Opinion: Daily Journal

Massaging Claims Of Public Interest

RALEIGH – If you have at least a passing familiarity with how occupations get licensed by state governments, it will not surprise you to discover that the North Carolina chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association endorses a bill from Sen. Janet Cowell to increase regulation of massage therapists. It will also not surprise you to learn that some in the industry, particularly start-ups and solo practitioners, don’t like the idea.

Cowell, who as Democratic nominee for state treasurer is completing her last term in the NC Senate, got that chamber to approve her massage-therapy bill last year. That means it’s still alive in the House. One of its main provisions is to increase the cost of securing state licensure.

Why, then, would the industry’s trade association and major players welcome such higher costs? Because they would have the effect of discouraging new entrants into the market. For existing practitioners, this would have two benefits. First, they expect to make more money than the higher fees would cost them, because of diminished competition. Second, they expect to enjoy higher social status by retaining membership in a more-exclusive professional club free from perceived sleaziness.

It’s rational, then, that smaller operators and people who want to break into the business of massage therapy would be less enamored with the bill. It’s aimed at them. Of course, no powerful lobbyist represents them on Jones Street. More generally, no lobbyist appears to be representing the interests of massage clients, either.

The whole regulatory regime is portrayed as pro-consumer, but I have a hard time understanding what significant problem it would alleviate. Yes, some North Carolinians may still have a hard time distinguishing between massage therapy and “massage therapy,” if you catch my drift, but let’s analyze the situation carefully. Clients who are looking for true therapy are unlikely to seek it at a trailer situated just off the interstate with a big neon sign. And legitimate therapists already have a multitude of voluntary certification and marketing tools available to communicate with potential clients about their services.

So the more likely misunderstanding would be in the other direction – pathetic fellows looking for lust in all the wrong places might proposition massage therapists. Somehow, I don’t think we need additional state legislation to protect said massage professionals from acts that are already illegal (and the ones I’ve know in the past are highly skilled at inflicting pain on the human body and need no assistance protecting themselves, thank you very much).

There is nothing worthwhile in Cowell’s bill that can’t be accomplished by voluntary certification. What’s left is an attempt by a special-interest group to use the power of the state to exclude their competitors and boost their incomes, which ought to be a no-no.

The whole thing just rubs me the wrong way.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.