't that obvious?

  • Enough About Palin||

    Sheldon Richman Says Let's Make 2014 the Year of Freedom for Low-Wage Workers

    Freedom from employment.

  • waffles||

    Join me in this glorious revolution!

    /pancakes

  • Pro Libertate||

    Freedom from freedom.

  • Sevo||

    With free shit besides!

  • Pro Libertate||

    It's going to be so great when all my decisions are made for me, in advance. Why, I'll be so happy then!

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    Today's Wal-Mart News

    "Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world's largest retailer, has recalled donkey meat sold at some outlets in China after tests showed the product contained the DNA of other animals, the U.S. company said.

    Wal-Mart will reimburse customers who bought the tainted "Five Spice" donkey meat and is helping local food and industry agencies in eastern Shandong province investigate its Chinese supplier, it said late on Wednesday in official posts on China's Twitter-like Weibo. The Shandong Food and Drug Administration earlier said the product contained fox meat.

    The scandal could dent Wal-Mart's reputation for quality in China's $1 trillion food and grocery market where it plans to open 110 new stores in the next few years. China is the largest grocery market in the world and is set to grow to $1.5 trillion by 2016, according to the Institute of Grocery Distribution."

    http://www.reuters.com/article.....3O20140102

  • Pro Libertate||

    Now I'm pissed, because my Walmart doesn't sell donkey meat.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    I have to wonder, other than just possible misrepresentation, why would Chinese consumers be outraged that there is fox in their donkey meat? Is it a cultural thing that donkey meat is OK but fox meat is taboo?

  • Pro Libertate||

    It's that damned Swedish song. Everyone hates foxes now.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    Fox meat smells rank, according to those who know. But it is cheap (less than 50 US cents a pound) because Chinese farmers who raise foxes for their fur have no use for the animal carcasses once they have been flayed.

    http://www.csmonitor.com/World.....y-products

  • CampingInYourPark||

    Fox meat smells rank, according to those who know. But it is cheap (less than 50 US cents a pound) because Chinese farmers who raise foxes for their fur have no use for the animal carcasses once they have been flayed.

    http://www.csmonitor.com/World.....y-products

  • CampingInYourPark||

    Fox meat smells rank, according to those who know. But it is cheap (less than 50 US cents a pound) because Chinese farmers who raise foxes for their fur have no use for the animal carcasses once they have been flayed.

    http://www.csmonitor.com/World.....y-products

  • Mercutio||

    The "Three O'Clock Squirrels" strike again!

  • OneOut||

    I'm pissed because I already ate mine so how do I return that for a refund ?

  • optimusratiostultum||

    That is how patriotic Walmart is.
    Getting vengeance on behalf of all of us for the lead paint in our toys.

  • Archduke von Pantsfan||

    Woman lived Starbucks by only eating and drinking their products for 365 days. As depicted in this video...

  • ||

    What's the point?

    Like that guy who ate nothing but McDonald's. Of course you're gonna get sick eating that shit 365 days a year - just like anything else.

    And the point of the exercise was?

  • some guy||

    The McDonald's guy was even dumber. He went from being a vegan to eating only McDonalds with no adjustment in between. If I went from my current diet to vegan in a day I'd be miserable too...

  • Pro Libertate||

    And he had a result in mind when he started the whole project. That was a bullshit business from start to finish.

  • Enough About Palin||

    I went from being 8-years vegan to meat eater by starting at McDonald's first. Had a craving for a quarter-pounder with cheese.

    And nothing else happened.

  • PapayaSF||

  • Sevo||

    I bleeve someone at Reason did interview her (but I plead old-fart memory, too).

  • optimusratiostultum||

    he also quit exercising too. a second variable he didn't properly blame for his quickly deteriorating condition.

  • PapayaSF||

    He also made it a point to take every "suggestion" from the cashiers about "super-sizing" everything, having a desert, etc. Someone else later did a McDonalds-only diet but used common sense and self-control, and did fine.

  • Schu||

    I'm not really sure why licensure is Sheldon Richman's pet issue but outside of some ridiculous cases like the interior designers in Florida I'm not sure how he has room to bitch. I work as an engineer in NYC and of all the people in my office, there are exactly five people that are required to be licensed to sign off on documents. There are dozens of other people who may or may not have licenses and spend their day working as design engineers or Revit or AutoCAD draftsmen. My coworkers hail from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Trinidad, Bahamas, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Austria, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Peru, Mexico, China, Romania, and Nepal. The only requirements in New York State to become a Professional Engineer is that you pass a competency exam after the required verified work experience (4 years for an engineering college grad, 8 years for non).

    Is the complaint that the testing requirements are set by insiders? Well, who should the test be written by then? Or do you want no tests at all? No shows of competency? Let the shady salesman with the golden tongue and larceny on his mind use shoddy materials and watch as an apartment building collapses?

    I love Reason in general, but this argument always raises the hackles on my neck.

  • Sevo||

    ..."Let the shady salesman with the golden tongue and larceny on his mind use shoddy materials and watch as an apartment building collapses?"...

    Yep, really good for return business when you kill people, isn't it?
    Are you familiar with the phrase 'false dichotomy'?

  • Mickey Rat||

    "...there are exactly five people that are required to be licensed to sign off on documents."

    How many of those people actually oversee the projects the sign off on to the extent that they are required?

  • mtrueman||

    "Well, who should the test be written by then?"

    How about the boss? The boss of the place where the engineer is being hired. If not the boss, the one the boss has designated to look for the right man or woman for the job.

  • JeremyR||

    My coworkers hail from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Trinidad, Bahamas, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Austria, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Peru, Mexico, China, Romania, and Nepal.

    And that is the problem. Workers in the US are literally competing with people from the rest of the world. It drives the wages down and it makes jobs scarcer, both for the skilled and unskilled.

  • mtrueman||

    "And that is the problem"

    All this nattering about jobs and wages. You guys would be right at home among the talking heads on some tv panel show.

    Let's face it. Jobs are for the most part dull and degrading. As for wages, why not take the line of the creators of Linux and work for free. There's not a soul in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Trinidad, Bahamas, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Austria, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Peru, Mexico, China, Romania, or Nepal who will undercut the wageless worker.

  • ||

    Or do you want no tests at all? No shows of competency?

    Yep. We don't want schools or birth control either. And we want racism, segregation, and slavery. If you don't want government doing something, obviously you don't want it done it all.

  • AdamJ||

    What do you do when there's a collapse and the company responsible has gone bankrupt or closed up shop? If people get hurt? I see te argument against licensing, but owners and contractors are cheap. I definitely see both sides. At least this is one issue where the claim of public safety isn't bullshit.

  • ||

    What do you do when there's a collapse and the company responsible has gone bankrupt or closed up shop?

    In that case it would be more likely that the owners and managers would be charged criminally as well as civilly, and all of their personal assets would be available for seizure. The corporate veil doesn't limit tort liability.

  • thorax232||

    Great points Sheldon, I like your style. :D

  • Public Educator 51||

    Right to work laws are absolutely critical to allowing all individuals the opportunity they are needing. I agree wholeheartedly with the author. The barriers put in place by unions and their puppets are creating a crony-ized system that is choking off any recovery of the economy and poverty areas.

  • bassjoe||

    The licensing agencies don't exist to protect consumers. Maybe they did at first (and the legislators who maintain their existence think that's what they do) but they've evolved into rackets. For many professions, it simply makes more sense for the professional to take a fine or public reprimand at the beginning of the disciplinary process rather than risk losing the administrative proceeding and being responsible for the ALL the costs of the proceeding against you. That's not protecting anybody.

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