Reason Roundup

ThinkProgress Panics Over Unlicensed Cosmetologists

Plus: dangerous publishers, a history of slavery, and more...


You might think that requiring people to pay elite gatekeepers for the right to accept money for their services would be anathema to self-styled supporters of workers' rights. Yet for many progressives, the desire to see people in meaningful, well-paying jobs is tempered by total panic over the idea that any aspect of life go unregulated. For them, the idea of anyone performing a profession without a government permission slip (a.k.a. a license) has spawned paranoia about the alleged dangers this poses to consumers.

Now the folks at ThinkProgress have found another asinine reason to oppose occupational licensing reform: because those libertarian boogeymen, the Koch brothers, are pushing it via a new Americans for Prosperity initiative. (Disclosure: Charles and David Koch have also given money to the nonprofit that publishes Reason.) Over the weekend, ThinkProgress sent out multiple pearl-clutching tweets about "unlicensed, untrained cosmetologists" running amok:

The tweets—and the article they promoted—were roundly and swiftly mocked on social media. Thank goodness.

As some pointed out, "unlicensed" is far from synonymous with "untrained." Most states do not have reciprocal licensing recognition, which means many trained workers are out of a license if they move states. Immigrants to the U.S. may be trained and certified in their home countries but unable to do the same here thanks to language barriers, undocumented status, or other factors unrelated to skill. And in some professions, people will often train informally under family or community members instead of in state-certified programs.

Other critics pointed out that fighting against government-mandated occupational licensing for a particular profession (and aggressive enforcement of it) does not necessarily mean eschewing certification altogether. Voluntary programs could still signal the worker's skill level.

But the piece, by Josh Israel, doesn't bother with any nuance, going straight for fearmongering about unlicensed neurosurgeons:

While it is likely true that people pay more to be treated by a neurologist who has actually been to medical school and demonstrated basic knowledge of how the nervous system works, it is unclear how public health would be improved by allowing anyone with a stethoscope and a dream to open a medical practice.

A spokesperson for the organization said in an email that they would not take the argument to that far.

"We aren't suggesting that doctors and pilots shouldn't have credentials and levels of competency to obtain,"Americans for Prosperity's director of employment initiatives, Erica Jedynak, said in an email.

Israel displays the worst sort of political tribalism, in which any policy or idea espoused by those considered enemies is automatically treated as suspect or even evil. If the Kochs support occupational licensing reform, the dictates of tribalism say that ThinkProgress cannot. The End.

But there are some ideas that unite a lot of Americans across political parties. Overhauling the many excessive, expensive, and nonsensical occupational licensing requirements that states have is one of them. Both the Obama and the Trump administrations, both red states and blue states, have endorsed some level of licensing reform.

Occupational licensing reform makes common sense. It is not some far-right plot, even if ThinkProgress is either convinced or willing to pretend it is.

For more on recent licensing policy reforms, see:

And for judges striking down bad licensing laws lately, see:


The New York Times Magazine's new package on slavery's role in America's founding and early flourishing is drawing a ton of praise…and a lot of critics. Some of the criticism revolves around valid academic points, but much has just been bluster about the package's premise—that "no aspect of the country…has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed" the first African slaves being brought to the Virginia colony in 1619.


Mel magazine profiles Paladin Press, the publisher of titles such as The Art and Science of Money Laundering and Be Your Own Undertaker: How to Dispose of a Dead Body. From its launch, the publisher riled up politicians.

It didn't take long for the FBI to investigate the publisher. Specifically, in 1982, the FBI was concerned that some of Paladin's titles could be used by terrorists. A year later, Minnesota Senator Rudy Boschwitz asked a similar question. Fortunately for Paladin, the FBI ultimately decided that even the most eye-popping titles in Paladin's catalog were completely legal.

The 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, however, changed all of that. Just a few days afterward, Timothy McVeigh was charged with the use of a weapon of mass destruction. Despite the fact that his fate was already sealed, the prosecution brought an additional piece of evidence: copies of three books on how to build explosives that McVeigh had purchased. Dana Rogers, who worked in Paladin's finance department, testified that Paladin sold these books to McVeigh in the spring of 1993.

Congress feared that allowing bomb-making instruction manuals to be openly sold was a recipe for disaster. As such, in 1996, California Senator Dianne Feinstein led the way in adding a key amendment to the Comprehensive Terrorism Prevention Act. It stated that publishers could be held criminally liable for knowingly selling explosives instruction manuals to someone who intended to use them for a crime. The law didn't explicitly ban Paladin's explosives instruction books, but the law was certainly designed to stop Paladin from producing and selling them, which, in turn, made them incredibly difficult to obtain.

Whole thing here.


  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) just introduced a big new proposal for criminal justice reform. It contains a lot of good proposals, but has upset the sex worker rights community by failing to include their concerns.
  • George Will offers some praise for Rep. Justin Amash (I–Mich.).
  • Former MSNBC contributor Mark Halperin's new book deal is raising some eyebrows:

  • Sigh: