Which is more destructive – high taxes or occupational licensing

“Joe the Plumber” has made lots of headlines – since he put the screws to Barack Obama about how Obama’s tax increases might affect him – but this one really bothers me. The AP is reporting that “Joe” may not be a real plumber, because he isn’t licensed by the state of Ohio (though his employer is).

Thus, the media shows the mentality that has led to over-regulation of our economy. Should he really need a license to practice plumbing? Does the state government really have a means to evaluate his plumbing qualifications?

Professional licensing – of plumbers, hair braiders, eBay sellers, massage therapists, tour guides, boxers, and the rest – are just tools of the special interests to create their own cartels, harming both would-be professionals and consumers. As Reason’s report on occupational licensing in states notes,

In areas with licensing restrictions on plumbers, for example, retail sales of plumbing equipment
are higher because people resort to doing their own plumbing work.

While Ohio’s 88 licensed occupations outnumbers Pennsylvania’s 62, it hardly makes Pennsylvania a friendly state to do business. As Stephen Albert writes:

While the state requires 1,250 hours of classroom training to become a cosmetologist or a barber, it only requires 750 hours to become a police officer, 125.5 hours to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and a mere 40 hours for a privately employed security officer to carry a lethal weapon.

Expensive and repressive, these requirements prohibit individuals from entering into their desired professions. Those without sufficient means to obtain the educational requirements are most affected by these regulations. While passed under the guise of protecting the consumer from bad businesses or providing for the “public safety,” these mandates serve only to protect existing businesses from new competition and contribute to Pennsylvania’s poor rankings as places to do business.

Unfortunately, Joe the Plumber’s complaint about high taxes has led the advocates of big government to crack down on him. If Joe was found to be violating Ohio’s law, by plumbing without a license – even though no one has complained and he may have done fantastic work – he could be fined and barred from practicing his chosen profession. The power of the state in occupational licensing is every bit as repressive as high taxes, destructive to our economy, and potentially shattering Joe’s dreams.