Occupational Licensing

Reason Readers and Ajit Pai Helped Memphis Barber Pay His Absurd Licensing Fine

But sadly Elias Zarate is no closer to being a barber, because he still doesn't have a high school diploma. And, yes, that matters for some reason.

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Photo obtained from Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners

Thanks to readers of Reason, Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, and other random strangers who had never met him, Elias Zarate was able to pay off a $1,500 fine (plus another $600 in fees) imposed by Tennessee's haircut cops.

What crime warranted such a stiff penalty? Zarate cut hair without a license—that's a violation of Tennessee Cosmetology Act code 62-4-108, which requires all licensed barbers to have a high school diploma. What's finishing high school got to do with being a good barber, you may ask? Well, nothing, but Tennessee is one of 13 states to require completion of high school as a prerequisite to getting a barber license

As Reason reported in January, Zarate dropped out of high school midway through the 12th grade to help raise his two younger siblings—their mother had died in a car accident and their father abandoned the kids to tenuous living arrangements with relatives—and ultimately got a job working as a barber in Memphis. Zarate loved the work and there's no indication that anyone complained to the state board about his skills with a razor and scissors. After getting busted, Zarate approached the Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners, hoping for some help with getting a legitimate license. They slapped him with a fine and told him he'd have to go back to high school before he could work again.

"I was thinking, how am I supposed to pay for this fine, you know, because they're stopping me from working," Zarate told Reason.

And that's where this story goes from being yet another reminder about the arbitrary awfulness of occupational licensing laws to something that might just restore your faith in humanity.

With the help of licensing reformers at the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free market think tank, Zarate set up a GoFundMe account to help pay off his fine. After our story about his situation—and a clutch tweet from Pai—the page was flooded with donations.

Zarate ended up raising more than $3,200, with most of it coming in the form of small donations from people who likely have never met him and never will. Take a minute to read through some of the comments on the page and bask in the collective middle finger being raised to the Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners.

"I just want to thank everybody who donated, it means so much to me," says Zarate in a video posted by the Beacon Center. "I just want to be able to get into barber school and make everything right with the state and provide for my family."

But now that Zarate has paid off his fines—he did so on Friday of last week—he's still no closer to having a career as a barber. Righting that wrong will require action from the state legislature.

After Zarate's story became public, Gov. Bill Haslam called for a bill to reduce the educational requirements for a barbering license. Legislation introduced in the state House and state Senate would require the completion of 10th grade—the same standard that applies to cosmetology licenses in Tennessee—before an applicant could get a barber license, rather than requiring the completion of high school.

It's not clear why there should be any educational requirement attached to a barber license. Cutting hair well does not require knowledge of trigonometry or a careful study of the meaning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Proper sanitation for the equipment used by licensed barbers—the only thing that could remotely be considered a reason for government to intervene—could be, and indeed is, taught during the mandatory training that all barber licensing applicants must complete in Tennessee. It is not taught in Tennessee high schools.

The closer you look, the less sense it makes. You can become a licensed emergency medical responder in Tennessee without a high school diploma—indeed, you can do it with far less work than is required to become a barber. Getting an EMR license in Tennessee requires only that an applicant can "read, write, and speak the English language," according to Tennessee Department of Health guidelines.

Zarate is hardly alone when it comes to facing the wrath of the Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners. The Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm, examined meeting minutes and disciplinary actions for the board and found that it had levied $100,000 in fines against dozens of braiders in 30 different hair shops and salons since 2009. "All of those violations," wrote Nick Sibilla in Forbes, "were for unlicensed braiding; none were triggered by any health or sanitation violation."

Individuals pitching in to help a guy like Zarate is a heart-warming story; but the reality is that state boards can issue more fines than could ever be paid off in such a fashion. Eliminating unnecessary licensing laws that have nothing to do with public health and safety is the only way to ensure that barbers, hair braiders, and cosmetologists in Tennessee and elsewhere have the freedom to pursue their careers without fear of the haircut cops.

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  1. I missed that story, or I might have chipped in.

    I can at least contribute an “unkindest cut of all” joke.

    1. I might have chipped in.

      Riiight.

      JK I would’ve too. Maybe we should write to our state congresspeople about relaxing occupational licensing requirements.

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      1. Did you graduate from high school?

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  2. Zarate ended up raising more than $3,200, with most of it coming in the form of small donations from people who likely have never met him and never will.

    Of course, the sad part of the story remains. That money will not be going to Zarate so much as it will be feeding the bureaucracy.

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one for whom this was the main takeaway.

    2. Wait until the IRS hears about his “donations”, and wants their cut too.

  3. But sadly Elias Zarate is no closer to being a barber, because he still doesn’t have a high school diploma. And, yes, that matters for some reason.

    I’ll give him mine. Never really used it anyway.

  4. he still doesn’t have a high school diploma. And, yes, that matters for some reason.

    Diplomas are ideal dustpans for collecting clippings swept off the floor.

  5. Presumably he can satisfy it w an equivalency certificate. Is he working on that? Maybe already finished it by now.

  6. ” They slapped him with a fine and told him he’d have to go back to high school before he could work again.”

    No. He had to get a high school diploma (however that is done, such as night classes or whatever) to work in a specific way.

    I saw the braiders bit on Twitter. So, over a ten year span, involving over 30 locations … licenses are in place as a regulatory means to oversee businesses the serve the public. It also is of course a sort of occupational tax, the money otherwise coming from other means. Sanitary and safety (such as using chemicals) is an issue here.

    BTW, I gather the average EMR is not a solo operator — they work as part of a team. They are unlike to be hired without a high school diploma & if they were, they wouldn’t act on their own. A barber, on the other hand, is often a solo operator. A diploma is a reasonable (if not necessary) general rule there to ensure some basic knowledge. Like all rules, it’s a sort of average and a waiver process might be warranted.

    As is usually the case here, I’d like the hear the other side explain their position.

    1. ” They slapped him with a fine and told him he’d have to go back to high school before he could work again.”

      No. He had to get a high school diploma (however that is done, such as night classes or whatever) to work in a specific way.

      Good thing you don’t need a license to split hairs that fine.

      1. I dunno, i’m pretty sure that falls under the Tennessee definition of barbering.

      2. He is able to work in a range of jobs.

        How am I splitting hairs here?

        If I merely focused on the “go back to high school” part, maybe, though the suggestion one actually has to go to high school to obtain a diploma as an adult is somewhat misleading.

    2. A barber, on the other hand, is often a solo operator. A diploma is a reasonable (if not necessary) general rule there to ensure some basic knowledge. Like all rules, it’s a sort of average and a waiver process might be warranted.

      I’m not certain that you’ve given any proper reason why I am banned from hiring a guy to do work for me unless he passes an incredibly arbitrary accreditation. Because there is not a thing such as “the public” in the abstract. It’s a bunch of people making individual decisions. And I see no reason why I can’t make an individual decision to pay a guy to cut my hair. And why he can’t make an individual decision to take that money and perform the task requested.

      So, your assertion that it is a “reasonable general rule to ensure some basic knowledge” is not well show. You take your conclusion as an assumption.

      1. Perhaps, you can ask someone who said the rule should be “incredibly arbitrary accreditation.” I’m not.

        I do think that it is acceptable — especially for certain jobs — to have certain requirements.

        Also, there are reasons — reflected by market regulations since the dawn of civilization — why it is not assumed that some given customer of goods in the marketplace will have the wherewithal to totally judge on their own if they should buy something. So, e.g., it is reasonable to have a license system (we can carp on any number of specifics) where a customer generally has a reasonable assumption that basic standards are followed.

        I don’t think this general rule is being challenged by the person here — the specifics are. So, to that degree, yes, I was taking it for granted.

        1. You are. A high school diploma is an incredibly arbitrary accreditation. It increasingly means little, and has no consistency in meaning anywhere anyway.

          That’s a secondary point to the underlying one. Your point that we’ve had market regulations since the dawn of civilization says nothing about the value of it. That something has existed, says nothing at all about whether it is good or not. This is true with licensing. And let us be specific here, I mean government mandated licensing. All sorts of credentials exist, college degrees are a form of credentials, and people can use these as an information signal. That is fine.

          What you are saying though is that some power and choice should be entirely removed under threat of violence if a certain credentialism is not followed. I can go into the practical argument about your credentialism, that it actually useless in many cases (For an example of this, look at how degree programs spring up for Master’s Degrees that are nearly Diploma mills, existing because the degree is required), but the core is this. You are taking a freedom a way from me, and you are taking one from them. We are consenting adults, and we should be able to exchange goods under a form of mutual agreement. Anything else is patronizing, and is ultimately eroding to the very soul of what makes us individuals.

    3. I saw the braiders bit on Twitter. So, over a ten year span, involving over 30 locations … licenses are in place as a regulatory means to oversee businesses the serve the public. It also is of course a sort of occupational tax, the money otherwise coming from other means. Sanitary and safety (such as using chemicals) is an issue here.

      As for this, my previous comment covers a lot of issues I have with it, but I wanted to add two more.

      First, ” It also is of course a sort of occupational tax, the money otherwise coming from other means.” What are these other means your are discussing? An occupational tax is a fairly fucked up thing for the poorer people who often do work like this, as they have little capital to begin with and this acts as a significant barrier to them ever bettering their own lives.

      Second, “I saw the braiders bit on Twitter. So, over a ten year span, involving over 30 locations.” As far as I can tell with this comment is that you are incredulous because too few people were raped for you to care. In which case, the problem might be that you’re a sociopath.

      1. Preach, BUCS.

        I found myself thinking, “oh maybe they could lower it to 8th grade.”

        NO! BAD SILVER! I get why people would want there to be some schooling as a minimum bar for entry. It’s a knee-jerk reaction, but we’ve seen so many times where these unimportant, otherwise-forgotten laws, rules, and regulations become tools to feed the bureaucracy.

        1. Maybe we should require IQ tests, too. That’s always worked so well.

      2. The person here is performing a public business and in various ways benefits from the regulation of the public at large. The original discussion doesn’t to me argue that no regulatory oversight is warranted here. Therefore, if some health violation could be found, it would be different. Such regulations cost money. It is not to be unfair for occupational taxes to be a means (along with others) to pay for such things.

        Excise taxes of this sort, passed to the consumer of discretionary goods and services in many cases, is in fact often seen by libertarians as a pretty fair way to obtain compensation as compared to other things such as income and/or direct taxes. I gather though that you think others should subsidize them instead.

        Finally, your use of invective here suggests a certain lack of perspective though whenever I see “as far as I can tell” or something similar & then some translation of what the other person supposedly meant, it usually is a red flag for confusion. My point there was the large number for the fines is put in some perspective since we are talking ten years, over thirty places. If one thinks a fine for unlicensed hairstylists is akin to a “rape,” perhaps your confusion is somewhat understandable.

        1. Typical statist arguments. Why are you on this website?

        2. Can you stanch off verbal diarrhea here and just say that you support forcing people, under pain of death, to pay the state for permission to engage in commerce?

        3. The person here is performing a public business and in various ways benefits from the regulation of the public at large. The original discussion doesn’t to me argue that no regulatory oversight is warranted here.

          Is there anything such as a private business? What’s even your definition? Working with the public? Because ‘the public’ as a concept is an abstraction that doesn’t actually exist. A million individuals making choices does not suddenly add up to a distinct entity known as the public.

          The original discussion doesn’t to me argue that no regulatory oversight is warranted here. Therefore, if some health violation could be found, it would be different.

          In what way? If they are breaking a health code then this can be dealt with via personal contract dispute.

          My point there was the large number for the fines is put in some perspective since we are talking ten years, over thirty places. If one thinks a fine for unlicensed hairstylists is akin to a “rape,” perhaps your confusion is somewhat understandable.

          And your point is still, that if it happens over a long enough period of time that it is not a big deal, or it is not wrong. Can you give me a reading other than “It was over a long period of time, and effected a small group of people, so who cares?” Because this isn’t a natural disaster, where we perform triage. This is something inflicted upon people willfully by the government, and so can easily be changed.

        4. You want to put obstacles to transactions between willing individuals in the private sphere. Like all your totalitarian ilk, you conflate the private sheer with the public sphere. Despite your sophistry, it’s very clear what you are doing.

    4. The explanation for the other side is multi-faceted.

      They want money for the politicians to spend.
      They want to keep their buddies from having a bunch of competition.
      They hate poor people.
      They are against anything that helps individuals be free; they want everyone working for corporations that can be more easily controlled.
      They can’t think, so they use arbitrary data points unrelated to anything (hs diploma) instead of figuring out what is actually necessary. (see, nothing taught is high school is related to the real world anyway)

      1. No, I don’t believe any of those are the reasons. Much too little $ involved for pols to spend. Too many people have HS diplomas or equivalencies for it to significantly reduce competition. It’s not about animus vs. the poor, & certainly not authoritarianism for its own sake. (Principled authoritarians?those who actually put a negative, not just a low, value on freedom?are so few in # that they’re practically a fantasy conjured by radical libertarians. We get so hung up it makes us paranoid.) Has nothing to do w corps., because it applies equally to the individual barber regardless of whose shop it is. They can think, but the thinking was done long ago.

        No, this is just some well-meaning but dumb statute dating from a time the state wanted to encourage everybody to complete HS, at a time when HS possibly meant something, albeit not connected to barbering. There was still some held over conception from the ancient cx of barbering to surgery. Using blades on the human body…scary! What can be done to increase public safety w/o much burden? Well, we can at least insure they aren’t HS dropouts, huh?

    5. Why are you on this website? Why do you have an account?

      There is no reasonable explanation for requiring a license to braid hair. There is no danger involved in getting your hair braided.

      There is also no reasonable explanation for requiring any amount of education for cutting hair. Barber school is already required and teaches anything you would need to know to cut hair. Even that is an idiotic requirement. If you want a barber with a license, ask to see it. Otherwise, why can’t people who don’t care about that get a haircut from someone who doesn’t have one? Who is that hurting?

      Both of these examples serve only to steal money from people and give it to the government. If you can’t see that, you are very, very dull.

    6. heh, you first split hairs on the HS diploma argument, than take broad strokes saying that it is somehow statistically impossible for two EMT’s to be paired up that both don’t have a HS diploma! It’s like you looked into the leftist playbook, and saw the note, “Always remember, no good argument is valid without some obvious contradiction, that we all ignore”.

    7. As is usually the case here, I’d like the hear the other side explain their position.

      Yes, because the ends ever always justify the means, and good intentions matter.

    8. I’ll lay HIGH stakes at LONG odds that that and other licensing requirements like it were pushed by the existing barbers to raise the bar for entry into the business, and to keep out “certain types” most unlikely to have that high school diploma. My guess is this law goes back at least to the 1950’s or early ’60’s. I’ll let YOU all decide who might comprise the unwanted group.

      This sort of thing is rampant all across the nation, and only afew places are beginning to trim down the bloat and corruption.

      I’ll also bet tht those comprising the “board” who “oversees” this state-mandated scam are well known to each other, have been crones for years, and are VERY well off financially.

      1. Sanitation principles and practices are very simple, and can be learned in an afternoon. No diploma necessary to prove one has the mental acuity and capacity to absorb and perform them. As to chemicals, etc.. you’re talking about the beauty parlor hair salon setting, where (mostly) women come in and want their hair made into something it is not and never would be without such chemicals. Industrial chemical aplicators are trained on the job, regulations dictate how this and that are handled, their dangers, antidotes, remedial action when unwanted exposure occurs. But NO chemicals are used in standard barbering, nor in simple hand braiding of hair. So your “dangerous to the public ” meme is a fail.

        This is nothing short of government sanctioned good ol boy protectioinism, designed to keep out they who are not amongst the select class of practitioiners. Can’t be having the “unwashed” breaking down the gates and having a go on the elite player’s pitch, now , can we?

        1. We find these regulations and costs in a number of industries. In my state, a guy could lay out and build his own septic system, no paperwork or $$ required. Then someone said the county health department MUST be involved. OK, draw it up, submit it, pay a fee….. maybe a C note. Before I can cover it, some county dweeb who likely doesn’t know as much as Joe Homeowner comes out, spits into the ditch, signs the paper, we’re done. THEN the “engineers” came along and lied to the state, telling them these MUST be deisgned by THEM. Add $3000. Make-work in action. NOW the county has to check theplan, approve, do an inspection. Add $500 for the dweebs. Next, they change the requirements for the perk holes, guaranteed to fail most tests. NOW an “engineered system” must be installed…. pumps, timers, etc, cost rises to $30K. Friend spent that, had it done, and still could not use the dishwasner and flush a toilet at the same time. THEN the engineers engineered the state to decide they are the ONLY ONES who are smart enough to install the new types. Add $20K. As a homeowner I can BUILD THE HOUSE but Im too stupid to read the plan and put pipe into ditches at the pproper depth. Instead of $1000 for a new system (my cost 20 years ago) I’d be looking at $50K with failure all but guarnateed in 5 years. Racket, anyone?? Sure it is.

  7. Cutting hair . . . does not require knowledge of trigonometry or a careful study of the meaning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

    Neither does a high school diploma.

    There’s a reason ‘money math’ is a Senior year class.

    1. lol not where I went to high school.

      1. My high school, which was private and Catholic, closed 44 years ago, so this may be a little out of date. We were taking pre-Calc as seniors, and some of my classmates took that AND calculus at the same time. A few were taking Calc as an Advanced Placement course, which isn’t that rare, nowadays, but was cutting edge, then.

        Our social studies department offered half-year electives to the seniors. I took Russian and Soviet History,
        Sociology, American Government and Consumer Economics. That last had some “money math” in it. We learned how to balance a checkbook, do a household budget, and, most important, we learned about the “rule of 72.” So if inflation was 10%, your cash’s value was halved in 7.2 years, if you didn’t have it invested. Learning this in the Nixon years probably had a lot to do with my becoming a libertarian during the Carter travesty. CE was a gut. I wanted to goof off a bit in Senior Year, but the Russia and AG courses were useful. I tested out of my Freshman level PoliSci American Government class, given what I learned in that class and in our junior year American History class.

        The high school my younger brothers and sisters had to go to when mine closed is closing after this term.

    1. *hangs head in shame at tag fail*

    2. How does a trade-restricting regulation prove that free trade sucks?

      1. How does a trade-restricting regulation prove that free trade sucks?

        First, it’s not a “trade-restricting regulation” it’s a consumer protection regulation. You may call it trade-restricting and it may, in effect, be that but Reason and their unfettered fair/free trade advocates like to play the “not trade” game all the time.

        Second, the terms globalization and free trade (as an individual right) are a bit oxymoronic. The fact that the EU is essentially requiring American businesses to comply with EU law or be subject to fine just goes to demonstrate that what is often touted as free trade and/or globalization is really just a different brand of trade protectionism.

        1. That’s a lot of strawmen there.

          1. Clarify it for me Ag. How is it not a bigger deal than steel tariffs and, aside from coverage of individually absurd EU components, not really mentioned in the pages of Reason?

            I’m not calling for a repeal of NAFTA. I’m just saying that, at best, NAFTA was a moment of free trade purity in a subsequent era of “free trade for my preferred industries and cronies”.

    3. Did you just get out of an LMA webinar about that nonsense too?

      1. Did you just get out of an LMA webinar about that nonsense too?

        No, but more and more clients seem to be picking up the phone about it.

  8. Where’s the Rev (“carry on, clingers”) lady/man? I would love to hear his/her justification of this fine government thievery. Plus, I need a laugh.

  9. I like the responses from the Twittersphere to Pai’s tweet on the subject. Net Neutrality is no more yet somehow their ISP’s and the federal government are allowing them to reply to him (off subject) with vitriol on his Net Neutrality vote.

    This is one of my favorite ones for its multilayered nonsense. And from an actual law professor, if his bio is to be believed.

    1. And from an actual law professor, if his bio is to be believed.

      With the requisite Harry Potter reference, since these people seem to have made a series about open-carrying weapon-holding teenagers their new Bible.

  10. Serving the public is a privilege, not a right, and the state has an interest in making sure those serving the public are of high moral character unlike this loathsome thief of a barber. By dropping out of high school, he has stolen the public funds available to the schools (and the overworkedandunderpaid educational technicians therein) on a per-pupil basis. If you or your child isn’t in school, you are stealing the food right out of the mouths of saints, and what could demonstrate moral turpitude clearer than that? Unless and until this sinful reprobate returns to school and returns the funds he has stolen by his absence from school, he deserves no pity nor sympathy but only scorn and shame.

  11. Of course a barber should have at least a high school diploma. They should also be subject to at least 40 hours of continuing education requirements each year as well.

    Remember folks, these are the people we trust to perform Leech Therapy.

    1. And pull teeth.

  12. >snip
    endsnip

  13. I mean how can one cut hair if he/she does not understand cosmology?

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