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EDITORIAL: Your papers, please

Licenses to kill—jobs and opportunity April 20, 2020 at 2:51 a.m.

This virus pandemic has concentrated the mind, as emergencies do. Arkansas has taken it seriously--so seriously that the governor hasn't had to issue a shelter-in-place order. Folks are socially distancing on their own.

They know the danger is real. And every day, it seems, We the People learn something new. Six weeks ago, did you even know what social distancing was?

Will government prove educable? We shall see.

There was an outstanding piece in The Atlantic the other day by Paul Sherman, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, a non-profit back east that focuses on "economic liberty." He wrote about how bar exams have been postponed or canceled this year, and how new lawyers are getting their licenses through other means:

"All of which raises the question: Was the exam necessary in the first place? In an era of specialization, few lawyers will ever use more than a tiny fraction of the material covered on the bar exam. But for state bar associations, the exams are a useful way to hold down the number of lawyers.

"As the nation's economy and health-care system struggle to adjust to the pandemic, more and more states are re-examining some of their oldest occupational and business regulations--rules that, although couched as protecting consumers, do far more to limit competition. And for those of us who have long questioned the supposed benefits of these policies, their erosion is welcome, even if the pandemic that caused it is not."


Bret Stephens had an article on this very page a few days ago, about how government regs are keeping the government itself from working efficiently even during an emergency. In the middle of the worst pandemic to hit this country in 100 years, government rules and regulations could be, quite literally, killing us.

As Americans begin thrashing through the red tape and casting it off where they can--in order to combat covid-19--we wonder: As these regulations are considered unnecessary in crisis, can they be considered unnecessary once the crisis passes?

Consider: Just a couple of years ago, Counselor Sherman's Institute for Justice ranked Arkansas as the fifth-most "extensively" licensed state, with the second-most "burdensome" licensing laws.

Turns out Arkansas gives California and Nevada a run for their money on suppressing job growth. According to that study in 2017: "Arkansas licenses a number of occupations that few other states do, such as funeral attendants, psychiatric technicians and residential dry wall installers. Moreover, many occupations are subject to entry restrictions that exceed national averages.

"Opticians in Arkansas, for instance, must train for more than three years, about a year more than the national average. Fire alarm installers lose 1,095 days to education and experience requirements versus a national average of 486 days."

If you're a doctor, we'd like to see that diploma on the wall, along with various licenses. Day-care workers and food handlers should meet basic licensing requirements, too.

But do you really need months of experience to be a licensed manicurist in this state? Or a door repair contractor? It seems both would be subject to the market, and a good job with nails (both kinds) would contribute to more work.

Why should painters, floor sanders, door repairers, drywall installers, etc., have to pay fees, get dozens of hours of on-the-job training, take a series of exams and be a certain age before the state gives them permission to work?

The real reason is to keep the numbers down so the demand exceeds supply. Which helps those who already have those expensive licenses and union memberships.

In the main, all this red tape hurts those trying to earn a living with their hands--and those livings are sometimes middle-income, sometimes on the low end. Many of these licenses might only be burdensome, and purposely burdensome at that. Call them bricks in the wall.

Except the brick layer might need hundreds of dollars for the license fee and five years experience first.

Editorial on 04/20/2020

Print Headline: Your papers, please


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