I Am An Unlicensed Barber

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"I Am An Unlicensed Barber"

clippers

At Karl Smith’s suggestion can we talk for a moment about the regulation of barber shops? The way I’ve been getting my hair cut for the past six months or so is that I bought a pair of hair clippers and I do it myself. I normally trim about twice a week, and this lets me keep the hair short at an acceptable cost. Once I screwed it up, then my hair looked funny for like a day until I figured out how to fix it.

Meanwhile, meet the District of Columbia Board of Barber and Cosmetology:

The DC Board of Barber and Cosmetology (Board) regulates the practice of barbering and cosmetology while working diligently to raise the standards of practice; ensure quality service; establish accepted codes of ethical behavior, and protects the health, safety and welfare of the citizens and visitors of the District of Columbia by upholding the city’s Barber and Cosmetology laws and regulations. The Barber and Cosmetology license law (pdf) is defined in the Barber and Cosmetology Municipal Regulations, which took effect on May 2001.

The Board consists of eleven members appointed by the Mayor. The Board consist of three (3) barbers, three (3) cosmetologists, threes (3) specialists, all license and practicing for at least three (3) years. There are two (2) members (non-license) representing consumers. Six members of the Board constitute a quorum.

Regulation of this sort seems totally unnecessary. People don’t die of bad haircuts, and since hairstyle is a quintessential matter of taste there’s absolutely no reason to think consumers can’t figure out for themselves who has a decent reputation as a cutter of hair. You can cut your own hair perfectly safely in your own house, and if you screw it up all that happens is you need to find a real professional to fix it. But what’s more, even if regulation were somehow a good idea, the composition of the board couldn’t possibly serve a legitimate consumer protection function. It’s overwhelmingly composed of people from the industry whose incentive is to limit competition and raise prices.

And note that even if you changed the formal rule governing the composition of the board, this same problem would recur. The only people who are ever going to really care about who sits on the board and what it does are the incumbent businesses looking to limit competition. It’s not the biggest deal in the world (trivial even compared to similar things like rules making it hard for dental hygenists to clean teeth without giving dentists a cut), but the upshot is higher prices for consumers and barriers to upward mobility for people who want to cut hair in exchange for money.

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