A video posted by the Koch Brothers’ flagship anti-government organization presents a bold new strategy to break the “cycle of poverty” in America: Get rid of educational and licensing requirements for professionals, such as cosmetologists.
Americans for Prosperity — a right-wing tax-exempt dark money group bankrolled by petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch — posted three videos in the past several days arguing against occupation licensing. These spots each feature Dick Carpenter, the director of strategic research for the Institute for Justice (another Koch-linked anti-government organization) arguing against government licensing of professionals, laws he claims are designed to “keep people out.” The group also created a website and petition urging government to “stop burdensome licensing laws.”
“An occupational license is a government permission slip to work,” Carpenter says in one video. “To work in an occupation of your choice, you have to satisfy the government … and you do so by prescribed education and experience, pay a fee, pass an exam before you can actually work in the occupation of your choice.”
He acknowledges that the aim of these requirements is “to weed out charlatans and quacks and other people who may not be skilled,” but claims that research shows “those presumed benefits simply have not paid off” and consumers “pay more for their goods and services as a result of licensing.”
While it is likely true that people pay more to be treated by a neurologist who has actually been to medical school and demonstrated basic knowledge of how the nervous system works, it is unclear how public health would be improved by allowing anyone with a stethoscope and a dream to open a medical practice.
A spokesperson for the organization said in an email that they would not take the argument to that far.
“We aren’t suggesting that doctors and pilots shouldn’t have credentials and levels of competency to obtain,”Americans for Prosperity’s director of employment initiatives, Erica Jedynak, said in an email.
“Our goal is to ensure that government oversight is appropriate for each profession. In reality, many of the professions that now require licenses have little or no impact on public health and safety. Even worse, there’s ample evidence that these policies have a profoundly negative impact on people experiencing poverty, block employment opportunities, and raise the cost of the goods and services for millions of ordinary Americans.”
But the group’s videos do argue for deregulation in fields where public health and safety is a concern.
In the second video, Carpenter claims that removing the barriers of licensing will mean “more competition and, presumably, lower prices for consumers across the way,” as well as “more innovation.”
In the third video, he argues that licensing “perpetuates a cycle of poverty,” because only people who can afford to go to school to learn their trade and pay the licensing fees get to take those jobs. To make this case, he cites the example of cosmetology — a career he suggests “low income individuals might be interested in taking on” and one he seems to suggest can be done by just about anyone without training.
“To work as a cosmetologist, you might have to go to school for about a year, pass two examinations, and pay significant fees just to work on an individual’s hair,” he notes. “Those with means can afford to pay those costs and earn those licenses, but those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds find that they simply cannot afford those particular costs. And that means there are certain occupations that are out of reach for them economically.”
Rather than address those barriers by making college or vocational training free — a proposal Americans for Prosperity fiercely opposes — the group’s solution is to simply let people without any training on how to safely use cosmetic chemicals, razors, scissors, and other tools figure it out on the job.
Jack Gillis, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, told ThinkProgress that getting rid of occupational licensing would likely be dangerous to consumers.
“Clearly, that type of licensing may not be perfect. But at least it gives consumers a modicum of comfort when they select a service provider. It also gives them the opportunity to file a complaint about that person or company should that be necessary,” he explained.
While he noted that licensing brings “no guarantee that the services provided will be adequate,” he observed that “at least the consumer knows there’s some oversight as well as criteria that have been met about that person before they plunk their hard earned dollars down on the service. If anything, such licensing should be beefed up, not eliminated.”
Gillis added that it was likely there were unlicensed cosmetologists out there already, endangering themselves and others.
“That’s all the more reason why some form of licensing is an important safety check,” he added. “I think it’s not something that can be relied on 100% but it’s a heck of a lot better than making a choice in the dark.”