Originally published on MilitantLibertarian.org on January 25, 2004.
by Charles Stone, Jr., canam@m…
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 255, January 18, 2004
The land of the free and the home of the brave, eh? That’s what they say, but try to do any one of hundreds of things without a government license and you’ll find out just how unfree we really are.
Want to cut someone’s hair, trim someone’s nails, build a house, fill somebody’s teeth, practice law, treat a cold, spray for bugs, bury a corpse, watch somebody’s kids or give a massage? You need the government’s permission. In some places if you want to sell flowers or cars or homes or decorate somebody’s interior, you must be licensed by the government. Want to haul folks from place to place for a fee, fit someone for a pair of glasses or use your expertise in the classroom to help educate future generations? Not without the validation of some government hack.
If you ask them, they’ll tell you “it’s for your protection” or “it’s the only way we can be sure the people doing these things are competent.” Nonsense, on both counts.
One hundred years of increasing bureaucracy and generations of children brought up in government schools make it seem that way though. How can it be possible for any type of profession to insure the competence of its members without government regulations? Actually, it’s easy once you get through the layers of bombast and bafflegab slathered around by the regulators.
In the state of Florida, for example, home inspectors are required to be licensed by the state but there are no real tests for competence or any method of punishing those whose incompetence may cost their clients money or indeed their very homes. Yet there are several private accreditation groups that do lay out stringent requirements for membership. That is the answer.
It’s not necessary to involve the government at all. You simply make it in the best interest of the inspectors to become part of one of the accrediting organizations and convince the home-buying public to only use accredited inspectors and the problem is solved.
Unscrupulous people are still free to call themselves home inspectors and foolish home-buyers are still free to use these fly-by-nights but they do so at their own risk. Isn’t that the way it should be? You provide proof of your qualifications and the consumer looks them over and makes what should be an informed decision. What could be simpler and more in line with the free enterprise system.
That’s why the Liberal/Democrat/socialist/statists hate the idea. It takes government out of the loop and leaves them no portal through which to enter the lives of others. It does away with the dependency that they must foster in order to gain control.
Independent people need no nanny watching over them. They are capable of handling their own affairs or if things get too complex, of finding the proper professionals to aid them. That makes them much harder to control.
The reasons that this is not the way of things in the America of today are numerous and disparate. In some cases it is pure paternalism on the part of government. The belief that only the government can be wise and powerful enough to look after the interests of the masses. In others it is tradition. “It’s always been that way.” In still others it is the hijacking of the police powers of government by those within a profession to minimize competition. There are even case in which the government is used to stop competition just because some group has enough political clout to have restrictive regulations implemented.
The unions do their part to keep the market un-free as well. They see competition as anti-worker because you have to perform to compete. Union people don’t want to have to perform. They prefer to extort advancement from employers and use the spoils to keep their members in line. It’s a lot easier to move up through the ranks of a career by seniority than it is by merit. That, for example, is why the teacher’s unions are so adamantly against merit pay plans.
Businesses also use the licensing power of government to keep competitors off their backs. If you have a business that is doing marginally well with a minimum of effort and risk on your part and you see that there are other folks who might be thinking about competing with you, what is easier and cheaper? Invest in expanding your business or make changes that will make it run more efficiently, or get your friendly local politician to set up some regulations that make it difficult or impossible for new people to play in your yard? For a lot of people the latter seems preferable.
But what about activities that may involve human life or health, shouldn’t government be involved there? Not necessarily. Take prescription medications for example. How do you keep people from misusing or abusing possibly dangerous drugs? The simple answer is; you don’t. The doctor or the pharmacist should be responsible for informing you of the proper dosage and methods of administering medications, if you are too stupid or incompetent to follow their instructions or you are purchasing drugs for other than their intended use and you harm yourself, tough! Your ignorance should not be my problem.
One of the great, under-appreciated scams in America is the licensing of the electronic media. The Federal Communications Commission has massive power to control the transmission of information and since it is made up of political appointees, the possibility of corruption, either monetary or political, is always present. Politicos on both sides of the aisle think that somehow their dogma should be freely disseminated while that of their opponents should be restricted for the good of the people. That’s why we are saddled with such goofy ideas as “broadcasting in the public interest” and the horribly misnamed “fairness doctrine.”
The former is an anachronistic holdover from the early days of broadcasting when it was thought that there would only be two or three broadcasters in any given area, the latter is an attempt to force all broadcasters to air all sides of every issue or more accurately, no sides of any issue. Both cases serve only to prevent the free circulation of information among people.
In a perfect world, government would restrict itself to dealing with those activities in which one person can cause harm to another through force or fraud. Everything else would be left to the individual or private enterprise. It’s not likely to happen though because government derives much of its power from the ability to restrict the activities of its citizens. They’re never going to give that up.
It makes you wonder how we got along for the first century of this nation’s existence when there weren’t vast offices filled with bureaucrats and assorted functionaries whose only job was to create jobs for themselves. Could we actually have been expected to solve most of our own problems by ourselves, without governmental nannies to hold our hands (and pick our pockets)? But, by golly we did so and along the way we built the greatest nation in the history of the world. Too bad we are too venal and self-absorbed to keep it.
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