The New York Times Spotlights Occupational Licensing Abuse in Utah


The New York Times Magazine profiles Jestina Clayton, an immigrant from Sierra Leone now living in Centreville, Utah, where state occupational licensing requirements prevent her from operating an African hair-braiding business. As the story notes:

A cosmetology license required nearly two years of school and $16,000 in tuition. But Clayton hoped for an exemption. After all, many Utah cosmetology schools taught little or nothing about African-style hair-braiding, and other states allowed people to practice it after passing a hygiene test and paying a small fee. Clayton made her case (via PowerPoint) to the exhaustively named governing body of Utah hair-braiding, the Barber, Cosmetology/Barber, Esthetics, Electrology and Nail Technology Licensing Board. The board, made up largely of licensed barbers and cosmetologists, shot her down.

This isn't just a random Utah law. There are more than 1,000 licensed professions in the United States, partly a result of more than a century of legal work. As the country industrialized, state governments wanted to protect their citizens and create standards not just for lawyers and doctors but also for basic services. It didn't take long for professional groups to find that they also stood to benefit from the regulations. Over the years, more and more started to lobby for licensing rules, often grand­fathering in existing professionals while putting up high barriers to new competitors. In fact, businesses contorting regulation to their own benefit is so common that economists have a special name for it: regulatory capture. "Everyone assumes that private interests fight like crazy not to be regulated," says Charles Wheelan, who teaches public policy at the University of Chicago. "But often, for businesses, regulation is your friend."

Read the whole story here. I wrote about Florida's bogus occupational licensing requirements for interior designers last year.

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  1. Its a great day when the New Yorker has to go deep into flyover country to find an example being fucked with by government functionaries.

    1. Oh come on! Occupational licensing is almost unheard of in New York State! Of course they needed to range far afield.

    2. It’s the New York Times, but yeah. And of course finding an African immigrant victim makes the story fit for the Times. Luckily they never found out she also wants to sell large cups of soda….

      1. Goddamnit Papaya. My post was first but I went back to check for punctuation.


  2. “Everyone assumes that private interests fight like crazy not to be regulated,” says Charles Wheelan, who teaches public policy at the University of Chicago. “But often, for businesses, regulation is your friend.”

    No, private interests fight against regulations on themselves. They mostly love it when applied to others. I don’t see how that would be tough to understand, or why Wheelan is so sloppy in his choice of words.

  3. And it is good that we have these licenses. A licensed doctor has never injured or killed a patient. A licensed contractor has never done shoddy work. Thanks to licensing, people never need to consult with friends or family to find an electrician who will not rip them off, because a license guarantees honesty.

    1. Next step: Licensing requirements for internet-based political opinionization.

  4. I still haven’t figured out what the purpose of licensing is. Is there any reason for it besides protecting the established order? Can someone really justify requiring a license to braid hair? I can sort of understand licenses for practicing medicine, but even things like practicing law seems questionable as far as needing state involvement/licensing.

    1. Barbers and such do things involving personal hygiene, so they want to make sure you’re not getting lice from their combs or whatever. Of course some basic regulations, a simple test, and maybe the occasional inspection would cover that, but the bureaucracies tend to grow and and get used to prevent competition.

  5. Well, I guess if it takes poor black female immigrants to get the attention of the Nor’eastern Media, then so be it.

    Occupational licensing: Women and Minorities hardest hit.

  6. Doesn’t their view on Citizens United require some kind of licensing for “journalists”, at least implicitly, if they want to maintain a nominal defense of the first amendment?

    1. Yes it does and it’s been plainly suggested.

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