Opinion: Carolina Beat

CJ Editoral: License To Stifle

The following editorial appeared in the February 2013 print edition of Carolina Journal:

Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican leaders of the 2013 General Assembly seeking an inexpensive way to create jobs and expand entrepreneurship would do well to scrap many of North Carolina’s oppressive and unnecessary occupational licensing requirements.

Licensing mandates are sold as protection — saving the public from scoundrels and charlatans who pretend to be skilled professionals but aren’t. In the case of certain medical specialties and skilled crafts (such as building), the consequences of dealing with an unqualified professional could be lethal.

In practice, however, these licensing rules have morphed into more of a protection racket, letting those who have gotten into the club erect barriers keeping newcomers (meaning competitors) out. The requirements to get a license typically involve dozens if not hundreds of hours of training from government-authorized outlets, or years of “apprenticeship” before a potential member can join the “guild,” even if a person is capable of performing a job competently without extensive amounts of formal training.

The number of occupations requiring government licenses also has grown. According to a recent John Locke Foundation report, requirements have mushroomed over the past half-century: While roughly one in 20 workers needed some sort of occupational license in the 1950s, today that number is approaching one in three.

While the public may demand some official seal of approval before a surgeon can operate or an electrician can wire a house, is the public safer if anyone with a green thumb has to get permission from the government to landscape someone’s lawn for money?

Moreover, in many instances, licensing boards are not responsive or accountable to the public when its members allegedly misbehave. The boards offer the public little information about practitioners who have provided substandard or even fraudulent services. Medical societies and bar associations are notorious for clamming up if one of their members faces a disciplinary action, meaning a careless dentist or a negligent lawyer may continue practicing after being punished, and their clients may be unaware that they’ve hired a quack.

By contrast, private, user-driven services such as Angie’s List and third-party reviewers like the Better Business Bureau are eager to inform consumers about the competence of professional services. These organizations offer ratings and reviews, and some allow providers to respond directly to consumer complaints. In other words, left to its own devices, the marketplace works.

The JLF report points out that North Carolina has one of the nation’s most restrictive occupational licensing regimes, subjecting 154 lines of work to some sort of licensing mandate. In another survey, the Tar Heel State ranked No. 15 nationally among the most intrusive states in occupational licensing requirements.

The JLF report suggests straightforward reforms to aid consumers and practitioners — among them, scrapping the most recently created licensing boards, and subjecting every board to a periodic sunset review, abolishing those that serve no defensible public purpose.

It’s time to end the state’s chokehold on entrepreneurship, one licensing board at a time.