Hail to the Monks!

July 22nd, 2011

If you think life is expensive, just try death. Caskets cost a lot of money, and in states like Louisiana, they cost even more because only licensed funeral directors have been able to sell them. Enter the Benedictine monks, who just won a federal law suit that will allow them to compete. Competition will bring smiles to the friars and lower prices to grieving families. In my book Rush, I argue that we suffer from an epidemic in government licensing – about 20% of jobs require a license. On the surface, this might sound reasonable: the government protects us from fraudulent cardiac surgeons waving ginzu knives. But very few of the 20% are life-and-death matters.

How many training hours does Phoenix, Arizona demand of a hair stylist? 1,600. A policeman? 600. Apparently, it takes almost three times as much training to pick up a blowdryer than a Glock 22. A licensing epidemic limits mobility and opportunity.

In New York, you need a license to fix a DVD player, to work as a Broadway usher, or even to sell tickets to a professional wrestling match, even if the wrestlers are total frauds pretending to body slam each other and squirting ketchup packets.  That would be like forcing William Shatner to get a pilot’s license before pretending to command the Starship Enterprise. 

All of these rules, under the guise of “protecting the public,” discourage individuals from taking up new professions or from moving to more attractive venues. I have no gripe against government licenses for cardiac surgeons. But blow drying hair and tearing ticket stubs at a theater are hardly done with a scalpel and under general anesthetics. The only thing we anesthetize is our economy. In a miserable economy with a 9.2% jobless rate we need to be breaking down barriers so people have a chance at nabbing a paycheck.

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