It's Day 4 of Reason's annual Webathon, and today is all about the importance of good hair and sticking up for the little guy.
But first: I get to announce a second challenge grant! You guys came through for us on yesterday's match, turning your $25,000 into $50,000 just like that! Another generous soul has stepped up to match your money again today with a new $50,000 challenge grant. So it's once again time to double your money and support Reason, so that we can keep making all the articles, videos, podcasts, and fundraising posts you love!
We already know Reason readers are generous. How do we know? Because when we report about people who are getting screwed by dumb regulations, over-policing, unjust laws, or unaccountable authorities—whether it's immigrants, sex workers, Venezuelans, or small businessmen—you always ask us how you can help; whether it's reaching out with a little financial support, tweeting your outrage, or contacting your legislators.
When Tennessee told Elias Zarate in 2017 that he couldn't be a barber, for example, it wasn't because he was bad at cutting hair or because he'd hurt a customer. He simply didn't have a high school diploma.
Becoming a barber in Tennessee requires 1,500 hours of study in a barber school—but just getting into one of those schools, as Zarate learned the hard way, is impossible without a high school diploma or GED. That doesn't make much sense. Cutting hair doesn't require knowledge of geometry or an understanding of To Kill A Mockingbird, of course.
"I don't feel like anything in my entire schooling from grade school through senior year had anything to do with my barbering skills," Zarate told Reason in 2018 when we first covered his story. At the time, he'd been busted for barbering without a license and fined $1,500—a fine that he had no idea how to pay off since the state was forbidding him from working and forbidding him from getting the license he'd need to work legally.
The story took off. Reason readers helped pay off Zarate's fines through a GoFundMe account. And it turned out Reason had some readers in high places.
"I read about Elias' case in early 2018, in a superb article in Reason written by Eric Boehm," says Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai. "Eric put it so well: in Tennessee, 'you can restart the heart of a pulseless, unbreathing person without a high school diploma, but you cannot cut hair.' I was convinced. But more than that, I wanted to do something."
Pai tweeted about Zarate's story, wrote columns encouraging Tennessee to change its obviously burdensome licensing regime, and personally met with Zarate's family. This wasn't part of his day job as the person who ruins the internet while drinking from a large mug; he just thought it was important to do what he could. Just like you.
"Let me tell you this: there is perhaps no person who can better articulate the libertarian message than someone who has felt the arbitrary and capricious power of the state stand between him and his livelihood, with seemingly no way out," says Pai.
It took two years, but Zarate was eventually vindicated. In August, the Tennessee Chancery Court declared that requiring barbers to have a high school diploma is "unconstitutional, unlawful, and unenforceable" and imposed a permanent injunction against the rule, thanks to a lawsuit by the Tennessee-based Beacon Center, which also set up the GoFundMe.
That's a victory for Elias and for any other Tennessean who wants to pursue a meaningful career helping people look fine as hell, even though they lack a high school diploma. Knocking over these artificial, unnecessary barriers to work means greater economic opportunities for many people—and state policy makers are increasingly noticing how important that is.
In June, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the most sweeping occupational licensing reform bill in modern U.S. history—one that loosened or abolished rules governing more than 30 different professions. Those changes mean the state Department of Health will no longer be able to threaten Floridians with hundreds of dollars in fines and up to a year in prison for the supposed "crime" of giving dietary advice without a license. That's what happened to Heather Kokesch Del Castillo in 2017, in another case that Reason covered.
Other states made big changes this year too. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed into law a measure allowing workers with an out-of-state license in more than a dozen professions to obtain Missouri's equivalent without starting from scratch—following the lead of Arizona, which last year became the first state to allow out-of-state licensees to practice their professions in the state without having to get relicensed.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill striking down the state's vague "good character" provisions that often block people with criminal records from getting permission to work. Under the new law, licensing boards will be able to block applicants who have been convicted of crimes related to the field in which they wish to work, but they won't be able to use irrelevant offenses, like drug crimes, from many years ago as justifications for denying licenses.
None of these reforms would likely have happened without a yearslong effort to call attention to the outlandish consequences of onerous licensing laws. So please take a moment today to support Reason, where we are always going to tell the stories of guys like Elias Zarate who are getting pushed around by the government.
UPDATE: Amazing! We have once again met our match! You stepped up with $50,000 in individual donations, which magically turned into $100,000 due to our alluring yet mysterious challenge grant donor. Because of your generosity, we're going to aim for a new stretch goal of $300,000 this year. Many, many thanks.