While I very much enjoyed ED’s two posts on regulation and health cartelization, I find the anti-barber-licensing Matt Yglesias posts that inspired them extremely annoying. Yes, part of this is that dozens of commenters, both here and there, point out good reasons why barbers should be licensed. But, more than that, I find this type of libertarian rhetoric annoying: start with a serious issue — in this case, the often exorbitant cost caused by unnecessary regulation and barriers to entry in certain professions — and reduce to a smart-ass thought experiment about a profession you don’t take seriously. Some of the rules about licensing barbers are undoubtedly silly, but if these rules are such a serious barrier to entry, then why isn’t there a shortage of barbers and why is it possible to get a cheap hair cut?
There’s no question that the cartelization of medicine helps drive high medical costs. But the barriers to entry there are immense — years of one’s life and hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is entirely different than nuisance requirement about straight edge proficiency, which likely requires at most a few days of practice. It’s not as much fun to talk about doctors, though, because they are Serious People while barbers are not.
Maybe I’m blind to the charms of replacing complex issues with simplistic, humorous examples: I’ve never understood why Robert Nozick’s Wilt Chamberlain example was so brilliant, either (by the way, for an amusing, if probably misinformed, discussion of this topic, see these pieces on the Daily Howler). A philosopher friend of mine tells me that it is partly because it seemed cool for a Harvard don to talk about a black basketball player — while it’s grossly unfair to compare an eminent late philosopher to a Reason staffer, I’ve always thought that Nick Gillespie dresses like an extra from Cruising to achieve a similar effect.
What I dislike most about clever glibertarian thought experiments/examples is that, while they seek to clarify, they too often evade and oversimplify. You start with a wrong-headed discussion of barbers licensing, and pretty soon you’re making order of magnitude economic errors.