There once was a tried and true saying, “Charity begins at home,” meaning that, usually, people who know one another have the most emotional connections and incentives to help each another. Local, personal charity tends to cut back on waste and fraud, and when one is helped by a family member, friend, or neighbor, he tends to want to reciprocate, thus strengthening the bonds of family, friendship, or neighborliness. Alexis de Tocqueville found America's foundation in local aid to be so remarkable, he published "Democracy in America" to shed light on it in 1835.
Thank goodness politicians can lead us away from the old and staid, always giving citizens new ideas, ideas they force on others because, through the sorcery of the ballot box, they gain the “power” to make the world better. Family, friends, and neighbors helping one another? Alexis de Tocqueville...? Nah. Much better handled through government bureaucracy.
All over the US, news stories abound telling us of this new way of helping people. Last week, Will Grigg, of the Libertarian Institute, wrote about how the incredibly essential Arizona State Board of Cosmetology was investigating a complaint against a cosmetology student who was suspected of, get this, giving free haircuts to homeless people in a Tucson park!
That’s right! Can you believe the audacity of the guy? Juan Carlos Montes de Oca is the suspected culprit’s extremely long name, so keep an eye out. The wicked man had been studying at the local Regency Beauty Salon until it closed in September and he got the crazy idea of helping people in his community without getting permission from the state. Since he is alleged to have offered free haircuts to folks who obviously should be paying licensed haircutters -- or just going without and looking like they walked off the set of Mad Max -- he’s in a lot of trouble. In fact, he might never get a license from his masters in the state. The Executive Director of the Board, a woman named Donna Aune, is standing proudly by the law, citing it when asked about the situation:
A person shall not perform or attempt to perform cosmetology without a license or practice in any place other than a licensed salon.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey feels differently about it. Evidently, he isn’t worried that homeless folks might get bad haircuts, and he, like many others, recognizes that this law could also see parents fined for cutting their kids’ hair, or individuals – like balding men – fined for shaving their own faces or heads in the morning. The problem is that the Governor believes he has to abide by the law until it is changed. Despite the fact that licensing statutes are the kinds of laws any Chief Executive of any state or the US can decline to enforce, and, in fact, the Contract Clause of the US Constitution – which prohibits states from stopping the fulfillment of a private contract -- stands in opposition to most licensing laws, he feels boxed in.
Imagine how Mr. de Oca or parents of kids with long locks must feel.
But Mr. de Oca is not alone in being harangued by the government. In Tennessee, a woman could go to jail merely for touching a horse. As Eric Boehm reports for Reason, in early 2016, TN resident Laurie Wheeler ran afoul of the state board of veterinary medicine. She had seen the incredible benefits massage therapy gave to her horse, Jazz, and she learned how to do the therapy herself. She even went to the trouble to become a licensed massage therapist, intent on offering her services for payment, and to help horses the way she had seen Jazz helped.
Her attempt to jump through the government hoops was not enough, for, in April of last year, she got a friendly letter from the TN Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (sounds like “Quincy, ME”), who told her, as Boehm writes:
(S)he wouldn't be allowed to give horse massages in Tennessee without being licensed as a veterinarian—a process that would require years of additional, expensive schooling. If she ignored the board's letter and continued to practice, even if she gave horse massages for free rather than as a business, she could face fines of up to $500 and could be sent to jail for as much as six months for committing a class B misdemeanor.
In an interview with Reason, Ms. Wheeler observed:
I can be fined heavily or put in jail for massaging horses, even if I do it for no money… I would have to go to veterinary school, and how crazy is that? I wouldn't learn anything about massaging there, because it's not in the curriculum.
Ms. Wheeler was also forbidden from finding out anything about the individual who had filed the complaint, and she discovered that, while she would be prevented from massaging a horse – even for no charge -- people who castrated or artificially inseminated horses got to engage in their practice without having to obtain licenses.
Remember this if you’re in Tennessee and your pet dog or cat has a sore leg or a cut. You, too, could run afoul of the licensing board if you touch the animals or patch 'em with bandages.
All over the US, stories such as these have been appearing with alarming frequency. In January, police actually stopped Tampa, Florida-based volunteers from feeding the poor in a public park. In 2014, the often pro-government Huffington Post noted that 33 cities had forbidden the practice. You must get permission from the government. You have to have credentials to freely help your neighbor or offer a service on the cheap.
For a while, citizens seemed content to abide by these top-down mandates. But the tide in public opinion began to turn when a New Hampshire man made international news in 2005 by not only providing an unlicensed manicure to a willing customer, but by doing it on folding chairs outside the NH State Board of Licensing. As Mike Fisher was handcuffed and taken away in a squad car, word spread, and the absurdity of licensing began to garner some attention.
Many politicians and those with special interests to pass licensing laws tell citizens that these mandates make the world safer. In fact, licensing does the exact opposite. In addition to being a convenient way for the government to shake people down for cash, licensing is an act of aggressive exclusion that restricts competition and keeps prices high. For those already involved in a particular practice, that’s a big benefit. They don’t have to worry about new market competitors entering the field and offering services for less. As a result, not only do customers have to spend more money than they might otherwise have to spend, thus retarding the growth of new industries that could have used that leftover cash, market innovations are retarded because competition is restricted.
So poor people are priced out of the market by licensing, innovations are smothered, and even those who would like to help people through charitable means are told they will pay fines or go to jail unless they conform to government licensing dictates.
All to “protect” people.
In 1996, a friend of mine mentioned a term I will never forget. When chatting with him about the moral illegitimacy of state seatbelt mandates for drivers, he nodded, and, in a sage voice, said, “Ahh, yes. The old Rubber Bathtub Syndrome. They have to save you from your own mistakes!”
Twenty years later, his words ring with profound clarity.
Rubber bathtubs and licenses all 'round. From Arizona to Tennessee, we have to be protected from our own choices. Even the homeless can't decide for themselves if they'd like to get their hair cut.
One wonders what Alexis de Tocqueville would write if he saw this today.