Editorial: Federal Trade Commission to study occupational licensing reform

AP file photo.

It’s the first day of spring, and there’s a thought on many of our minds - do I need a licensed interior designer for my home, after spring cleaning? And why are interior designers licensed, anyway?

No, really - most states require occupational licenses for interior designers, as well as florists and hair dressers and funeral directors.

But the Federal Trade Commission has launched an effort to evaluate which of these licenses are truly necessary, and which are job-killing, price-raising scams.

“On occupational licensing, the tide finally seems to be turning in a big way, and what’s more, in a bipartisan way,” writes Logan Albright for Conservative Review. “I was first encouraged by a report released by the Obama White House in 2015 entitled ‘Occupational Licensing: A Framework for Policymakers.’ The report advocated reducing or eliminating many licensing requirements across the country to improve opportunity for American workers, while at the same time giving more options for consumers. Given the Obama administration’s penchant for regulation, this was surprising yet pleasing.”

Now, President Trump’s acting chair of the FTC, Maureen K. Ohlhausen, has called the rationale for occupational licensing schemes as running from “dubious to ridiculous.”

“Consumers can, and do, easily evaluate the quality of interior designers, makeup artists, hair-braiders, and others,” Ms. Ohlhausen said. “I challenge anyone to explain why the state has a legitimate interest in protecting the public from rogue interior designers carpet-bombing living rooms with ugly throw pillows.”

As Ohlhausen and Albright agree, few of these licenses truly protect the public’s health (an exception would be medical licenses for doctors).

“Instead, these requirements exist to protect current workers from competition from newcomers,” Albright notes. “This keeps prices higher, costing consumers more and giving them fewer choices. It also shuts out many able workers from productive and profitable jobs.”

With the creation of the FTC’s Economic Liberty Task Force, there’s hope that many of the licensing schemes can be eliminated.

“Nearly 30 percent of American jobs require a license today, up from less than five percent in the 1950s,” the Task Force’s website explains. “Unnecessary or overbroad restrictions erect significant barriers and impose costs that harm American workers, employers, consumers, and our economy as a whole, with no measurable benefits to consumers or society.”

The Task Force also points out an interesting fact. Nationwide, about 1,100 occupations require a license in at least one state. But only 60 occupations require a license in all 50 states.

That means interior designers, for example, are operating completely without state supervision somewhere - and we’ve heard no reports yet of general mayhem.

“If we really care about creating jobs, putting America back to work, reducing poverty, and expanding opportunity, we would do better to focus on reforming licensing regulations instead of raising tariffs and throwing money away on infrastructure boondoggles,” adds Conservative Review’s Albright. “It’s early, but let us hope that the FTC’s task force gets results, and continues to drive states towards the reforms they so badly need.”

Let’s keep an eye on Washington - and on Austin.


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