Thursday, August 6, 2009

Freedom and Bad Hair Cuts

Last Saturday I got a hair cut, which was not the highlight of my weekend. However, while sitting in the chair, voluntarily allowing a strange woman to fondle my hair, I noticed her prominently displayed cosmetology license. I was tempted to laugh at the absurdity, but since she had several sharp objects at her disposal, I thought better of it.

Normally, when I am in a sedentary position I prefer to read, or sleep. But because of the previously mentioned sharp objects, sleeping was not really an option. So I read her cosmetology license. Three times.

I expected to see some information on the license that would assure me that I was receiving the best hair cut allowable by law, or something of the sort. I thought maybe I would see some name that I recognized that would convince me that this stylist had passed muster. Someone like Bush 41 (who spends the winter in Houston). But alas, no such information or names could be spotted.

And then I wondered, what is the worst thing that could happen here? Well, she did have sharp objects, and all kinds of nasty things could result from that. But since I did not see any Texas Rangers standing guard, that license wasn't much protection if she decided to emulate Jack the Ripper. Besides, she seemed to be the type who understood that that wouldn't be a good career move.

So then I thought, the typical justification for occupational licensing is to protect the public welfare and safety. How is the fact that the state has given this woman permission to cut my hair protecting my welfare or safety? I suppose that if I got a really, really, incredibly bad hair cut that I might be a little upset. But my health would not be threatened. I've had a few bad hair cuts in my life, and never once did I get ill.

I want to be perfectly clear. I am not endorsing bad hair cuts. In fact, I generally don't endorse bad anything. But a bad hair cut is not going to ruin my day, let alone my life. I've learned many things, and one of them is: My hair will grow out. Another one is: It is really, really hard to give a bad hair cut. Believe me, I have tried. On myself.

What really ticks me off about this occupational licensing is that the state is treating me like a little child. I can recognize when someone doesn't cut my hair well. After all, it is my hair. I see it every day of my life. I have yet to have anyone from the state come to my home or business to inspect my hair. They don't even do that when I renew my driver's license (and don't get me started on that). Yet, they have the audacity to believe that they can make better decisions about my hair than I can.

To this point I have been rather flip about this issue, but it is indeed serious. If someone wants to cut my hair, and I want to pay them to do it, what freaking business is it of the state? Just because Juanita passed some test 2 years ago doesn't mean she is going to do a good job today. If she doesn't, I will express my displeasure and wear a hat.

Juanita, her colleagues, and indeed all individuals, have a moral right to earn a living as they choose, so long as they respect the rights of other individuals. And I have a moral right to purchase their services if I choose. Neither of us needs the state interfering with that transaction and our freedom. I certainly don't need the state acting as my mommy to make sure that Juanita will do a good job. I expect her employer to do that, and if he doesn't, I will take my business, and my hair, elsewhere.


Burgess Laughlin said...

Some of your readers might like to know that Walter Williams has written (1982) a book that covers licensing, among other examples of economic intervention: The State Against Blacks. A search for Walter Williams and licensing might reveal more recent works about licensing.

Mr. Moderate said...

I'm a little late to this one, but the main reason for occupational licensing is to ensure that a person performing certain tasks actually has enough education to perform the task, is aware of any safety issues around the task. For cosmetology licensees, it is important to ensure they understand the minimum hygiene standards necessary to prevent the spread of disease - like sanitizing their tools to prevent lice, etc.

Licensing is obviously more important to some professions than others. I don't really want to go to someone calling themselves a doctor when in fact they never graduated high school.

Same thing for lawyers and accountants. The license makes sure they have some minimum level of knowledge, and make an effort to stay current via continuing education.

Now, that's not to say I think the requirements for licenses are always reasonable. Where an objective test can determine if a person has the requisite knowledge to perform a task, the education requirements ought to be optional. For instance, if you can pass the bar exam without a law degree, then you should be a lawyer. Same thing for the CPA exam.

Brian Phillips said...

Mr. Moderate--
The main reason for occupational licensing is to place arbitrary barriers to entry into a profession. Countless studies have shown that the primary beneficiaries of licensing are those in the profession, not consumers.

I agree that I don't want someone who is unqualified to perform a service. But I don't need the state to make that determination. I am competent and can judge for myself, based on my needs and desires.

A great example of someone who was incredibly proficient yet did not meet state requirements is Vivien Thomas. He pioneered heart surgery even though he had no formal medical training. The state prohibited him from performing surgery, even though he was the most competent in that field at the time. That is immoral.