Barack Obama, Barbering Deregulator

Mike Konczal points out that State Senator Barack Obama was not blind to the perils of overly aggressive barber licensing regimes:

Ms. Barber and Anthony Burton participated on a panel with State Senator Barack Obama and State Representative Constance Howard to discuss the federally funded Going Home program and several new laws that were passed by the state lawmakers. The lawmakers introduced to the audience several bills that had been passed, including one that would change some of the expungement laws in the State of Illinois and one bill that would allow formerly incarcerated individuals to seek regulatory licenses in several fields including barbering, nail technicians, cosmetology and dead animal removal. Under this bill, the formerly incarcerated individual would have the opportunity to seek a license once they have served their time in prison and have been given a certificate of good standing by the State of Illinois. NLEN also set up a booth at the Town Hall meeting to highlight its program and accomplishments.

The problem here is that when you set up these boards, they have incentives to think up any kind of halfway plausible reason to bar people from entering the field. Since being a felon sounds bad, and nobody but leftwing State Senators from Hyde Park wants to spend time standing up for the interests of ex-cons, making rules barring felons from your profession seems like an obvious move. But society suffers quite a lot from rules that make it more difficult for former criminals to integrate themselves into the legitimate economy. It’d be really nice to be able to say to a guy in prison “as long as you’re in here all day every day, we’re going to teach you to use hair clippers so if you feel like doing legal work for a living when you get out you can go be a barber.”

Meanwhile, I note that in Massachusetts unlicensed fortune tellers are subject to a $100 fine even though any fortune teller worth his salt is going to be able to see the future and avoid getting caught.

I think the whole issue will strike some people as silly, but unless you expect manufacturing sector productivity to stop increasing the future is going to involve a larger-and-larger share of the population working in these personal service fields.