The ossification of occupational licensing

Today I learnt that my barber with a cosmetology degree is legally prohibited from using a straight razor. To use a straight razor, she must obtain a barber’s license, the education for which costs $6000.

The distinction is unnecessary. Every time you want to learn an adjacent skill, you shouldn’t need a new license. My barber was lucky that her community pitched in to send her to cosmetology school when she was 16.

The usual spiel is consumer protection. Aren’t you worried that someone untrained will cut your neck or your carotid artery? Removing licensure doesn’t mean one can misrepresent their training or commit malpractice.

There’s a reason why software is the only net-new successful industry in the last ~20 years. Imagine if software engineers were licensed to only write C#, and had to get a license every time they wanted to learn adjacent skills.

I’m not sure what the next steps are… it appears that there is broad consensus to gut the licensing regime, especially in less controversial domains where the potential downside is an individual getting a rash. Licensing however, is a state-controlled domain. Progress will be slow and painful.

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