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New FTC Task Force Will Put Licensing Boards On Notice

Building on a key victory at the Supreme Court in 2015, the FTC plans to target anti-competitive state-level licensing laws.

Chuck Myers/MCT/NewscomChuck Myers/MCT/NewscomAbout two years after scoring a key victory in the U.S. Supreme Court, the Federal Trade Commission is launching a new effort to challenge state-level occupational licensing laws that do little to protect public health and safety.

Maureen Ohlhausen, the acting chairman of the FTC, announced last month the creation of the Economic Liberty Task Force, which will identify problematic licensing laws and encourage state officials to review onerous licensing requirements. Though the task force is mostly meant as an advisory resource for state officials, it will have the ability to take legal action against licensing boards engaged in anti-competitive behavior.

"I believe that economic liberty is central to opening doors of opportunity and increasing competition, entrepreneurship, and innovation that benefits all consumers," Ohlhausen told Reason in an email interview last week. She said the FTC will be partnering with governors, state attorney generals, state legislators and members of Congress.

"We will be working to help them advance economic liberty initiatives that remove barriers to entry and competition," she said.

The FTC traditionally has been concerned with ensuring competition in the private sector—and doesn't have the best reputation among libertarians—but a 2015 Supreme Court case clarified that the commission can target quasi-governmental licensing boards with the same Sherman Antitrust Act powers it's been using against private businesses for more than a century.

In FTC v. North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners, the high court held that state licensing boards are not subject to immunity from anti-trust litigation if those boards are controlled by active market participants and are creating laws that limit competition. The FTC got involved after the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners, which was controlled by practicing dentists, had passed a rule banning anyone except licensed dentists from offering teeth whitening services.

Licensing rules and the number of professions subject to quasi-government gatekeepers vary widely from states to state, but have been growing in recent years. In the 1950s, only about 5 percent of all jobs required a license, but today more than 25 percent do. They are particularly onerous for low-income, low-skilled jobs, where licensing serves to raise the cost of entry into a chosen profession, protecting existing practitioners while limiting newcomers.

Like the teeth whitening ban in North Carolina, the new FTC task force is expected to seek to eliminate occupational licensing restrictions that are not narrowly tailored to satisfy legitimate health and safety goals.

"Licensing boards and those who are involved in licensing regulations should examine the ways in which the regulation affects or could affect competition, whether there is evidence that a regulation is necessary to achieve the targeted policy goal, whether the regulation is narrowly tailored to meet the policy goal, and whether a less restrictive alternative is available to achieve the policy goal and benefit competition," says the National Law Review, in an analysis of the task force's mission.

It's not ideal to have the federal government threatening anyone with litigation if they don't change their ways, but licensing boards that pass anti-competitive rules without an interest in protecting public health are overstepping their authority—and Olhausen wants to make sure they'll face the consequences.

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  • Brandybuck||

    Only Nixon could go to China...

  • Hugh Akston||

    I'm sure these snake-eating gorillas will solve the problem once and for all.

  • $park¥ don't care bout yo mom||

    It's not ideal to have the federal government threatening anyone with litigation if they don't change their ways, but licensing boards that pass anti-competitive rules without an interest in protecting public health are overstepping their authority

    What's that saying about everything before the 'but'?

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Yes, but ..... this is one government stomping on other governments which have stomped on economic liberty.

    I'd be real happy if legislators were so corrupt that they never passed any laws, but .... I'd be even happier if they passed laws repealing other laws.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The true test of how dedicated to this is if becoming an attorney becomes easier. State bar exam for anyone who can pass it, online law schools, or no bar exam and free market dictates who gets hired to represent clients.

  • ||

    Licence the licensers with every dumbass for the children reason anyone comes up with.

  • OldMexican Blankety Blank||

    "I believe that economic liberty is central to opening doors of opportunity and increasing competition, entrepreneurship, and innovation that benefits all consumers," Ohlhausen told Reason in an email interview last week.


    "Nonsense! We want fair trade, not free trade!"

    /Economically-incompetent Trumpista. Which means, all of them.

  • american socialist||

    You are obsessed with trumpistas. You ok?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I'm wondering how NPR will spin this.

  • OldMexican Blankety Blank||

    They will probably say that the FTC was hijacked by Ayn Rand acolytes.

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: New FTC Task Force Will Put Licensing Boards On Notice
    Building on a key victory at the Supreme Court in 2015, the FTC plans to target anti-competitive state-level licensing laws.

    But...but...but.
    This makes sense.
    We can't have government officials making sense.
    Otherwise we might go back to the ancient and antiquated idea of freedom that our Founding Fathers intended.
    Then all the unenlightened masses will be making decisions for themselves.
    Do you know how many of our ruling elitist turds would be unemployed if we started down that path?
    Did anyone out there ever think of that?

  • Robert||

    It's not ideal to have the federal government threatening anyone with litigation if they don't change their ways,


    What's your point? That the ideal would be not having anyone to threaten? Like it's not ideal to have firemen, the ideal would be to have no fires? Duh!

  • MichaelL||

    I wonder how many of us pain management practitioners thought we were justified in treating people with chronic pain. Most have either been removed from practice or put on notice for removal by the medical boards "protecting patients". I submit that, up to 100 million people, with chronic intractable pain, would argue with their interests are being thrown under the bus. Sadly, when emotions mean more than science, this type of result will always be the result. Why can't doctors, who graduated medical schools, and for the most part, completed one residency, be seen as adequate? We are still at the mercy of politically motivated people like those on "state medical boards"? Disagreement by those refusing to keep up with the science can destroy those, of us, who did keep up with the science. With the lack of respect that seems to be chasing the medical profession, I am happy to no longer swim with the sharks, even if I have to live like a pauper! So many of them have not learned that money is not all that important. Maybe that is one of the reasons medical care is so expensive!?

  • Enemy of the State||

    Friedman once made the case that all state licensing should be eliminated. At the Mayo Clinic no less, he told the physicians in attendance that physicians licensing boards were essentially medieval guilds artificially controlling supplg to force wages up.

    If doctors don't need to be state licensed, no occupations need to be licensed...

  • Galane||

    If they actually do this, there will be eyebrow threaders and hair shampooers dancing in the streets. Some States require hundreds of hours of irrelevant and expensive cosmetology and skin care training just to get a license to pluck someone else's eyebrows or wash their hair.

    It's not just for people too lazy to wash their own hair, shampooers also provide a vital service to disabled and elderly who can't wash their own hair.

    Another one is the certified interior decorator/designer.

    This winter has flattened or damaged a lot of buildings in Washington County Idaho and Malheur County Oregon. There's only around 19 building contractors licensed in Malheur County. Oregon's licensing department says they're considering allowing Idaho licensed contractors to temporarily work in Malheur County to get repairs and rebuilding work done faster.

    Most of these licensing schemes have been cooked up by labor unions seeking to keep prices high and limit competition - while claiming the licensing is for "public safety" and to "ensure the quality of work" and "protect against fraud". Nothing prevents a license holder from doing a crappy job or ripping up your floor then doing a runner with your money, and it's very likely the licensing body, which consists mostly or wholly of people in that profession, will side with the contractor.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    So am I not to expect the dentists to put proxies in their place? A patsy not assigned medical qualifications to be a dentist on the board or two sounds like it would defeat the FTC right out of the box.

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    Well, that'll make Glenn Reynolds happy.

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