Beauty Is in the Eye of the Regulator

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Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit hears a challenge to Louisiana's florist licensing system, which demands a one-hour written test and a grueling practical exam, graded with complete objectivity by licensed florists who pass judgment on whether their would-be competitors have what it takes to stick flowers in vases. The system, of course, is aimed not at protecting florists from competition but at protecting consumers from buying god-awful arrangements that they in their naivete think are rather nice. The florists challenging the system, represented by the Institute for Justice (who else?), argue that it violates the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection and Due Process clauses, claims that a federal judge rejected last year. Check out I.J.'s map of "States That License Florists."

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  1. I always thought that being a florist would be a nice job to have. Just arranging flowers and smelling them all day, you know…

  2. I was going to ask whether we should consider licensing of this type to be protectionism or extortion but I realized that it’s not an either/or situation.

  3. I’m beginning to think that, for a bunch of Lefties, those Institute for Justice guys are all right.

  4. a bunch of Lefties

    ??? Care to elaborate?

  5. You know- helping the downtrodden and all; you wouldn’t find libertarians doing that. Would you?

  6. You know- helping the downtrodden and all; you wouldn’t find libertarians doing that. Would you?

    Don’t confuse Objectivism with Libertarianism.

  7. IJ argued and lost this case at the district court level, just like they lost every single step of the way on Kelo.

    Sorry, but their track record has been pretty dismal recently, and they don’t get any of my money anymore.

  8. “Lefties” see this sort of regulation for exactly what it is – bullshit. Sounds like the industry created this little nuisance.

    JMJ

  9. Objectivism- that sounds like what those Vivid Video guys were up to. [viz. darkheart, above] Sexual Objectivism, that is.

  10. You know- helping the downtrodden and all; you wouldn’t find libertarians doing that. Would you?

    And, above all, don’t confuse trying to remove obstacles from people trying to make a living with giving them a handout with money taken from others.

  11. States … license … FLORISTS?

    At some time during the night, I must have slipped into a weird parallel universe while sleeping. I got that impression from some of the dreams I had, but chalked it up to the way that some dreams will play with your head. Now I see it is true.

    Really? States license florists? Surely it won’t be long until they license computer programmers and technical writers, too. I had better to back to radio (probably streaming audio or podcasting these days πŸ™‚ — I already have the license for THAT!

  12. I’ve heard some of those Institute for Justice guys have been seen in Canada. Draw your own conclusions.

  13. “I’ve heard some of those Institute for Justice guys have been seen in Canada.”

    Are they required to be licensed bilingually?

  14. Really? States license florists?

    No. Only Louisiana. Look at IFJ’s map.

  15. James Anderson Merritt at May 1, 2006 03:21 PM

    The link (“States That License Florists”) that Jacob furnished showed tha LA is the only state that licenses florists.

    I must say that I have only the smallest libertarian purist objection to licensing professionals like MDs and structural engineers but I can see that that licensing can be justified on “public safety” grounds.

    But it should be obvious to almost everyone that there are just a whole bunch of professional licencing requirements that exist purely as restraint of trade and nothing more. Sadly it is not.

  16. Maybe people in Louisiana are more discriminating in their floral tastes, and have need of a higher level of professionalism in their centerpieces. It’s so much more tasteful than those tacky seawalls, one thinks.

  17. This is just the kind of shit that made Hightower leave the florist business to go to police academy.

  18. “I must say that I have only the smallest libertarian purist objection to licensing professionals like MDs and structural engineers but I can see that that licensing can be justified on “public safety” grounds.”

    The problem is, all too often, the groups charged with the licensing are more interested in exclusionary protectionism and thwarting competition than they are in public safety. The AMA is a perfect example.

  19. This is just the kind of shit that made Hightower leave the florist business to go to police academy.

    Gahh! My father used to take me along to Police Academy movies when I was just a wee little kid. It’s really no wonder I turned out so deranged…

  20. …the groups charged with the licensing are more interested in exclusionary protectionism and thwarting competition than they are in public safety.

    This is true. But in a world where licensing is universally accepted it will probably be easier to attack it at the “licensing florists” level than going cold turkey with laissez-faire medicos.

  21. The real important court news is that the Big 9 just sided with Anna Nicole Smith.

  22. smacky-

    No one can resist the power of Steve Gutenberg.

  23. No one can resist the power of Steve Gutenberg.

    True dat. I used to think he was attractive when I was very young. I had some of the most ridiculous crushes — Steve Gutenberg doesn’t even scratch the surface. This is all something I should probably be discussing with my shrink, of course…

  24. This is all something I should probably be discussing with my shrink, of course…

    I dunno, some of us think of Hit and Run as a big group therapy session.

  25. If it’s not one thing it’s your mother.

  26. As I recall, Louisiana’s florist licensing dates back to 1939 — Remember that industry protectionism and the fixing of “fair” prices were common themes of New Deal legislation.

  27. Wasn’t Louisiana the home of The Slaughterhouse Cases” too? And if I’m not mistaken that was a case of economic protectionism too.

  28. Why is this a Federal case?

    Do they discriminate against interstate flower arrangements?

  29. I’m beginning to think that, for a bunch of Lefties, those Institute for Justice guys are all right.

    “a bunch of Lefties”

    ??? Care to elaborate?

    You know- helping the downtrodden and all; you wouldn’t find libertarians doing that. Would you?

    What the intercourse? Of course you would. What you wouldn’t find is libertarians demanding that the government grab other people’s money to help their own favorite segments of the downtrodden. That is a common hobby of the Left.

    And the Institute for Justice is explicitly libertarian. If one were to do some really intensive research — going so far as to, for example, visit their Web site at http://www.ij.org and look at the “About IJ” page — you might see such revelations as:

    Institute Profile: Who We Are

    Founded in 1991, the Institute for Justice is what a civil liberties law firm should be. As our nation’s only libertarian public interest law firm…

    Simply put, we sue the government when it stands in the way of people trying to earn an honest living, when it unconstitutionally takes away individuals’ property, when bureaucrats instead of parents dictate the education of children, and when government stifles speech. We seek a rule of law under which individuals can control their destinies as free and responsible members of society.

  30. OK, I finally looked at the map. Nice joke.

    They really had me worried for a moment there.

    Still, it’s pretty amazing that LA could seriously pass licensing legislation for FLORISTS.

    Isaac Bartram said, “I must say that I have only the smallest libertarian purist objection to licensing professionals like MDs and structural engineers but I can see that that licensing can be justified on ‘public safety’ grounds.”

    I can see that it HAS been justified on “public safety” grounds, but in practice, I remain unconvinced that the “public safety” is promoted via government licensure. I think I would rather see legitimate diplomas and a ranking of doctors or engineers by 1) patients/clients; 2) outcomes; and 3) malpractice/liability insurance underwriters.

    On the one hand, I can see a role for government in promoting public safety. But on the other hand, how good has government ever been at doing that, anyway?

    What would happen if government quit licensing doctors and engineers, as it quit licensing commercial radio and TV operators (individuals, not stations) some years ago? Radio and TV are bigger than ever, employing unlicensed operators who are certified for technical and regulatory competence by trade associations. How might entrepreneurs succeed at promoting public safety in the case of doctors and engineers?

  31. Still, it’s pretty amazing that LA could seriously pass licensing legislation for FLORISTS.

    I still don’t understand why so many states license hairdressers. I have more statist leanings than most of you here, but I’ve never thought that protecting me from a bad hair day was a legitimate function of government.

  32. Public safety it may be, but licensed doctors still manage to kill 250,000 Americans a year.

    I’m all for the government not even trying to certify anybody. Something about the IRS not being able to account for 60% of its budget — things of that nature tend not to instill patriotic trust in my bones.

  33. Haha. The third leading killer of Americans — doctors! We must protect the children from these monsters and despots! We must have a War on Doctors!

  34. Check out I.J.’s map of “States That License Florists.”

    The thing I don’t like about this, is that it implies that Louisiana is wrong because no one else licenses florists. It therefore implies that if other states did it it would be ok. But the fact that other states don’t do it has nothing to do with why it’s a bad law.

  35. Jennifer said, “I still don’t understand why so many states license hairdressers.”

    The alleged “public safety” point of licensing hairdressers and cosmetologists is twofold: 1) they work with chemicals that, used wrongly, can injure or kill; and 2) they come into closer contact with people’s scalp than most people will in their daily lives, allowing them to catch or propagate scalp/hair-borne parasites. This is, for example, why barber tools must be soaked in alcohol or some other critter-killer, and why it is not just neat, but essential for health, that barbers and hairdressers dust down their chairs and sweep their floors between customers.

    On the other hand, you have to have a cosmetologist’s license in California just to braid hair for money. Thus, you must pay big bucks and spend a lot of time taking the trade school course, passing the government test, and purchasing the license. Ironically, the entire approved cosmetology curriculum — at the time that hair braiding was a controversial issue in L.A. (L.A. CA not LA) — included maybe a page of information on this subspecialty.

    As with doctors and engineers, I understand the public safety need to qualify and track the performance of some professionals. I just doubt that government is the best entity to do that, or that it is even particularly effective in anything but raising the barriers to entry. I also think that many people who are subject to the full force of the licensure laws shouldn’t be, because of the lightweight or peripheral natures of their practices.

  36. As a licensed engineer with a girlfriend who is a doctor I can say the licensure requirements for engineers are a lot less onerous than those for doctors. IMO the licensure of engineers isn’t that great a barrier to entry.

  37. Dead Elvis said: “The thing I don’t like about this, is that it implies that Louisiana is wrong because no one else licenses florists. It therefore implies that if other states did it it would be ok. But the fact that other states don’t do it has nothing to do with why it’s a bad law.”

    If one views wholly unnecessary laws as “bad” (as I do), then the map says a lot.

    The fact that Louisiana is the only state that licenses florists “to protect the public” combined with the fact that we’ve had florists in every state for a very long time, suggests strongly that Louisiana’s law is not a necessary means to the ends sought. Either that, or 49 states have irrationally subjected their citizens to harm for decades. Louisiana’s solo status is evidence that the law is bad, even if it’s not the cause of its “badness”.

  38. About safety and hairdressers, I noticed that mine soaks her implementes into a compound called “Barbicide”

    The mental picture I get of a poor murdered Barbie is priceless.

  39. Another point about professional licensing: In some states you can’t get a professional license if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime. Given the number of professions that have been licensed, that makes it pretty hard for convict to start his life over and advance. Depending on the state he may be barred from training to work even in blue collar jobs such as barber, landscaper, electrician, etc.

    Now, I can see why you might not want the convicted embezzler to get an accounting license, or the guy who stole pills working as a hospital pharmacist. But I see no harm in your common criminal getting, say, a landscaping license and starting over.

  40. Louisiana’s solo status is evidence that the law is bad, even if it’s not the cause of its “badness”.

    The problem is when the coin is flipped and someone says, “but look, 40 states have (pick a law that is absurd but doesn’t by itself cause civilization to fall apart), so we should too.”

    For example, let’s re-write your sentence- “Louisiana’s status as one of a majority of states is evidence that the law is good, even if it’s not the cause of its ‘goodness’ “

  41. JMJ writes: “Lefties” see this sort of regulation for exactly what it is – bullshit. Sounds like the industry created this little nuisance.

    I don’t disagree with JMJ’s point here: it’s true that leftists probably wouldn’t support this particular licensing scheme. The problem is that leftists are unwilling to accept or unable to comprehend that there’s no limiting principle in their philosophy. There’s no way to empower the government to establish the licensing schemes they like without empowering the government to establish the licensing schemes they agree are ridiculous.

    They simply want us to trust the government to only enact the good ones. As if we can just elect the right people, and it won’t be an issue.

  42. …who would love to have our system…

  43. I daresay there are others who…

    DAMMIT!!

  44. Engineers don’t need no english. πŸ™‚

  45. You can say that again. But have your secretary type it this time. πŸ™‚

  46. Yeah, I will. Right after she gets me my godamned coffee. πŸ™‚

  47. JMJ writes: “Lefties” see this sort of regulation for exactly what it is – bullshit. Sounds like the industry created this little nuisance.

    I don’t disagree with JMJ’s point here: it’s true that leftists probably wouldn’t support this particular licensing scheme. The problem is that leftists are unwilling to accept or unable to comprehend that there’s no limiting principle in their philosophy.

    First of all, Jersey’s correct, as usual. In a world of unrestricted lobbying (that is, our world), you are bound to get some results of this type. It means we should either try to craft some restrictions on lobbying, or else be prepared to live with anti-competitive business laws that inevitably result from unrestricted lobbying. Of course some on this thread see this florist sitch as more evidence that we need to dispense with government altogether, but I don’t think that is a proportionate or sensible response. I wouldn’t mind some restrictions on lobbying, but, then again, I am not too torn up about the situation with the florists, so whatever.

    What I really wanted to address was the point about leftists having no limiting principle on business regulation. That is wrong. Leftists do have a sensible limiting principle on this kind of thing. Same sensible limiting principle developed by some of the libertarian responders on this very thd.

    wait for it . . .

    Limiting principle: industries should only be subject to government regulated licensing where there are bona fide safety issues involved. (Its so awesome when leftists and libertarians can come into agreement on something like this.)

  48. Limiting principle: industries should only be subject to government regulated licensing where there are bona fide safety issues involved. (Its so awesome when leftists and libertarians can come into agreement on something like this.)

    That’s a solid principle , Dave, but I doubt it would take people very long to corrupt it. Think of the way that the concept of “public safety” has been twisted to cover anything that people want to regulate.

  49. That’s a solid principle , Dave, but I doubt it would take people very long to corrupt it. Think of the way that the concept of “public safety” has been twisted to cover anything that people want to regulate.

    I agree, but think the possibility of corruption extends well beyond government regulation of business. For one prominent example, I think the US government allegations of the Iraqi threat circa 02 were corrupted, and this corruption lead to a lot of money and lives (but mostly money) getting wasted. For another example, I think the *deregulation* of the California electricity market was corrupted and a big waste of money. I think Enron (not even a government entity!!!) was corrupted and caused a lot of money to be wasted.

    In other words, corruption is always a problem, not just a problem with business regulation by gov’t. I mean the florist thing seems positively harmless compared to these other exemplars of corruption. I can understand if the pervasiveness fo corruption leads one to be a nihilist — that makes some sense to me. However, what I do have a problem with is the idea that corruption is some kind of special super-problem when it comes to a state regulating its own commerce.

  50. To Whom It May Concern:

    Have you been feeling a little off-kilter this morning? Got a bit of a limp? Perhaps one leg is slightly longer than the other, as if it might have been being gently tugged upon.

    That “bunch of Lefties” reference had more to do with the ellipsoidal shape of the political spectrum than wth pejorative (pre)judgements.

    -thought it was obvious

  51. No one has touched the Federalism issue. So what if Louisiana licenses/limits/discourages florists? Why is this a Federal case?

  52. Public safety it may be, but licensed doctors still manage to kill 250,000 Americans a year.
    I have at least as much contempt for the medical scam^H^H^H^H industry as the next guy, but, to be fair, without the medical bungling a lot of those people would’ve had a proximate death from something else.

    I am myself persuaded that licensure has reduced both the quantity and quality of medical practice. . . . It has forced the public to pay more for less satisfactory medical service. – Milton Friedman
    http://cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-246.html

  53. Why is this a Federal case?

    I think IJ is arguing that this kind of arbritrary restraint of trade violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection and Due Process clauses.

  54. P Brooks — Please forgive any excess acid in my earlier post. From your comment, I simply got the impression that you didn’t know what kinds of views a “Leftist” or a libertarian actually holds. Actually, I’m still not sure. If you were making a joke, I’m afraid I didn’t/don’t get it.

  55. Stevo Darkly-

    I was being my usual facetious self, implying incorrectly, and intentionally so, that “Lefties” by definition would be the ones to come to the aid of the downtrodden and that “libertarians” would not. “Would they?”

    The I J participated in “Kelo,” correct? That makes them good guys in my book.

    As for manipulating the political system to erect barriers to entry (in order to restrict competition) in one’s chosen field of endeavor; I’m against it.

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