Matt, you’re glib

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.






235 replies
  1. 1
    Xboxershorts says:

    While the ins and outs of various professional licensing requirements make for fine glibertarian discuussions around the kitchen table, they have naught to offer in any discussion of federal government’s need to regulate interstate commerce.

    You see, every single state sets their own professional licensing requirements and these are not mandated by any federal government per se. Instead, this is how the professions developed. And these licensing requirements differ widely from state to state, adding to various confusions.

    But it’s a state issue and not a federal issue.

  2. 2
    DougJ says:

    @Xboxershorts:

    That is a good point too.

  3. 3

    Well played, good sir.

    The indispensable crew at ‘ydiot’ did a nice job with this issue as well. For example: http://www.ydiot.net/2010/08/p.....nsure.html

  4. 4
    geg6 says:

    @Xboxershorts:

    In addition to which you have people like Kain, Yglesius, and McLaren running around spouting off on a trade of which they obviously know nothing. I’d like to ask McLaren to go talk to some African American women (and many of the men) and tell them how they don’t need to do anything with their hair that they can’t do themselves. And to warn him before he talks to them about how having to get expensive (and dangerous) care for their hair is all just a vanity issue to bring a bullet proof vest and some self-defense training. I’m thinking McLaren doesn’t know any real African Americans, let alone any women regardless of skin color.

  5. 5
    burnspbesq says:

    If only licenses reliably sent the signal about competence that licensing requirements were originally intended to send …

  6. 6
    mikey says:

    Wow, Doug. That really seems like an excessive reaction. One almost has to come away from it with the sense you have very strong personally negative feelings about Yglesias that tend to affect your reaction to his work.

    There is no good reason why a consideration of industry regulation as a benefit or net cost to consumers, what the proper level of licensing/regulation might be and whether the process has become corrupted should be seen as anything but helpful. It’s pretty clear that the status quo is, unsurprisingly, sub-optimal and you and I are the folks that pay the price for that.

    Next are you going to lash out at Matt for pointing out Libertarian dishonesty in parking regulations or congestion pricing? Perhaps decide he’s making light of land use issues when he talks about neighborhoods that won’t license a new restaurant?

    I’m usually impressed by your thought processes, and this just seems like a gross over reaction here…

    mikey

  7. 7
    El Cid says:

    @geg6: One of the problems is that when commenters like MY remark on such things, it truly is glib, thrown out, and not an argument which appears not to have been weighed upon and analyzed in great detail.

    It’s like back when ‘free trade’ (there is no such thing as free trade, simply different trade agreements with different favored beneficiaries) advocates just threw out that, well, the outdated Luddites would get jobs in high tech or via training or whatever and if not, oh well, life goes on.

  8. 8
    cleek says:

    What I dislike most about clever glibertarian thought experiments/examples is that, while they seek to clarify, they too often evade and oversimplify.

    it’s always seemed to me that simplification is one of the big selling points of libertarianism, especially for people with a certain mindset.

    our system of laws and regulations really is terribly complex – overly complex at times. and, to many people, that kind of complexity just screams out for simplification: the complexity rankles, irritates, grates. things work better when they’re simple. they’re easier to understand, easier to fix, easier to maintain, etc.. so it seems like the best thing we could do is to get down to a few simple laws and let people figure it out from there, because everyone is smart and logical and will be able to interpolate the reduced law to whatever comes up in reality.

    (yes, i’m talking about engineers)

    obviously, laws are complex for real-life reasons. but the optimizing engineer mindset prefers to skip over that and design for how things would work, if everybody else just obeyed the specs followed the clear and simple rules that have been intelligently designed for us all!

  9. 9
    J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford says:

    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.

    Not only is the post glib, but extremely limited in perspective. Folks may not die from a hair cut but you can get a nasty infection if the barber/cosmetologist/specialist doesn’t practice the within the mandated health standards. And this just doesn’t cover haircuts but things like manicures/pedicures and waxing.

  10. 10
    beltane says:

    It doesn’t seem that the glibertarians place much weight on the value of professional training. The argument appears to be that the best way to reduce the cost of a service is not to increase the supply of qualified providers, but to lower or eliminate the standards used to determine who is a qualified provider. While such an appraoch may lower costs (all manner of alternative practitioners command a hefty price despite their dubious qualifications) it would only work if one was indifferent to outcomes.

    When you meet a glibertarian who has escaped his/her privileged bubble of wealth and health, please let me know. I’m too old, and have experienced too much to have patience for this kind of adolescent wankery.

  11. 11
    DougJ says:

    @mikey:

    I like Yglesias a lot, in fact. But there’s no excuse for the way he ignored all his commenters’ objections on this issue. I think it was lazy, sloppy glibertarianism at its worst and I expect better of Yglesias, whom I respect.

    EDIT: I believe that there *are* seriously underlying issues here. I agree with you about this. And it’s why I had a negative reaction as I did to Yglesias’s posts.

  12. 12
    shecky says:

    Still think MattY is on the right path here. The argument presented here amounts to a matter of momentum: “It’s already this way and the world hasn’t ended, so why change?”

    But it doesn’t really address the need for licensing to begin with. It just seems kind of silly. In my State, one needs a license to cut hair, but none to give tattoos, despite seeming to be a much higher health risk procedure. But the argument shouldn’t be to license them, too. The default needs to be a compelling need should be presented for the government to step into the fray. I suspect if/when tattoo parlors are as common as barber shops, you’ll see them collectivize to get the government’s help in limiting the entry into the field. For the public safety, you see…

  13. 13
    J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford says:

    @J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford:

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    What could I have possibly written that would land that post in moderation?

    This is just another example of the overregulation of the blog post industry. There’s absolutely no reason to think posters can’t figure out for themselves which blogs have a decent reputation for moderating comments.

  14. 14
    kay says:

    @geg6:

    I do think they have to actually ask a dentist about dental practice management before they go right to “cartel”. She’s a dentist, but she’s also a supervisor. Dental practices have office managers, but the dentist is the allied profession manager, isn’t she?

    I’m not even sure this saves patients money. They have to go to the dentist and the cleaning? How much time does that take? Isn’t it easier and more efficient to just pay the dentist to look at your teeth while you’re there? The whole point of regular dental care is preventative, is it not? Are people really pissed off at the “waste” when the dentist doesn’t find anything horrible? I’m generally relieved.

  15. 15
    The Other Chuck says:

    It’s like this: deep water drilling is like cosmetology.

    What, you expected me to expand on that? The reasoning doesn’t go further. Oh and tax cuts. Also.

  16. 16
    jazzgurl says:

    But isn’t that what MOST of these bloggers do? It always seems like intellectual masturbation to the hilt.
    They write because they have to write and in this manner they waffle, and waffle …and waffle!

  17. 17
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    While I will be forever grateful for the contributions of reasoning and learning from Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato, the “proofs” that they and their followers created about the universe should have shown the limits of thought experiments.

  18. 18
    gex says:

    Libertarianism is all about ideas formed not in the real world, but in the world of their own thought experiments. It is why idiots like Rand Paul will claim that the market would have done away with segregation. Despite ample evidence that it was not.

    Frankly, I think this is where the non-religious right wingers get their reality resistance.

  19. 19
    DougJ says:

    @J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford:

    Sorry — I just cleaned the filter.

  20. 20
    cm says:

    I don’t know what DougJ’s problem is here. Matt’s pretty clearly being sincere about licensing for barbers and whatnot (Note that he didn’t use the word libertarian or give libertarians props or anything). And Matt didn’t make the classic glibertarian leap — “barber licensing is silly so let’s smash the welfare state!”

    But yeah, weird professional licensing is not a big deal. The bigger issue is the medical cartel. Look at table 293 (“Professional Degrees Earned in Selected Professions”) in the 2010 Statistical Abstract [html] [tiny pdf]. The supply of doctors and medical schools has been pretty much flat for 30 years even though the population has gone up 30% and has become a lot older and sicker. They haven’t made it much harder to get out of medical school but they’ve made it a hell of a lot harder to get in.

  21. 21
    aimai says:

    @shecky:

    Why shouldn’t the argument be to lisence tatoo parlors, too? It seems to me that its perfectly reasonable to argue a priori that any/most “personal hygiene” activities–from makeup provision, to tatooing, to barbering ought to be regulated and liscenced in the same way that any place that creates a potential health hazard to individuals and the community as a whole (as a potential vector for communicable illness) ought to be regulated. Restaurants, water sources, garbage dumps: these are all regulated as matters of public health for obvious reasons (or reasons that have been obvious ever since the cholera epidemic that led to the first serious study of waterborn diseases). Barbershops and tattoo parlors seem like a really stupid place for the anti regulation crowd to take their stand. Hepatitis, lice, various skin diseases, etc… are all risks of these personal service industries and we ought obviously to protect both the practitioner and the consumer.

    aimai

  22. 22
    Batocchio says:

    My impression of the Wilt Chamberlain thought experiment has been that it’s a rigged demo, mostly because it’s discussing disposable income versus necessary expenditures. Anyone’s free to spend money to see a star basketball player play, but that doesn’t mean the social contract is invalidated or that progressive taxation (let alone taxation of any sort) is evil. Chamberlain still winds up rich, as he did in reality. However, I’ve mainly read excerpts or summaries of Nozick, and haven’t read his full, verbatim explanation, so I’ll have to check it out sometime and see how it holds up. (Any other takes here, by folks who have read the actual chapter/book?)

    That said, it does seem many libertarian and plutocrat arguments depend on rigged demos, cherry-picking, ignoring context, human nature, reality… That Arthur Laffer column linked here a while back demonized unemployment benefits as theft from productive people like Arthur Laffer. At one point he posited that we imagine a two person economy. Uh, no. It’s a ridiculously unrealistic model, but Laffer picked it so he could shill the notion of Randian supermen and moochers. (Plutocracy and trickle-down economics look so much prettier when sketched on a napkin.)

  23. 23

    [Hee-hee.] John, now you know how I feel when you talk on and on and on about stuff that no normal human being is interested in except for about 5 guys who should probably be doing something else.

    How does it feel? Irritating isn’t it? [giggle]

  24. 24
    ChrisS says:

    It’s interesting to see how licensing requirements begin.

    I work in the environmental remediation field. Most of the work we do is geology and hydrology. Most (all?) states have professional engineering licensing requirements which led to PEs having to sign off certain documents (for no fucking reason other that they want a PE to be a part of the investigative process). There’s a professional geologist (PG) component, but as far as I can tell here on the east coast it requires a letter to the state of Tennessee with a copy of your diploma and a letter from someone with a state of Tennessee PG license to vouch for you and you’re golden.

    The certified environmental professional as a private society certification is starting to crop up in some states with varying requirements and there is at least one state that I’m familiar with that has a specific license (MA).

  25. 25
    gex says:

    @aimai: Don’t you understand? If you get horribly ill due to the bad practices of the unlicensed practitioner, you will then have been provided really clear signals from the market that you shouldn’t use that provider. And if you survive, you move on to the next provider and hope that they maintain some sort of standards above that which society requires (i.e. none at all).

    Free market, bitches!

    ETA: What’s with the “if we can’t fix everything, let’s not fix anything” approach to life?

  26. 26
    Comrade Luke says:

    I don’t think Matt is any different from that entitled poser from Salon talking about how she pulled herself up by her bootstraps after college. They’re children of privilege who have no idea how the real world works, and neither should be taken seriously.

    Honestly, I think the guy is pretty much a moron – a centrist Douthat.

  27. 27
    beltane says:

    @aimai: I think tattoo parlors are licensed. An unsanitary tattoo parlor is pretty much guaranteed to be a center for hepatitis transmission. Glibertarians are blissfully unaware of things like filth and germs.

  28. 28
    Pat says:

    mikey, the irritable reaction is somewhat justified; Yglesias has had four or five posts this week sneering about barbers. It’s reminiscent of the “pimple-popper MD” Seinfeld.

    The “libertarians” would seem to prefer extortion money paid to ad hoc business cartels run by or linked to organized crime over licensing fees. Or maybe they never really thought about what the alternative would be, and was in the past.

  29. 29
    Bob says:

    While I very much enjoyed ED’s two posts….

    Very Atlantic like.

  30. 30
    cm says:

    Because of the moderation filter you guys are missing out on my very serious, thoughtful comment that has never been made in such detail or with such care.

  31. 31
    shecky says:

    @beltane:

    It doesn’t seem that the glibertarians place much weight on the value of professional training.

    This is a completely wrong take on MattY’s critique. The problem is that a license says little about the value of professional training. Has nobody here ever gotten a bad haircut? Are licensed barbers and hairdressers suddenly incapable of nicking their customers with the straight razor or burning them with hair straightener? Does the license somehow compel a slob to clean his brushes and scissors?

    Health inspections address the sanitation part. The market weeds out the rest.

    The idea that opposing protectionism is some sorry glibertarianism just reeks of automated partisan thinking. Opposing protectionism is exactly what Yglesias does here.

  32. 32
    boot says:

    What about Yglesias’s reference to the unlicensed barbers of England? Is there a higher incidence of barber induced public health emergency in the UK than there is in the US? If not, does it make sense to regulate it?

    Instead of just saying “Yglesias is wrong! There are clearly public health issues involved!”, government should look at the evidence and see if regulation is necessary. If not, why regulate?

    I don’t know the answers, or where even to look for the answers, but it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot of evidence being marshaled on either side.

  33. 33
    DougJ says:

    @Batocchio:

    I’d love to weigh in but I just don’t know enough about this sort of philosophy. I wouldn’t have even brought the example up except that a friend who knows philosophy better told me my general impression — why is this such an awesome example — was right, in his opinion.

    I’m hoping some people who know more do weigh in, because I find this very interesting.

  34. 34
    Martin says:

    No, there are good arguments for why barbers should be *regulated*. Getting from regulated to licensed is a different step.

    In most cases, the point of licensure is to give consumers a means to escalate a claim from civil to criminal. How many malpractice claims are made against barbers? Is the benefit of being able to make such claims balanced against the barrier of entry (admittedly pretty low) into the profession.

    I’m not making a case here, but laying out a framework. Barbers started getting licensed back when they were commonly spreading diseases like anthrax, and when they were still handling most dental procedures. I think we can accept that the kinds of protections first envisioned in licensure of barbers has since been handed off to different professions, and that the risk of diseases such as anthrax has declined considerably.

    If we were to start all over again, would we license barbers today? I doubt it very much. I could see a scenario where the owner of a barbership is required to be licensed and is legally responsible for anyone he/she employs, but the employees need not be licensed. That’s a situation that we see in quite a few other areas and strikes me as a reasonable compromise, and a reasonable first step.

  35. 35
    Janus Daniels says:

    “… pretty soon you’re making order of magnitude economic errors.”
    How’d McMegan get into this?

  36. 36
    DougJ says:

    @Bob:

    Touche.

    I felt that way writing it so I’m glad someone made fun of me for it. In point of fact, though, I do think Kain’s posts were infinitely more thoughtful than Yglesias’s here.

  37. 37

    As I get older I tend to see more of these issues as an age thing — in two ways.
    First, some you-kids-get-off-my-lawn older people tend to mythologize the past. They think we can easily go back to “a simpler, better time when things weren’t so danged complex!”
    Second, some can’t-we-all-just-get-along younger people don’t have enough life experience to realize how complex some things are, and they think “if it wasn’t for all this unnecessary regulation, then everybody would just naturally do the right thing.”
    The result, for both age groups, can be an unfortunate tendency toward the kind of thoughtless libertarianism that thinks rules are symptomatic of a hostile and mindless bureaucracy — except for the ones that apply to the guy who is operating on ME, of course!

  38. 38
    El Cid says:

    If there is frustration about cartel-like licensing practices, why not move to a more universal publicly regulated system?

    Why is the option to either maintain the current in-class system or destroy the system of private or public regulation?

  39. 39
    El Cid says:

    @Janus Daniels: She too fails to mention her meritocratic libertarian start from a wealthy and connected family.

  40. 40
    Martin says:

    Reading more comments, I think people miss that licensure and malpractice are directly connected. The whole point of licensure is to get to malpractice. If malpractice never comes into the equation, then licensure is merely serving as a barrier into the occupation that could be addressed by other means.

  41. 41
    El Tiburon says:

    Using Matt’s argument, I am an unlicensed:

    –electrician (flipped the breaker)
    –paramedic (put a bandaid on daughters boo-boo)
    –dentist (pulled loose tooth from same daughter)
    –psychiatrist (counseled wife that she is not fat and ugly die to being pregnant)

    So, I will gladly give 5% discounts to my friends here @ Balloon Juice for all services rendered.

  42. 42
    beltane says:

    @shecky: A bad haircut is a matter of aesthetics. Chemical burns to the skin or a case of hepatitis (or worse) caused by unsanitary tools is another matter entirely. Having a license means you are vulnerable to losing your license and thus your livelihood if you refuse or are unable to meet the minimum standards of your profession. The prospect of an evil government regulator stopping by your place of business unannounced does wonders for making people comply with the rules.

  43. 43
    DougJ says:

    @El Tiburon:

    Careful with the hyphens.

  44. 44
    Michael says:

    Even accepting the accuracy of Yglesias’ complaint, the complaint itself is grotesque. Of all the cartel-like behavior in our society, what he finds illustrative and criticism-worthy is one that improves public health, results in a very modestly-priced and reliable consumer product, and acts to stabilize and slightly inflate the income of some working-class people. What ideology sees those results as negative?

  45. 45
    El Tiburon says:

    @Bob:

    Very Atlantic like

    Uh, then who is McArdle?

  46. 46
    Anonymous At Work says:

    Doug,
    I think Matt’s secondary point, one which I take seriously, is: Where are libertarians demanding reform? Learned hearings and attempts to reform a liberty-limiting, market-distorting insiders-only regime are *supposed* to be prime targets for libertarians. But, instead, what libertarians are railing against is…war on drugs and federal taxes and EPA regulations. Matt’s point on libertarians and the large number of non-sensical, parochial and/or left-from-an-earlier-age regulations and laws is that libertarians could have great success in working on them, from the ground up, rather than attempt a top-down approach on major chunks of legislation.
    And, for my part, I don’t have a non-cynical answer for the above.

  47. 47
    mantis says:

    pretty soon you’re making order of magnitude economic errors.

    You mean McEstimates?

    The problem is that a license says little about the value of professional training. Has nobody here ever gotten a bad haircut? Are licensed barbers and hairdressers suddenly incapable of nicking their customers with the straight razor or burning them with hair straightener? Does the license somehow compel a slob to clean his brushes and scissors?

    Sigh.

    Why do we bother licensing semi-trailer truck drivers? Have any of them ever hit the brakes too fast? Are licensed truck drivers incapable of veering off the road? Does the license somehow compel the driver to hitch the trailer correctly every time?

    Why do we bother licensing pest control professionals? Has anyone here ever had their house sprayed and still had pests? Are licensed professionals incapable of spraying the wrong chemicals in your home? Does the license somehow compel exterminators to have their chemicals properly labeled and to use care when spraying around kitchen and dining areas?

    We licence professionals that use potentially dangerous chemicals and machinery so we are sure they have had proper training in using them. That doesn’t mean they must follow their training. No one claims a license magically makes the licensee do the right thing all the time.

  48. 48
    shecky says:

    @aimai:

    Why shouldn’t the argument be to lisence tatoo parlors, too?

    Because there seems to be little threat to society from tattoo artists. The biggest problem they present is that they give customers exactly what they ask for.

    @Beltane:

    In this state, tattoo artists are not licensed. Tattoo parlors are licensed like any comparable businesses.

    Certainly, an unscrupulous tattoo artist can spread disease, cause health problems, and so on. The only serious concern about them is when they give stupid tattoos. Licensing does not prevent either. If you’re serious about the issue, you compel the health inspector to visit such places on a regular basis. And if you’re serious about getting a tat, you’d have to be a moron to do anything other than ask around for references.

  49. 49
    Pat says:

    @ChrisS: I’m a PG in Quebec, and I was shocked at the fees (about an order of magnitude higher than any state in the US) and application process (pain in the ass). Part of that is just typical French bureaucratie, but basically the whole structure of geologist licensing in Canada changed after Bre-X. And currently the PG is only necessary for mining, but they’re talking about “reaching out” to other industries.

  50. 50
    beltane says:

    @Martin: There is no malpractice without licensure. You might, just might, be able to prevail on assault and battery grounds, but it would be highly unlikely. Standards without the means to enforce those standards are worse than nothing. No standards at all means that every trip to the doctor, dentist, or salon becomes a a game of Russian Roulette.

  51. 51
    Bob says:

    @DougJ: I like E.D., a lot, no matter I write here or over at LOOG. Hope he stays around.

  52. 52
    liberty60 says:

    Slightly OT-
    Alex Pareene at Salon comments on how the Koch Bros.-funded Reason is letting go of “liberaltarians”. Money quote:

    And if [the Koch Bros.] are keeping the lights on at Cato and AEI, they want Cato and AEI to produce research that relates more to hating the IRS and the EPA than to hating the NYPD or the FBI.

    Which seems about right to me- however much I might agree with glibs about drug and police state issues, libertarianism just seems like a glib updating on the old saw about how the law in its majesty allows rich and poor alike to sleep under a bridge.

  53. 53
    kay says:

    @shecky:

    Licensing does not prevent either

    I don’t think it’s meant to. It’s meant to not allow the licensed contractor who spread the disease to set up shop in the parlor around the corner. They pull his license, he doesn’t work.

  54. 54
    DougJ says:

    @Anonymous At Work:

    Good point.

    But I think marijuana decriminalization can be fought for fairly locally, especially in states with ballot referendums.

  55. 55
    shecky says:

    @beltane:

    Chemical burns to the skin or a case of hepatitis (or worse) caused by unsanitary tools is another matter entirely. Having a license means you are vulnerable to losing your license and thus your livelihood if you refuse or are unable to meet the minimum standards of your profession.

    Do you suggest someone cutting hair without a license faces no liability if he/she causes harm?

  56. 56
    mikey says:

    @El Cid:I saw the whole thing as the beginning of a worthwhile conversation. I would expect that conversation to yield a variety of potential solutions, just like this one. That’s the whole point.

    Of course, that point is made moot by the structural status quo bias that has taken hold in the US. Can’t change anything, somebody will not only complain but will have available to them the power to prevent that change.

    I think it’s wonderful that we’re so sensitive to the feelings of barbers and cosmetologists here. I mean, hey, nobody who hangs around this blog would EVER mock or make fun of somebody else, right? Just dead serious all the time, none of that “snark” you kids hear about so much.

    Geez, bloggers are supposed to write in an entertaining, punchy fashion. And that’s going to rub some people the wrong way sometimes, but the format requires it, and it ain’t going away…

    mikey

  57. 57
    Steve says:

    I am with DougJ on this one. Matt’s argument doesn’t get any deeper than of course it’s dumb to license barbers and of course all these barriers to entry are incredibly harmful and pernicious, as opposed to just a minor annoyance. There’s no attempt to engage with the merits at all.

    I think the larger issue is that there are two kinds of regulation out there: (1) stuff aimed at protecting the public and (2) stuff aimed at creating barriers to entry, disadvantaging small market players to the benefit of larger corporations, and the like. I think the point is that we should be aware of the two categories, and additionally that we should realize our political system probably makes it easier to pass stuff in the second category than stuff in the first. I wouldn’t disagree with any of that, nor do I think most of us would. It’s when you get down to the level of discussing specific examples and criticizing specific regulations that I think you have the obligation to be more than just glib.

  58. 58
    Andrey says:

    @shecky:

    This is a completely wrong take on MattY’s critique. The problem is that a license says little about the value of professional training. Has nobody here ever gotten a bad haircut? Are licensed barbers and hairdressers suddenly incapable of nicking their customers with the straight razor or burning them with hair straightener? Does the license somehow compel a slob to clean his brushes and scissors?

    “This won’t catch everything, so it must be useless” is a poor argument. A person who has acquired a license is capable of making those errors – but is less likely to do so. Consider: Drivers are licensed. Drivers still crash. Does this mean that people shouldn’t need a license to drive, since it’s not doing anything? Of course not. Without the license, and the bare minimum training needed to pass the license test, people would crash more. Licensing, like many forms of regulation and the broader spectrum of safety control, is about managing probabilities, not about guaranteeing outcomes.

  59. 59
    Bob says:

    @El Tiburon:

    Uh, then who is McArdle?

    There’s only one. Thank god.

  60. 60
    JGabriel says:

    Shouldn’t the final phrase of this post, order of magnitude economic errors, be a link to Megan McArdle?

    .

  61. 61
    shecky says:

    @mantis:

    Why do we bother licensing semi-trailer truck drivers?

    You ask a question that neither Yglesias nor I have advocated.

    This seems to be a fallacy of consistency. Because we license drivers and doctors does not mean we need to license hair braiders, for the sake of consistency. DougJ rightfully complains about thought experiments that evade and oversimplify. So do I. I also add complaints about thought experiments that set up false equivalencies and straw men.

  62. 62
    beltane says:

    @shecky: I am not as prudish about tattoos as you are, so I really don’t think the worst thing they can do is “give the customer what they paid for”. References might be indispensable for determining a tattoo artist’s artistic skills, they are useless in evaluating the microbial load of the tattoo parlor.

  63. 63
    El Cid says:

    @mikey: I haven’t expressed such yet, but I grew up knowing a barber very well, so I guess I could be sensitive about them. And let me tell you he was pretty clear that before certain standards he saw a lot of awful stuff go on in barber shops.

    I’ve read tons of MY’s posts on this, and if they were real, thoroughly argued pieces which dealt with strong counter-arguments, I might have thought about them. But they were just always silly, light-weight toss offs with ridiculous and shallow analogies. On a number of subjects he’s just like that, and I came to conclude that it was just something about his life experience or social network or whatever.

    Also, I don’t care what insults or nastiness are thrown back and forth in blogs. If people can’t do it here, then, fuck, why do it anywhere?

  64. 64
    DougJ says:

    @mikey:

    I think it’s wonderful that we’re so sensitive to the feelings of barbers and cosmetologists here. I mean, hey, nobody who hangs around this blog would EVER mock or make fun of somebody else, right? Just dead serious all the time, none of that “snark” you kids hear about so much.

    I’m not generally comfortably mocking entire professions when those professions are middle-class. I don’t like it when people write “all reporters suck” either. It’s one think to take shots at Tony Hayward and David Gregory, quite another to denigrate an entire middle-class line of work.

  65. 65
    Mike in NC says:

    Nick Gillespie dresses like an extra from Cruising

    This is the same guy John Cole refers to as the “Fonzi of Freedom”, correct?

  66. 66
    Anonymous At Work says:

    @DougJ,
    For the decriminalization petitions that go around and around on a bi-annual basis, I rarely, if ever, see the names of any libertarian group. When the petition becomes a ballot initiative, I usually see some libertarian support, but that seems late in the process.
    As I said, the best explanation I can find is attempts to move the “Overton Window”. That’s bunk and calls into question libertarian strategy. The ability for Matt to reduce this debate into the question, “Why do barbers require state liscensure?” is helpful in forcing libertarians to defend that questionable strategy.

  67. 67
    shecky says:

    @Andrey:

    The argument isn’t that “This won’t catch everything, so it must be useless”. It’s more like, this won’t catch everything, so lets be smart about what we do try. You know, something pragmatic.

  68. 68
    DougJ says:

    @JGabriel:

    Probably, but people don’t need to be subjected to that on Monday.

  69. 69
  70. 70
    shecky says:

    @beltane:

    References might be indispensable for determining a tattoo artist’s artistic skills, they are useless in evaluating the microbial load of the tattoo parlor.

    So are licenses.

  71. 71
    Mark says:

    @cleek –

    Why are you ragging on engineers? You’re much more likely to find an Ayn Rand collection in the home of an MBA or a doctor. Engineers don’t make enough money these days to benefit from financial laxity, and rather than being the buffoons who see themselves in John Galt, they find themselves working for the Galtians.

  72. 72
    mantis says:

    You ask a question that neither Yglesias nor I have advocated.

    It was a rhetorical question. I didn’t claim you have advocated it. I was making a comparison. It’s not hard to understand.

    This seems to be a fallacy of consistency.

    No, but keep working those logical fallacy flash cards!

    Because we license drivers and doctors does not mean we need to license hair braiders, for the sake of consistency.

    No, we need to license them because they handle dangerous chemicals, which they apply to people’s heads.

    DougJ rightfully complains about thought experiments that evade and oversimplify. So do I. I also add complaints about thought experiments that set up false equivalencies and straw men.

    So, when I advocate for licensing professionals that handle dangerous chemicals and machinery, which includes hairdressers, I am setting up false equivalencies and straw men? I don’t think so, and you certainly haven’t presented an argument to refute me.

    What you did do, however, is ignore my central point, which is that your comment was double-plus glibertarian retarded, in that you set up your own straw man, arguing that licenses don’t turn licensees into robots who follow every rule with absolute consistency. No one ever claimed that, but you sure had fun tearing at straw, didn’t you?

  73. 73
    aimai says:

    @shecky:

    Uh, nonsense. Hepatitis from unclean needles, infected tattoos, etc…are all obvious potential harms from improper tatooing. Lis. and regulating are typically ways that the state or a professional organization seeks to make sure that “best practices” are followed. Bad taste is not a problem and no one asserts that it is. Infection, spread of disease, etc … are the obvious issues.

    aimai

  74. 74
    Legalize says:

    That 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.

    Sigh. They don’t seek to clarify anything. They only seek to evade and oversimplify, because like all cultist thought, libertarianism can’t stand up to the scrutiny on the merits of its so-called “ideas.” Libertarians can’t justify “fuck you, I got mine” as having any value in the real world. So, they evade and oversimplify. Just like Republicans. There is substantive difference.

  75. 75
    licensed to kill time says:

    You know how your name or any word in your handle kind of jumps out at you when scrolling through threads? My head is spinning here.

    And BTW, I didn’t need no gummint burrocrat to give me MY license to kill time. I gave it to my OWN damn self!

  76. 76
    Paris says:

    ED’s posts are usually C- affairs. Semi-interesting but way too long to get to a conclusion you arrived at in eighth grade. Plus, the use of straw men – why don’t dental hygienists clean your teeth? (answer – they do) who ever heard of buying commodities by subscription? – (answer – numerous examples in the comments) that just demonstrate ignorance. If it pays the bills, good for him.

  77. 77
    georgia pig says:

    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.

    It’s not just annoying, it’s a sleazy technique common to a lot of conservative/libertarian arguments. Start with a silly anecdote of no significance that is more likely to elicit a knee-jerk “common sense” reaction — “that’s silly, licensing barbers? Heck, anyone can do that!” — and then bootstrap it into a general argument with much farther reaching implications. It’s a genteel variation on welfare queens and strapping bucks.

  78. 78
    suzanne says:

    @shecky:

    Do you suggest someone cutting hair without a license faces no liability if he/she causes harm?

    There is the issue of the legal standard of care. Licensed professionals are expected to know and do more to prevent harm due to the extra knowledge they have earned to become licensed, and therefore, face greater liability should they screw up.

    If you let your drunk friend cut your hair one night after partying and you accidentally get cut, you most likely can’t sue your friend civilly. You would would have to be pretty damn disfigured in order for the police to charge your friend with reckless endangerment or drunken mischief. But you would certainly have a case against a licensed hairdresser, because that person is held to a higher standard of care than your drunken friend.

  79. 79
    RareSanity says:

    @DougJ (top)

    What I dislike most about clever glibertarian thought experiments/examples is that, while they seek to clarify, they too often evade and oversimplify.

    Feature, not a bug…

    With the great majority of “libertarian” views on anything, it must be simplified FIRST, in order to prove their point, not to make their point more clear. I know this because during my libertarian-curious phase, I did the same thing.

    All of the, “the market will work itself out”, nonsense can only be made palatable if simple examples, factoring out the affects on a community or society as a whole are given.

    If intensity and duration of human suffering is factored into the equation of libertarian “thought”, their ideas would be categorized as masochism.

  80. 80
    RSA says:

    straight edge proficiency

    You really are a mathematician at heart, aren’t you, DougJ?

  81. 81
    John W. says:

    It seems seems like Doug’s issue is less with Matt and more with the very existence of metaphors.

    This is how we understand anything: by making examples to things we do understand. If you think a metaphor loses some important complexity of the original, then say so instead of bemoaning their very existence.

  82. 82
    aimai says:

    You know, Schecky, I think its important to note that the rest of us live in the actual world. I’ve worked in restaurants. The liscence doesn’t mean that the owner has washed his/her hands before preparing the meal, or necessarily followed the standard procedure keeping chicken blood from the salad greens–but it represents the best efforts of the state to make sure that he/she has at least *passing knowledge* of proper food preparation and handling. It guarantees the diner that *this restaurant owner and restaurant* have been exposed to the best practices for the industry and have not set up, overnight, without any background in food prep. The liscence shows the diner that the restaurant and the owner are *registered* with the state and probably have to go in occasionally for a refresher course. My doctor friend also has to pass his boards every ten years–because new information comes in that he needs to know and because he has to demonstrate proficiency. Why do you despise the notion of proficiency and professionalism? What makes you think that these jobs: barber, tattoo artist, are so easy and safe that any idiot can do them?

    aimai

  83. 83
    El Tiburon says:

    @DougJ:

    Careful with the hyphens.

    Yep, screwed the pooch on that one.

    Typing on iPad su su su sucks.

  84. 84
    Hugin & Munin says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who has trouble spelling license (Ha, I cheated).

  85. 85
    mantis says:

    My doctor friend also has to pass his boards every ten years—because new information comes in that he needs to know and because he has to demonstrate proficiency.

    That’s just meddling gubmit types who want to create barriers to innov–ah fuck it.

  86. 86
    DougJ says:

    @Mark:

    The software engineers I know all have strong glibertarian tendencies. Most of them (of the ones I know) are smart enough not to give into them completely, but cleek’s description of their general tendencies is accurate, in my experience (if he means software engineers).

  87. 87
    Catsy says:

    @shecky:

    This is a completely wrong take on MattY’s critique. The problem is that a license says little about the value of professional training. Has nobody here ever gotten a bad haircut? Are licensed barbers and hairdressers suddenly incapable of nicking their customers with the straight razor or burning them with hair straightener? Does the license somehow compel a slob to clean his brushes and scissors?

    While I’m sure most of those questions can be truthfully answered in exactly the way you’re expecting, it’s also completely beside the point. Painfully, ignorantly, dangerously beside the point.

    People make mistakes. Professionals are expected to make fewer mistakes, but they are human and are still expected to make them. That they do so does not invalidate the purpose of licensing barbers, any more than the fact that planes crash invalidates the reasons for licensing pilots.

    Licensing an activity serves, primarily, two purposes. The first is vetting: reducing the number of incompetent, unskilled, and unserious people who can practice it by setting a bar that must be met in order to do so. The bar set and the effectiveness of that vetting varies from industry to industry, but it still serves that purpose even when it does so imperfectly. The second purpose is accountability: if a license is required to do a thing, and you establish a track record of doing that thing in a way that puts people at risk, that license can be withdrawn, removing your legal authority to do that thing.

    In both cases, to whatever degree the regulation and licensing of a given profession is ineffective at preventing public harm through the incompetent or negligent practice of that profession, it is ineffective because the regulatory regime and oversight is insufficiently strict, not because it is excessively so.

    The market weeds out the rest.

    It still astonishes me that people can assert this despite two hundred years of evidence to the contrary. It doesn’t even rise to the level of being wrong, it’s just flat-out delusional in its faith in the healing magic of free markets.

  88. 88
    El Cid says:

    @aimai: The semi-regular health inspections of restaurants certainly miss as much as one might imagine, but every restaurant I ever worked in followed most of the sanitation advice pretty well, and every now and then really awful places are discovered and shut down, when there wasn’t any sort of ‘free market’ information in which people knew there were problems in the kitchen no one saw.

    Heck, watch Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares shows and you’ll see restaurants who agreed to be on a TV show having to be shut down for the most disgusting sanitation standards. Rotting foods in the fridge, contamination of vegetables by raw chicken, literally crawling with cockroaches.

    These weren’t cheap dives either, nor was the food cheaper than the competition.

  89. 89
    shecky says:

    @mantis:

    No, we need to license them because they handle dangerous chemicals, which they apply to people’s heads.

    So dangerous, I can do it myself, or do it for free. Perhaps this is a cutoff point for licensure? When something is so dangerous, I cannot even peform on another person legally.

    What you did do, however, is ignore my central point, which is that your comment was double-plus glibertarian retarded, in that you set up your own straw man, arguing that licenses don’t turn licensees into robots who follow every rule with absolute consistency. No one ever claimed that, but you sure had fun tearing at straw, didn’t you

    Actually, many folks do seem to think this is the case. In addition to magically creating a sanitary environment. License seems to be held as proof of competency, when it’s only indication of rent paid.

    @aimai:

    Interesting point. However, cooks are not licensed in this state, either. It doesn’t however, keep the health department from closing down an unsanitary eating establishment.

  90. 90
    beltane says:

    @shecky: Noooo. You may not be aware of this, but licenses are almost always accompanied by some form of system for inspections, which is why restaurants are often shut down by the health department. Let me give you an example of how this works: Our old veterinarian was a wonderful guy with a sterling reputation and a real gift for dealing with animals. Sadly, he developed back problems which caused him a great deal of pain. Easy access to painkillers proved to be too much of a temptation for him to resist, and he quickly became addicted to animal tranquillizers. The only reason we know this is because the state veterinary board noticed discrepancies in the paperwork regarding the drugs. After an investigation, and three days before he was scheduled to spay my kitten, they yanked his license. In retrospect, it was apparent that this man had problems and should not be performing surgery on animals, but the gossip mill would have taken years to achieve the same result as the state.

  91. 91
    Steve says:

    @shecky:

    So dangerous, I can do it myself, or do it for free. Perhaps this is a cutoff point for licensure?

    Do you think the fact that you can represent yourself in court is an argument against licensing lawyers?

  92. 92
    El Cid says:

    @shecky: You can do a lot of things which regulated and/or licensed businesses or individual professionals can’t.

    I could wire an electrical outlet to my chair for a stimulating current, but while an electrician technically can, would be prevented by code from doing so, unless he wanted to give up his/her license.

  93. 93
    shecky says:

    @Catsy:

    Do you suggest that an incompetent, unskilled hair cutter will somehow not be weeded out by the free market?

  94. 94
    Chet says:

    Well, it’s not possible to get a cheap haircut. It’s at least $25, maybe $35, anywhere you go, and that’s going to include at least ten minutes of style consultation whether you want it to or not, along with significant upsell of product. That’s certainly not cheap to anyone on a limited or fixed income, but those people still grow hair.

    Someone should be able to simply run the Flowbee over your dome for about $5-8 and send you on your way, but they can’t, because the barrier to entry is a two-to-three-year cosmetology education that costs upwards of fifteen grand, and there’s no way to pay that off with $5 haircuts.

    Yglesias is right. If we’re worried about cosmetologists handling caustic chemicals, then they should be licensed to apply chemicals. If we’re worried about barbers cutting people’s throats with razors, license them to shave people with straight razors. But a haircutter who has no interest in offering those services still has to train three years for them. That’s an unnecessary barrier to entry.

  95. 95
    El Cid says:

    @shecky: There’s no regulations or licenses against just being shitty.

    Anyone’s free to open a licensed / code approved restaurant and make awful or unappealing food, or have horrible service, or whatever and go out of business.

    This, though, has nothing to do with anything.

  96. 96
    El Cid says:

    @Chet: I go to chain haircutteries during their evening specials for $8. They seem to be able to do it, and do better than a Moe Howard special.

  97. 97
    Brachiator says:

    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.

    Good points. In thinking about these posts, another distraction is that the starting point is always some theoretical bug up the ass about regulation, without any knowledge of the actual profession discussed or any real world considerations.

    For example, I don’t know if in the real world dental hygienists are up in arms about working out of dentists offices. Also, there was no recognition that hygienists working independently would have to incur expenses for an office and equipment which would greatly increase their overhead and force them to raise their prices.

    And even when it comes to barbers:

    This is entirely different than nuisance requirement about straight edge proficiency, which likely requires at most a few days of practice.

    In California, at least, a barber must either attend barber college or go through a 2 year apprentice program supervised by a barber. Apparently, there’s also an exam.

    And even though it doesn’t seem like much, I’ve seen new barbers hesitate or require additional guidance from a more experienced barber. I’ve also seen customers make a reservation with a preferred barber or pass up an opportunity to be served by a novice and wait for a more experienced barber to serve them.

    Barbers may rent a booth in an existing shop. Even though they might be independent contractors instead of regular employees, the quality of their work generally is going to have to conform to the standard of the main owner/barber. If it’s a crappy shop, the entire business will likely suffer, but over the years, new barbers either improve or get the boot from good shops.

    But the bottom line, is that regulation and licensing is not the main issue. And a quick search on the net found this (from 1998, so I don’t know what the current situation might be)

    Barber schools report that employers’ demand for trained Barbers far exceeds the supply of graduates despite full classes. There will be job openings as Barbers leave the labor market or take other kinds of jobs. In addition, there will always be jobs for Barbers with creative abilities, sound job skills and a faithful following.

    My unofficial feel is that with the economy tanking, more men have friends or family members cut their hair. A quick look at some businesses in my city noted some signs offering half price haircuts on Wednesdays (a sign of weak business) but also notices of barber chairs available.

    Once you start discussing doctors (or hospitals, which is a separate issue), things get much more complicated.

  98. 98
    Catsy says:

    @John W.:

    It seems seems like Doug’s issue is less with Matt and more with the very existence of metaphors.

    I don’t think Doug’s issue is with metaphors. I think Doug’s issue is with stupid, childishly oversimplified metaphors that do nothing to advance an understanding of the issue at hand. I happen to agree.

    Analogies are sometimes necessary in order to describe an unfamiliar concept using a common frame of reference. But for an analogy to be useful, it has to be apt, and it has to be made with an awareness of how the differences between the two things you’re comparing might affect the validity of the analogy.

    For example, blogging can be metaphorically compared to (among other things) writing in a diary, publishing a newsletter, or posting flyers in a public space. If my intent is to make an argument about the the low barrier to entry in blogging is comparable to the ease and affordability of posting flyers on telephone poles, that’s a valid comparison. But if I try arguing that laws against using staples to post flyers are wrong because bloggers don’t have to worry about them, then that’s kind of stupid. It’s stupid because the analogy glosses over crucial, fundamental differences between the two things that make the comparison utterly nonsensical.

    Similarly, if I try to describe an airplane by comparing it to a bird, that’s a valid analogy for illustrating the fundamentals of flight and aerodynamics. But if I try to compare an airplane to a bird by arguing that we need laws to protect Learjets when they migrate south for the winter, that’s an appallingly stupid–and inapt–comparison. It doesn’t actually illustrate any meaningful similarity between the two things, it just takes two things which are superficially similar in one respect and applies that similarity to an area in which they are fundamentally different.

    Details matter. The problem with the glib oversimplification in Matt’s argument is that it glosses over details that render his argument invalid.

  99. 99
    shecky says:

    @beltane:

    You may not be aware of this, but licenses are almost always accompanied by some form of system for inspections, which is why restaurants are often shut down by the health department.

    You may not be aware of this, but cooks are not licensed around here. Yet still, the establishments they work for can still be shut down if they are unsanitary.

    @El Cid:

    You can do a lot of things which regulated and/or licensed businesses or individual professionals can’t.

    I could wire an electrical outlet to my chair for a stimulating current, but while an electrician technically can, would be prevented by code from doing so, unless he wanted to give up his/her license.

    You could be prevented by code from doing that sort of thing yourself, too. Some city codes are so interested in saving you from yourself that you could not do so legally without inspection or possibly at all. That doesn’t mean of course, that you’re willing to follow the code…

    My criteria for licensure involves practices that are so skilled or dangerous that I should not be doing it for myself or others. People here are way too hung up on the officiousness of licensure, and not concerned enough with the practicality.

  100. 100
    beltane says:

    @aimai: Libertarians despise the notion of proficiency and professionalism because they fancy themselves as Randian geniuses who are above such things. Their extreme naivete combined with their contempt for the people who get down in the weeds and make real things work in the real word creates The Arrogance of the Inept. They are the world’s backseat drivers: never having gotten behind the wheel themselves, they are going to lecture everyone else on how to drive.

  101. 101
    mantis says:

    @shecky:

    So dangerous, I can do it myself, or do it for free.

    And I wouldn’t come to you to have dangerous chemicals applied to me. I would prefer to patronize someone who has gone through proper training and been licensed. But I’m just a consumer; what do I know?

    Perhaps this is a cutoff point for licensure?

    No, it isn’t. I can purchase and use some kinds of explosives without a license, but I cannot perform controlled demolition in a populated area without license and other regulations. Do you think we should allow freelance, unlicensed demolition of buildings in our cities just because explosives can be purchased and used by non-licensed demolitionists?

    When something is so dangerous, I cannot even peform on another person legally.

    What is the definition of “so dangerous,” exactly?

    Actually, many folks do seem to think this is the case.

    Name one.

    In addition to magically creating a sanitary environment. License seems to be held as proof of competency, when it’s only indication of rent paid.

    Says who?

  102. 102
    beltane says:

    @shecky: Who shuts the restaurants down and on what grounds?

  103. 103
    WereBear says:

    I can’t believe some fool is complaining about licensing barbers or cosmeticians. We used to not regulate hair dyes and the like, either, and people went blind and died.

    The point of licensing is to stop any idiot from setting up, taking the money, and running away. Because someone would.

    The biggest idiocy of these “let the market sort it out” people is that they seem willfully clueless about how such an example would work in the sprawling, interlocking, corporate culture that we live in now.

    Look at the huge egg recall going on at the moment; who can boycott such an enterprise? With it involving dozens of names? And what’s to stop each business from simply dissolving itself and coming up with a new name each time they kill someone?

    If they even bother.

  104. 104

    From here on out he shall be referred to only as Chunky Megan McArdle.

    I actually wrote an entire post about why I was dropping him from my RSS feed last winter and it was inspired by a previous round of anti-barber licensing (Matt even responded on his blog). I wrote then,

    I think I’ve decided that Matt Yglesias is headed out of my RSS feed. It’s not that I find him ideologically objectional or his work to be shoddy but rather that he has become utterly banal. He is a generalist to a fault, applying his well developed sense of logic and reason to an enormously broad set of topics. Increasingly I am finding that his analysis, while logically coherent, suffers from his lack of even a minute amount of substantive knowledge of the topic at hand. For example, he has essentially zero practical real world experience with state or local government and so his postings on topics like education, taxation, transportation, planning or just plain governing come across as shallow and glib. If you wade nto his comment section you’ll regularly find commenters who are able to bring actual knowledge of the topic at hand and provide a far more prescient analysis than Matt.

    I let him creep back into my reading over the last few months and I’ve now gone cold turkey again. I don’t think that I’m missing much in terms of insightful analysis that I can’t get from scores of other blogs.

    If you posses substantive knowledge about whatever issue it is that Matt is writing about you will no doubt be frustrated by his shallow analysis. Everything is a thought experiment for him.

  105. 105
    mantis says:

    @shecky:

    Do you suggest that an incompetent, unskilled hair cutter will somehow not be weeded out by the free market.

    Perhaps he/she would, but my real suggestion is that a licensed, trained professional would be far less likely to inflict chemical burns on a customer, or series of customers, before the free market did its work. That is the point.

  106. 106
    beltane says:

    @mantis: I think Shecky is a real-life teenager writing from the basement of his mommy’s McMansion.

  107. 107
    Catsy says:

    @shecky:

    Do you suggest that an incompetent, unskilled hair cutter will somehow not be weeded out by the free market?

    Perhaps you’d like to try again 1) without the straw man and 2) with an actual acknowledgment of any of the arguments I made.

  108. 108
    mantis says:

    @shecky:

    My criteria for licensure involves practices that are so skilled or dangerous that I should not be doing it for myself or others. People here are way too hung up on the officiousness of licensure, and not concerned enough with the practicality.

    And I think I speak for many when I say thank FSM your criteria do not define our regulatory structures. And I say that focusing entirely on the practicality.

  109. 109
    Sly says:

    What I dislike most about clever glibertarian thought experiments/examples is that, while they seek to clarify, they too often evade and oversimplify.

    That’s completely unavoidable. Libertarianism is all about smashing non-round pegs into round holes, holding that all markets operate exactly the same and therefor are equally harmed by regulation. All regulation is thus also all the same, in that it is always harmful and inhibits market access.

    If, say, a health care market doesn’t work the way you think it should, just compare it to something like the airline industry to make your point. Buying a pair of shoes entails the same levels of information symmetry between buyer and seller as getting a home equity loan or a life insurance policy. Every transaction is perfectly, and equally, transparent.

    Mike Huben had it right. “One of the most attractive features of libertarianism is that it is basically a very simple ideology. Maybe even simpler than Marxism, since you don’t have to learn foreign words like ‘proletariat’.”

  110. 110
    Ben says:

    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.

    A couple of things:

    – I’m not up on the facts, but it appears that several people in this thread are talking about licensure requirements that are on the order of one year and 10k for cosmetologists. If that’s the case, then I don’t think that Yglesias is the one making order of magnitude errors here.

    – The case in medicine is obviously much more important, but it’s a much harder case to make to somebody who doesn’t already basically concede that these types of economic effects are real. The “seriousness” of doctors is a major factor here, as well as the perceived consequences of failure. Making the general argument in the context of something where it’s easier to convince the skeptical is a good thing if you want to have any chance to apply it to doctors at large.

  111. 111
    gex says:

    @John W.: I think it is less about that than Matt not really covering the arguments for licensing barbers and explaining why they are no longer necessary and are doing harm. It’s not that the metaphor oversimplifies – it’s that he hasn’t made the case that barber licensing is unnecessary. He simply asserts it.

  112. 112
    El Cid says:

    @shecky:

    You could be prevented by code from doing that sort of thing yourself, too. Some city codes are so interested in saving you from yourself that you could not do so legally without inspection or possibly at all. That doesn’t mean of course, that you’re willing to follow the code…

    Sure, but no one licenses me as a homeowner with regular inspection or re-licensing.

    If you don’t want things you could, or think you could, do yourself, licensed, then do them yourself. No one’s forcing you to use a business to do so. Use your market power of free choice and do it yourself.

  113. 113
    beltane says:

    @WereBear: The Free Market crowd are cultists. It has nothing to do with improving society and everything to do with obeying the free market creed. The fact that their Magic Market God demands more in the way of human sacrifice than Baal ever did, only adds to the allure. Arguing with these people is like arguing with any other religious fundamentalist-amusing but ultimately pointless.

  114. 114
    schrodinger's cat says:

    I am not letting just anyone touch a hair on my head. I go through a rigorous process of finding someone I really like, to cut and style my hair. When I move to a new town, I get recommendations from women who have similar hair, whose hair cuts I like for a recommendation and then if I like a particular stylist I stick with them, and will even wait for weeks to get an appointment with them. Cutting and styling hair is not that simple, it is a matter of great skill. A good haircut can make you look like a million bucks and a bad hair cut can make you miserable till your hair grows out. I am not going to take chances with some unlicensed person cutting hair in their basement. If MattY or anyone else wants to do so they are welcome.

  115. 115
    Midnight Marauder says:

    @shecky:

    So dangerous, I can do it myself, or do it for free. Perhaps this is a cutoff point for licensure? When something is so dangerous, I cannot even peform on another person legally.

    I am in desperate need of a barber to blow out my afro. Perhaps you are available, since you are well experienced and competent with this procedure?

  116. 116
    Cat says:

    Free Markets are great so long as you aren’t the poor bastard whose first in line at the discount organ transplant clinic.

  117. 117
    shecky says:

    @Brachiator:

    Once you start discussing doctors (or hospitals, which is a separate issue), things get much more complicated.

    This is the crux of the issue that almost everyone on this thread seems to overlook… the idea that some things really need some oversight, other things, not so much. It just boggles the mind that someone with the skill and gumption to start a business cutting hair needs to get the cartel’s approval to do so. Let’s be clear. Hair cutting is not rocket science, and the associated sanitary practices are not the making of med school training. Anyone with steady hands and common sense can do it. But is barred from doing so by his/her peers, backed by the power of the government, if their artificially high prerequisites are not met. And after all the hoops, there’s still no guarantee you’ll get a good haircut.

    @mantis:

    What is the definition of “so dangerous,” exactly?

    Clearly, cutting hair without a license!

    @beltane:

    Who shuts the restaurants down and on what grounds?

    Usually the health department, around here. They don’t however, revoke cook’s licenses, because cook’s licenses don’t exist.

    @mantis:

    Perhaps he/she would, but my real suggestion is that a licensed, trained professional would be far less likely to inflict chemical burns on a customer, or series of customers, before the free market did its work.

    But is this the case? The UK and New Zealand don’t license barbers, and I’ve yet to hear of any crisis as a result. Perhaps there is. Anyone know?

    @WereBear:

    The point of licensing is to stop any idiot from setting up, taking the money, and running away. Because someone would.

    Yes, and that would never happen today.

  118. 118
    El Cid says:

    In another Free Market victory, the contaminated egg business now have the FDA basically recommending scrambling or boiling eggs.

    As for consumers, Hamburg had some practical advice: Reject over-easy eggs. She said that as federal investigators continue their work with the companies involved, consumers should strictly avoid “runny egg yolks for mopping up with toast.”
    __
    The number of illnesses, which can be life-threatening, especially to those with weakened immune systems, is expected to increase. The most common symptoms are diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever eight to 72 hours of eating a contaminated product.

    Of course I realize I may be illegitimately discriminating against diarrhea and abdominal cramp enthusiasts.

  119. 119
    shecky says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    I am not going to take chances with some unlicensed person cutting hair in their basement.

    I don’t blame you. Like you, I’m also not going to take chances because the barber has a piece of paper hanging on the wall.

    But if the unlicensed guy down the street does give fantastic haircuts out of his garage, I also would not hesitate.

  120. 120
    J.W. Hamner says:

    I wonder how many libertarians complain about how people who get a masters degree (often on the company dime no less!) will get paid more money to do a job they were already doing! Those dirty rent seekers with their “professional” degrees!

  121. 121
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @T.R. Donoghue:

    If you posses substantive knowledge about whatever issue it is that Matt is writing about you will no doubt be frustrated by his shallow analysis. Everything is a thought experiment for him.

    He basically thinks, and said as much in his “pundits should be philosophy majors” piece recently, that because he’s so ace at reasoning he doesn’t really need to know anything about anything, because he will always be right, simply by applying his mind. And the fact that he ignores all comments and just repeats the same shtick about barbers and traffic and monetary policy over and over again, as if no one had ever tried to make him see things another way, makes him a chore. It’s the sure sign of someone who was told way too much, way too soon, that he was very, very smart, and the other kids were just jealous.

  122. 122
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @El Cid:

    I may be illegitimately discriminating against diarrhea and abdominal cramp enthusiasts.

    Hot Pockets! [/gaffigan]

  123. 123
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    A good haircut can make you look like a million bucks and a bad hair cut can make you miserable till your hair grows out. I am not going to take chances with some unlicensed person cutting hair in their basement. If MattY or anyone else wants to do so they are welcome.

    You’ve seen Matt Yglesias’s head, yes? I don’t think he takes the same kind of pride in his appearance.

  124. 124
    BC says:

    Barbers use their combs and brushes and other implements on many different heads of hair. Who knows what’s in those heads? I mean, could you tell by looking who has head lice? If there weren’t some type of licensing and inspection, how would you know which barber uses the barbicide stuff to clean implements and which barber doesn’t (to save money)? Same with other professions that touch the body parts of a lot of people – pedicures, manicures for example. I don’t want to get your athlete’s foot because we use the same salon and they don’t clean diligently after each customer. State involvement tells me there is someone making sure these standards are met.

  125. 125
    shecky says:

    @El Cid:

    I wonder if all those chickens were licensed?

  126. 126
    WereBear says:

    Even with licensed haircutters, there are terrible hair cutters. Everyone has a horror story; so why are they still in business?

    It doesn’t happen in small towns; word gets around. But in larger areas, they will work cheap, move around from salon to salon, and inflict their poor skills on whoever walks in.

    I can only imagine how bad it would be if it were the Wild, Wild, West out there.

  127. 127
    El Cid says:

    @shecky: Well, the factory farm owners vouched for them, saying they checked all their papers before hiring them. So I guess it’s the fault of the factory farm owners.

  128. 128
  129. 129
    shecky says:

    @J.W. Hamner:

    I wonder how many libertarians complain about how people who get a masters degree (often on the company dime no less!) will get paid more money to do a job they were already doing! Those dirty rent seekers with their “professional” degrees!

    I don’t think this really works, unless the fields you’re talking about are controlled by protectionist cartels, too.

    The problem here isn’t that a barber is forced to get a license to make more money as a barber. It’s that he needs a license to be a barber at all.

  130. 130
    Mark says:

    @DougJ@82 –

    Software engineers? Not really engineers, are they? I think in some jurisdictions they can’t even call themselves engineers – ironic that they’d want a title that implies that they passed the complete b.s. certification that is a P.E. (In fields with no liability, that is; there’s value to the P.E. if you’re building bridges and hospitals.)

    Us ‘real’ engineers who periodically have to use a welding torch don’t really have much in the way of libertarian tendencies. We know we owe our entire existence to the military-industrial complex’s investment the country from WWII-1990 and the government’s willingness to give a green card to any smart person until 9/11/01.

    If anything engineers are overt fans of regulation (see the uproar over H1Bs.) I dropped my membership with the IEEE five years ago because they were using my dues to lobby congress to restrict the US’s ability to poach top talent from other countries.

  131. 131
    shecky says:

    @WereBear:

    Even with licensed haircutters, there are terrible hair cutters. Everyone has a horror story; so why are they still in business?

    Are they?

  132. 132
    DougJ says:

    @T.R. Donoghue:

    I just got a nasty email from a reader saying he no longer read this blog because of posts like my one on expensive aquariums, which he thought was an attack on the New York Times and I meant as a report on the new Gilded Age. So I’m pleased to read a similar criticism of someone else, though I mostly like MY.

  133. 133
    gex says:

    I’m noticing that some people studiously avoid addressing any public health concerns related to barber licensing instead acting as though the government is trying to ensure you will like the cut, not that the government is trying to ensure that the cut won’t make you ill.

    I think the thing with libertarians is that they can’t hear the real world examples anyone cites because the thought experiments in their heads are too loud.

  134. 134
    Joel says:

    @Martin: Fair clarification. All of this could “controversy” be avoided if MY and ED made this clear from the outset.

  135. 135
    geg6 says:

    @Chet:

    I don’t know where the hell you live but it takes a 9-month training program and a licensing test to get a cosmetology license here and I have never paid more than $15 for my stylist’s services. He works out of a salon in his home (a very nice home, I may add) and is single so he must make enough to live well. So you are paying too much or you live in NY or LA, I’m guessing.

  136. 136
    DougJ says:

    @RSA:

    I mean straight razor.

  137. 137
    Midnight Marauder says:

    @gex:

    I’m noticing that some people studiously avoid addressing any public health concerns related to barber licensing instead acting as though the government is trying to ensure you will like the cut, not that the government is trying to ensure that the cut won’t make you ill.
    __
    I think the thing with libertarians is that they can’t hear the real world examples anyone cites because the thought experiments in their heads are too loud.

    Surely, there is no way you are talking about comments such as this:

    @shecky:

    The problem here isn’t that a barber is forced to get a license to make more money as a barber. It’s that he needs a license to be a barber at all.

    The point. You fail to understand it.

  138. 138
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @FlipYrWhig: Yes I have seen his photos. I have also known many guys who give themselves a haircut, but hardly any women who do the same, may be its guy thing to not care much about your hair.
    I disagree with the basic premise of these MY posts, that a giving a good hair cut does not require any skill or training. Licensing insures that there is a floor, certain minimum skills that every stylist/barber must possess.

  139. 139
    Mnemosyne says:

    @gex:

    He appears to be claiming that government inspectors will magically appear to make sure the unlicensed barbers and cosmetologists are doing things up to standard, even though there there won’t be standards without a license.

    I have a feeling he’s not aware that those restaurants he goes to have a license from the health department. He also seems unaware that barbers and cosmetologists are independent contractors and not employees the way cooks in a restaurant are. If restaurant cooks were considered independent contractors and not employees, they probably would require a license.

  140. 140
    Paris says:

    @shecky:

    Actually, many folks do seem to think this is the case.

    If all you have is straw, the solution to every problem is a man. Unless you have polled ‘many folks’ and care to share the analysis.

  141. 141
    Brachiator says:

    @WereBear:

    It doesn’t happen in small towns; word gets around. But in larger areas, they will work cheap, move around from salon to salon, and inflict their poor skills on whoever walks in.

    Not entirely true. Since a barber might rent a chair in an established shop, if new guy’s talents are not up to the standard of the shop, he or she may get the boot.

    I also noted before that I have seen customers deliberately bypass a novice or crappy barber and wait for a more proficient hair cutter.

    Even in the city, word gets around.

    And I am amazed at how quickly the word spreads among women I know that a particularly hair stylist is wildly talented (or maybe he’s just wildly sexy and the women are keeping secrets). Either way, the more preferred barber or stylist seems to find a way to get the nod.

  142. 142
    shecky says:

    @gex:

    AFAIK, I’m the only one here arguing the futility and harm of excessive licensure of hair cutters. But I have not played down the public health concerns. And to the contrary, there haven’t been too many real world examples presented against my case. It’s certainly possible that unlicensed barbers could be a public health scourge. But no real world evidence points in that direction. And the fact is that licensing does not prevent such things. Inspections are a much better means of doing so.

    I have pointed out that places like the UK and NZ don’t license barber, and have not heard that they suffer too much as a result. Perhaps they do? But it seems unlikely, especially given the way those governments tend to run things.

  143. 143
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: I agree with you — I think Yglesias is universalizing from his own experience as a guy with a big round melonhead, no sense of style, and no awareness that there’s a difference between the services he wants done to his scalp and those the non-Yglesias world may want done to theirs.

  144. 144

    @Chet:

    Well, it’s not possible to get a cheap haircut. It’s at least $25, maybe $35, anywhere you go, and that’s going to include at least ten minutes of style consultation whether you want it to or not, along with significant upsell of product. That’s certainly not cheap to anyone on a limited or fixed income, but those people still grow hair.

    Obviously never been to a barbershop. $12 for a basic cut where I live.

  145. 145
    schrodinger's cat says:

    or maybe he’s just wildly sexy and the women are keeping secrets

    Unlikely, since most male hairstylists I have come across were gay.

  146. 146
    Mnemosyne says:

    @shecky:

    But I have not played down the public health concerns. And to the contrary, there haven’t been too many real world examples presented against my case.

    I do love how it’s not possible that public health issues are uncommon because barbers and cosmetologists are licensed and have to uphold certain standards. Nope, the two things must be completely unrelated for your argument to work, so therefore you have declared them unrelated because shut up, that’s why.

    And, yes, there are public health issues even with licensed salons. I still don’t get why the solution for those safety issues is to let any schmoe on the street open a salon without even the bare minimum of training in hygiene and safety.

  147. 147
    El Cid says:

    @shecky: False. Adding the term “excessive” leads to many interpretations. Which of the arguments of other posters are backing “excessive” regulations? Is an “excessive” regulation more than you prefer? Does it require a conscious decision of those preferring some degree of regulation to back standards that they themselves believe are “excessive”? Is it assumed that non-libertarians express zero concern with regard to examining schemes of regulations in terms of what appear to be their idea of the best, most efficient, and least limiting systems?

    I don’t know what you mean, but it sounds like another stupid stereotype where heroic anti-oppression libertarians square off against all the non-libertarians advocate the most stifling, stupidest, heavy handed, market ruining regulations as possible.

    Yes, yes, I want the fedrul gubmit to determine what haircuts we will all get and what color barbers’ scissors will be and which direction they face when greeting customers and what their greeting phrase will be, which will of course include praise for the leadership of Chairman Obama.

  148. 148
    aimai says:

    @shecky:

    Where is “here?” What state of nirvana, or disaster, are you living in? And what are we arguing about? Cooks aren’t liscensed, I don’t think, anywhere. But selling food is liscencesd and regulated most places and for very good reason. In my state it is the kitchen that is licensed, in a sense, if it is going to sell food to the public. However individual cooks often get around those laws by coming to your house to prepare food in your kitchen, since the regulations apply to professional kitchens and not to home ones. For people wanting to sell home made jams, chocolates, etc… on the market there are professional kitchen/laboratories that they rent to do their cooking in.

    aimai

  149. 149
    shecky says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    He appears to be claiming that government inspectors will magically appear to make sure the unlicensed barbers and cosmetologists are doing things up to standard, even though there there won’t be standards without a license.

    I have a feeling he’s not aware that those restaurants he goes to have a license from the health department. He also seems unaware that barbers and cosmetologists are independent contractors and not employees the way cooks in a restaurant are. If restaurant cooks were considered independent contractors and not employees, they probably would require a license.

    All businesses require a license around here. The owners are usually liable for that part. However, the owners may never even be involved in running the business. But even restaurant licenses do not require their cooks to be licensed.

    Furthermore, I’m not sure the status of independent contractor really seems to apply. A barber who isn’t an independent contractor is likely to still need a license to cut hair for a living. And cooks, even if independent contractors, are still not licensed.

  150. 150
    geg6 says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Hah! Mine is definitely NOT gay and is about as hot and sexy as anyone could wish. Sadly, he is only 28 and, thus, much too young for me. But he’s a true pro and gives me a hug and a kiss after every appointment. And all for less than $20! ;-)

  151. 151
    Midnight Marauder says:

    @shecky:

    I have pointed out that places like the UK and NZ don’t license barber, and have not heard that they suffer too much as a result. Perhaps they do? But it seems unlikely, especially given the way those governments tend to run things.

    Perhaps they do, indeed. First we have the Hairdressing Industry Training Organisation (HITO):

    The Hairdressing Industry Training Organisation (HITO) was established in 1993 as the recognised Industry Training Organisation (ITO) for the hairdressing and barbering industry. In 2008, the beauty industry was included in this coverage.
    __
    HITO is industry owned and supported by the Tertiary Education Commission.
    __
    HITO administer the apprenticeship programme, including the management of on-and off-job training. We liaise with both the NZ Association of Registered Hairdressers and the wider industry to set the standards of New Zealand’s only nationally (and internationally) recognised barbering, beauty and hairdressing qualifications. HITO offer national certificates in barbering, beauty, hairdressing, salon support, and salon management.
    __
    It is also HITO’s role to ensure that industry training standards are maintained and the information and skills being taught are correct and relevant.

    Wait…who is this NZ Association of Registered Hairdressers?

    The New Zealand Association of Registered Hairdressers Inc. is the umbrella organisation for 15 Regional Associations run by hairdressers for hairdressers, and is the only organisation in New Zealand that is truly representative of the needs of hairdressers in business today.
    __
    […]
    __
    Membership is open primarily to Salon Owners and Salon Managers, with secondary membership available to a range of other people involved in the hairdressing industry. Salon owner members are either:
    __
    1. Qualified hairdressers with a Certificate of Registration (issued through the NZARH)
    2. Non-hairdressers who must employ at least one qualified hairdresser who holds a current Practicing Certificate.

    And it should come as no surprise that most job postings for hairdressers in New Zealand feature the following disclaimer:

    To become a hairdresser you need to complete an apprenticeship and gain a National Certificate in Hairdressing (Practice).

    And I’m sure we could look at the UK and find the same information, but clearly, we’ve already established that you aren’t very informed on this subject.

  152. 152
    Brachiator says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Unlikely, since most male hairstylists I have come across were gay.

    Wasn’t the 1975 film Shampoo inspired by a true story? A male hairdresser who was hetero and wildly talented in all kinds of wicked ways?

    And it’s also a great cover story. “Don’t worry, honey, he’s gay.”

  153. 153
    boot says:

    You all keep citing public health rationales for maintaining barber licensure but don’t grapple with the fact that barbers aren’t licensed in the UK–is there a wave of hepatitis overtaking that country from unlicensed barberians?

  154. 154
    DougJ says:

    @geg6:

    about as hot and sexy as anyone could wish. Sadly, he is only 28 and, thus, much too young for me. But he’s a true pro and gives me a hug and a kiss after every appointment.

    He still sounds gay to me.

  155. 155
    shecky says:

    @El Cid:

    I should clarify that licensure itself is excessive for hair cutters.

    @aimai:

    “Here” is Southern California.

    Yes, selling just about anything requires a license. As to the rest of your post, I say… Okaaay… yes, food handlers face regulations specific to food handling… and?

  156. 156
    schrodinger's cat says:

    Mr schrodinger’s cat was of MY’s opinion and I once tried to give him a hair cut when we were both in grad school and poor. It was a disaster. His students were laughing at him when he was teaching. He learned his lesson and has never again asked me to give him a hair cut.

  157. 157
    shecky says:

    @Midnight Marauder:

    Interesting. Thanks for the link.

  158. 158
    Mnemosyne says:

    All businesses require a license around here. The owners are usually liable for that part. However, the owners may never even be involved in running the business. But even restaurant licenses do not require their cooks to be licensed.

    That’s because the owner is the one whose business will be shut down for violating health standards. Otherwise, a restaurant owner could repeatedly violate the standards and point the finger at a revolving door of cooks who are “really” to blame.

    Furthermore, I’m not sure the status of independent contractor really seems to apply. A barber who isn’t an independent contractor is likely to still need a license to cut hair for a living. And cooks, even if independent contractors, are still not licensed.

    Please find me a barber who isn’t either an independent contractor or the actual owner of the business (who in your ideal world would still require a license to operate a business). That’s how the industry operates. Do you know a single thing about either barbering or cosmetology? Because you keep saying completely ignorant things that show you don’t have the first clue about how the business works.

    Restaurants don’t hire cooks as independent contractors. That’s not how the industry works. Someone can hire themselves out as a private chef for a single family, but if you want to sell food in the marketplace, you have to have a license from the health department and agree to be inspected regularly.

  159. 159
    El Cid says:

    @shecky: Who gives a shit what you think is excessive?

  160. 160
    Mnemosyne says:

    @shecky:

    I should clarify that licensure itself is excessive for hair cutters.

    How many cosmetologists only cut hair? Please provide statistics to back up your claim, because every hairdresser I’ve ever seen has also done color. It’s only at the most expensive salons where color and cut are separate jobs done by different people.

  161. 161
    Glen Tomkins says:

    Well, actually…

    “There’s no question that the cartelization of medicine helps drive high medical costs.”

    Well, if by cartels in medicine you mean the health insurance companies, the hospital chains, and the cartels that link them, sure, no doubt they are responsible for most of the hugely inflated prices we pay for medical serivces, compared to prices in countries that don’t have these cartels. But the “cartel” of medical licensure? No, it does not, even a little bit, keep prices high.

    Maybe in Germany. They have (or had, I heard about this from a German exchange student when I was in medical school, and that was some time in the Jurassic Age. Maybe they’ve evolved.) a system whereby, after medical school, the exam that lets you get your license to practice has its cut-off score tied to the number of MDs the professional society thinks they “need” that year, an impression of “need” that the poor SOBs who “flunk”, despite getting better grades than people who passed last year, mightily suspect has more to do with income protection than the needs of the German people. There were even years when there were med student riots over this. Rioting med students!! Damn, never see that in the US.

    One reason you’ll never see rioting med students in the US is that we have absolutely nothing like this here, no effective controls on how many MDs, and more importantly, what specialty of MDs, most importantly specialty vs primary care, that we mint every year. Any idea that the reason dialysis is 5 times more expensive here than in Germany, or a gallbladder takes 5 times more money to remove here than in France, is because we have fewer surgeons or nephrologists, is simply wrong. We have way more specialists of every stripe per capita than countries that get good results, but still manage to bring medical interventions in at dramatically less cost per unit than we achieve in the US.

    If the reason, if any part of the reason, for unit costs of medical interventions being higher in the US were due to professional societies limiting the supply of specialists so that supply and demand would keep up the prices that the already existing specialists could charge, then we would see the opposite. We would see lower per capita specialists than in France or Germany, not higher, as is actually the case. Epic fail for woozy glibertarian explanationdom.

    Every responsible person I know who has looked at the question of where the numbers should move on what type of MD we mint, thinks it should go in the opposite direction than this theory would indicate. We need fewer MDs of all stripes, and way fewer, a much smaller proportion of, specialists. This is true despite our higher unit costs for interventions because our current high prices have noithgin to do with supply and demand.

    If we manage to get higher unit costs for medical interventions despite a greater supply of specialists, it’s because the law of supply and demand has been suspended in the medical intervention marketplace. The insurers don’t compete against one another much because the market for medical interventions is inherently fragmented geographically, and in most locales, one, or at most 2-3, plans cover just about everyone who’s covered. Not that they would often be much able to dun down the prices they pay for the most expensive specialty interventions, because the more specialized and expensive the intervention, the more likely it is to be swathed and protected by some hospital chain that swings an even bigger stick than the insurer. And that’s assuming the insurer and the hospital chain aren’t in bed with each other anyway, both owned by the same conglomerate, or enjoying who knows what under-the-table cooperation.

    If you’re looking for a medical cartel that is actually driving up prices, this is where you look, the big insurers and the big providers, both the hospital chains and Big Pharma. Prices aren’t high because the professional societies limit the supply of providers. They’re high because the big players have suspended the laws of supply and demand in favor of monopoly pricing.

    If you want the surest indicator possible of just how broken our political system is, consider how the recent debate over reforming our medical financing regime would have gone if we actually had two functional political parties, one representing the idea that free markets are the best solution to every problem, and the other upholding the at least occasional necessity of govt intervention and regulation. Our side would have proposed at least Single Payer, Medicare for All, and maybe an actual national health system, to address the out-of-control prices for dwindling quality and completeness of coverage. The free market ideologues would have countered with restoring a free market to the financing of medical services. They would have denied that prices were out of control because of the absence of govt direction, but rather, upholding the power of the market, they would claim that the failure of supply and demand to hold down prices stemmed from inadequate fidelity to free market principles, from the fact that the market was burdened with cartels and monopolies. The Republicans would have been the bigger threat to the industry and its crony capitalists, becasue they would have gone all Teddy R on these malefactors of great wealth.

    But that’s not the republic we actually live in. We live under a bipartisan crony capitalist system, in which politicians from both parties vie to outdo each other in service to the malefactors of great wealth. So instead of some great ideological contest between breaking up the cartels vs socialized medicine as the solution, we got bupkis. Toothless exchanges that won’t do anything the cartels don’t want them to do because they leave the insurer and provider cartels intact, strengthened, even in their dominance of the market. The debate couldn’t even acknowledge the presence of the 800 lb gorilla cartels as the problem.

    But that’s alright. We have Ezra and Matt and all the other barbershop technocratic centrist glibertarian speculators out there protecting us from the scourge of the MD licensure cartel artificially holding down the number of MDs and other providers, in a system that already has too many such. I feel so protected.

  162. 162
    gex says:

    @Midnight Marauder: It is very strange to see a libertarian also not understand that they have different rights with regard to their own body and their own property than they have with other people’s bodies and property. Hell, if I don’t care about standards, I don’t see why any of you should!

  163. 163
    gex says:

    @shecky: Well there you go. No one can *prove* that the licenses are preventing a problem. Not even the people who cited the public health issues that arose before licensing. Instead you just dismissed the fact that anthrax isn’t a realistic risk any more.

    Gee, I wonder why? Is it because government has interfered with the precious free market and has done a vast array of things, INCLUDING LICENSING BARBERS, to deal with public health hazards like these.

    I guess I can’t prove the roof over my head is keeping me dry without ripping it off my house and getting wet.

    ETA: the UK and NZ have universal health care, so maybe it isn’t as big a deal if street level service vendors are spreading lice and other infestations.

  164. 164
    Keith G says:

    Re: hair chemicals

    Here is where Shecky shows that he is either arguing out of ignorance or being purposely disingenuous.

    So dangerous, I can do it myself, or do it for free. Perhaps this is a cutoff point for licensure? When something is so dangerous, I cannot even peform on another person legally.

    No dear Shecky, you can not. The stuff you buy at Walgreens is formulated to a lower potency than what the pros get. To legally tap into the good stuff, you need to present your license to the counter person at the beauty supply shop.

    Please take time to learn about the world before you argue about it.

  165. 165
    Keith G says:

    @Midnight Marauder: As I pointed out just above, I guess Shecky just makes shit up.

    An ideal libertarian, what?

  166. 166
    shecky says:

    @El Cid:

    Now, now… getting nasty?

    @Mnemosyne:

    I use hair cutters to avoid saying barbers and hair stylists.

    @gex:

    Which libertarian would that be? Because I don’t see any around here.

    I think a point should be made here that it isn’t a matter that I don’t care about standards, and neither should you. It’s that you should decide and enforce your own standards. You do that already when you choose a hair cutter. And the alternative to excessive regulation simply will not cause much harm, and will cause increased freedom for people to choose how they make a living.

  167. 167
    shecky says:

    @gex:

    Well there you go. No one can prove that the licenses are preventing a problem. Not even the people who cited the public health issues that arose before licensing.

    Then why defend the practice so rigorously?

    I can get behind a practice that prevents a clear harm. But the threat of unlicensed haircutters simply doesn’t seem to be one. The threat is far from clear, and mostly hypothetical.

  168. 168
    Midnight Marauder says:

    @shecky:

    Which libertarian would that be? Because I don’t see any around here.

    Ahem.

    @shecky:

    Do you suggest that an incompetent, unskilled hair cutter will somehow not be weeded out by the free market?

    That was you, of course. With that being said:

    I think a point should be made here that it isn’t a matter that I don’t care about standards, and neither should you. It’s that you should decide and enforce your own standards.

    I think a point should be made here that what you are describing is ludicrous and nowhere near as effective as the system in place now.

  169. 169
    ksmiami says:

    @El Cid:

    But organic free range eggs bought locally or from Amish people tend to taste amazing and you can still have your damn runny yoke…

    Think of the poor pieces of naked toast… The horror, the horror

  170. 170
    hilzoy says:

    I think Matt’s barber example was silly: he had plainly never thought seriously about perms and so forth. That said, I think (what I took to be) his broader point was sound: that there are a lot of state and local regulations that, partly because they’re lower-profile than federal regs, are easier for interest groups to set up for their own advantage, and that there’s a real cost to this.

    One part of that cost is freedom to start a business — the kind of freedom that libertarians ought to be interested in, but aren’t in practice. But another is a cost to low-income people in particular. I don’t know whether any of you have read Sudhir Ventakesh’s Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor” — it’s a study of the economy of a poor neighborhood in Chicago. Some parts of the economy are, and should remain, flatly criminal — drug dealing, robbery, etc. Some parts are legal — for instance, churches. But a lot are people making a living doing various things without a license: fixing cars, doing hair, making and delivering lunches, etc.

    Some of these people might do things off the books even if licensing weren’t an issue, because of taxes etc. But doing things off the books inflicts real harm on them. It means that they will not show up as having an employment history, even if they do, and that will harm them if they ever want to apply for credit, jobs, etc. It means that they are unlikely to use banks etc., which are safer than the alternatives. Obviously, it also means that they can be busted for doing whatever they do without a license, and that anyone with a friend in the relevant inspection department can hold that over their head.

    Now: if there’s a good reason for licensing something, then there is, and that’s that. But if there isn’t, then the people who would do it legally, but do it under the table because (for instance) they can’t afford trade school for two years, pay real costs. And offhand, it seems to me that the people most likely to be in that position are low-income.

    That’s why I think it really is important that people periodically reassess the various licensing requirements in their state — and by “people” I mean “people other than the people who directly benefit from the licensing requirements”.

    Also, if the point of licensing is simply to enable inspections for e.g. health violations, it might be worth considering whether, in some fields, you could have licenses which were very easy to obtain the first time, but which, once lost, were hard to regain, and which could be lost for e.g. health violations. E.g., with hairdressers (just an example! I do not know what I’m talking about! But surely this would be appropriate to *some* professions.) you could give out licenses on the basis of an exam testing your knowledge of safety, how to use the various chemicals, sanitation, and all the other stuff you need to know — without requiring schooling. That license would enable you to be a hairdresser, and would allow the state to inspect you at will. If lost, no more being a hairdresser. That would preserve the inspection and loss of ability to practice, without setting up a huge barrier to entry.

  171. 171
    El Cid says:

    @shecky: First of all, I don’t think anyone voluntarily coming to a blog named Balloon-Juice thinks that somehow high school debate team standards are to be followed and that cursing is unallowed. If you think that’s wrong, go the fuck somewhere else.

    And I wasn’t getting “nasty” — I was saying, who gives a shit what you personally label as excessive when if you’re supposedly debating by high standards you’re forced to give rationales for things?

    I don’t mind that you’re just sharing that you think the licensing of barbers at all is excessive. Good for you.

    And I don’t mind sharing that I don’t give a shit that you have such an opinion.

  172. 172
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Steve: He probably does.

  173. 173
    gex says:

    @shecky: Ah, I see the problem here. The fact that there were problems before licensing and now there aren’t problems when we have licensing isn’t, to you, an argument for licensing.

    If you categorically refuse to recognize that an argument is even being made from the other side, you will be intransigent on your point.

  174. 174
    Mnemosyne says:

    @shecky:

    I use hair cutters to avoid saying barbers and hair stylists.

    There are very, very few working barbers and hair stylists who only cut hair and never work with chemicals. So really you’re talking about a few thousand people at most out of the millions of licensed barbers and cosmetologists.

    Why, again, are we supposed to upend the entire system over a few thousand people who don’t use chemicals in their work when millions of others in the same profession do?

  175. 175
    gex says:

    @Mnemosyne: Because that’s how it works in the thought experiment.

  176. 176
    Mnemosyne says:

    @gex:

    The fact that there were problems before licensing and now there aren’t problems when we have licensing isn’t, to you, an argument for licensing.

    Sounds like Conservative Temporal Disorder (CTD) has struck again — if something is not happening right now, that means it has never happened and could never happen, so there’s no reason to regulate it. The fact that there are public health concerns with hairdressing and barbering can be handwaved away because they’re not widespread at this exact moment.

    See also anti-vaxers: if kids aren’t currently dying in droves from measles, that means vaccines aren’t needed because the fact that kids that have been vaccinated generally don’t die of measles proves that the vaccination is useless.

  177. 177
    El Cid says:

    @Mnemosyne: Some of the standards / regulations involve the sterilization of tools between customers. Scissors, razors, shavers, combs, the like.

  178. 178
    Downpuppy says:

    @Batocchio: I had an email exchange with Somerby about the Nozick stuff, trying to get him to just come out & say Nozick was an ass. Instead, he somehow thought I was pretending to be a dimwit.

    So I cant speak for him but my take at the time was:

    but Somerville has a (donated) copy of Philosophical Explanations. So I picked it up & read the Something chapter. Actually, a pretty easy read on the second runthrough, but supported my First Law : An ass is an ass is an ass. Partly because he never gets anywhere, partly because of some severe numeracy issues. As in : effectively infinite. WTF?! A set is infinite or it isn’t, and the results in logic are completely different. It’s like he never heard of Godel or Frege. The probability part was just as bad.

    As far as the Wilt thing goes, I hope you consider South Africa and tires. The absoluteness of property rights vs. necklacing then & potholes now should be enough, even if you don’t point out that society is a soup, or maybe an organism, definitely not a gas, which is what it is in Nozickworld.

  179. 179
    chopper says:

    @shecky:

    as someone who has known a good deal of tattoo artists and shop owners in my day, let me tell you that in the real world licensure has a good effect on cleanliness and sanitation. it isn’t to say that shop owners wouldn’t care about sanitation at all if it weren’t for licensure, but the prospect of having your license revoked does put the fear of god into those people. nobody wants to go back to tattooing people in their kitchen.

  180. 180
    Keith G says:

    It is likely that I am over thinking this, but in an endeavor that has recognizable public health implications, training and licensing may be a burden but not an unnecessary one.

    The thing about public health, is that it’s not about the individual, it is about the group. It’s about identifying and limiting vectors of transmission. Our world is consistently getting smaller, warmer and home to an increasing number of resistant infections. I do not think it wise to remove even cursory steps that mandate hygienic behaviors.

    Public health is not a one shot deal. It is about doing thousands of things right and doing them consistently. Weakening the web of public health protections for a questionable economic benefit seems foolish.

  181. 181
    RareSanity says:

    @Mark:

    My, my…

    Software engineers? Not really engineers, are they? I think in some jurisdictions they can’t even call themselves engineers – ironic that they’d want a title that implies that they passed the complete b.s. certification that is a P.E. (In fields with no liability, that is; there’s value to the P.E. if you’re building bridges and hospitals.)

    Yes. Software Engineers are engineers and I am one. My degree is Electrical Engineering, but, I have worked as a Software Engineer for years.

    Liability? The software I write for land mobile radios that are carried by police officers, fire fighters and numerous other public safety agencies carry liability. If the lawsuit the families of 9/11 firefighters brought against Motorola (whom I do not work for) would have shown that their equipment hadn’t worked properly. You think Motorola, could have just said, “it’s not like those radios and repeaters where a bridge or a hospital or anything, what’s the big deal?”

    Us ‘real’ engineers who periodically have to use a welding torch don’t really have much in the way of libertarian tendencies.

    If your using a welding torch to “engineer”, you’re doing it wrong.

    If anything engineers are overt fans of regulation (see the uproar over H1Bs.) I dropped my membership with the IEEE five years ago because they were using my dues to lobby congress to restrict the US’s ability to poach top talent from other countries.

    Engineers are overt fans of standards and quality controls, not ‘regulation’. And the uproar against H1Bs had nothing to do with poaching talent and everything to do with companies laying off American engineers and importing them from India, or Russia to do the same exact job for half the cost and getting tax credits to do it. Both bad.

  182. 182
    chopper says:

    i like how shecky seems to be ignoring the posts that point out holes in his/her knowledge of the example, such as actual licensure in areas, as well as the actual business model used in salons etc.

    yes, cooks aren’t individually licensed wherever you’re at, which would be a great point if salons operated under the same model as restaurants.

  183. 183
    chopper says:

    @El Cid:

    First of all, I don’t think anyone voluntarily coming to a blog named Balloon-Juice thinks that somehow high school debate team standards are to be followed and that cursing is unallowed. If you think that’s wrong, go the fuck somewhere else.

    i do enjoy it when people come here and start demanding decorum. i hear john cole once told a nun to DIAF.

  184. 184
    georgia pig says:

    We really need more of these tonsorial threads. Seriously, the length of this thread is directly proportional to the idiocy of the original argument. You can come up with a ton of reasonable grounds for keeping the current regime of barber regulation or reforming it, but who gives a shit? There is no shortage of good barbers, cheap barbers, etc., except for ‘ol Chet upthread who probably can’t find his ass with both hands, and there is no evidence whatsoever that the current barber regulation situation is a drag on GDP. Barbers make a shitty vehicle for talking about regulation, it’s just that some glib folks like to misleadingly analogize to barber regulation when they really want to talk about other regulations. If you want to talk about regulatory capture, how about tackling the USDA or the SEC instead of the barber colleges? Why not just talk about the fucking regulation you actually care about, without dragging in the poor fucking barbers?

  185. 185
    chopper says:

    @Mark:

    Us ‘real’ engineers who periodically have to use a welding torch don’t really have much in the way of libertarian tendencies.

    i have a degree in engineering and have worked in engineering (albeit in a white-collar environment, out of the lab) for 12 years and i gotta say, welding wasn’t part of the engineering curriculum where i went to school. i love making shit as much or more than the next guy…

  186. 186
    J.W. Hamner says:

    @hilzoy:

    That’s a solid argument. My initial thought, though, is that a trade school and professional license give people a path to a livable wage that’s more realistic for many than a college education. It seems to me we could find lots of poor countries with no regulation of many professions and not see much evidence of it being a panacea of economic opportunities for the downtrodden.

  187. 187
    El Cid says:

    @georgia pig: When a post or news item makes a lot of sense, I tend to read it, maybe remember it, and move on. Not too much reason to comment beyond maybe ‘good point’ etc.

  188. 188
    Mnemosyne says:

    @El Cid:

    Some of the standards / regulations involve the sterilization of tools between customers. Scissors, razors, shavers, combs, the like.

    But shecky keeps assuring us that’s not a problem! It’s not like there’s any such thing as insecticide-resistant lice or something like that. That would be crazy talk! As long as your personal standards don’t allow for getting lice, then it won’t happen.

  189. 189
    L2P says:

    @shecky:

    ““Here” is Southern California.

    Yes, selling just about anything requires a license. As to the rest of your post, I say… Okaaay… yes, food handlers face regulations specific to food handling… and?”

    If you’re talking about Southern California and things needing a license, you really don’t know what you’re talking about. But I’ll explain it to you.

    In California, every business generally needs a business license. However, this is a requirement of local government’s business license tax. Under California law, this business license can’t be used for regulatory purposes, but only for purposes of collecting revenue revenue (it’s complicated, and it’s not worth getting into here.) These are the licenses you see in EVERY business – including retail. See, for example, LAMC 21.07.

    Many businesses also have OTHER licensing requirements, like the LAMC’s Cafe and Show permits. These are regulatory, but I don’t think any govern retail, except some for food products. Very few businesses are regulated locally in California.

  190. 190
    shecky says:

    FWIW, it seems England still has no real licensing requirements for hairdressers, at least according the the stooges at the British Hairdressing Council. Which not surprisingly seems overly concerned about it all.

    And the earlier link to the NZ info seems incomplete. I think it refers to a government accredited trade school. Oddly enough, I can’t find any requirements for barbering employment in NZ, at least they don’t freely list them for immigrants. The jobs that require “occupational registration” for newcomers seem to be mostly medical professionals and a few other jobs like lawyers and architects.

  191. 191
    shecky says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    Is there a real problem that needs to be addressed or can even be effectively addressed by barber licensing boards? Nobody here has really made a good case for that. But there’s been all kinds of nasty concern trolling over the dire situation that might arise when rogue hair cutters roam the streets.

  192. 192
    Belvoir says:

    If it weren’t for all that burdensome licensing and regulation, little Sally Draper wouldn’t have had to cut her own hair last night on Mad Men.

    @shecky: Tattoo parlors were forbidden in NYC until recently because of a hepatitis outbreak in the late 60’s, iirc. Yeah, hepatitis- what’s the big deal?

    @ TR Donoghue: I stopped reading Yglesias a while ago for the reasons you mentioned, but also because he is an unbelievably sloppy writer and constant, serial misspeller. And he doesn’t care. Just unprofessional, to me. You have a platform that people read- show them the common courtesy of checking your posts to make sure they are readable. This might sound petty, but it really isn’t. You’re a writer? Write well, then. Otherwise you’re just another commenter on the Net to me.

  193. 193
    El Cid says:

    So, the UK no longer has licensing requirements for hairdressers.

    There’s just this minor thing of having general regulations which cover pretty much everything that we consider being done via a licensing system.

    License – Hairdresser
    __
    The Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 has eliminated the need for hairdressers to be registered, however activities such as Ear Piercing, Electrolysis, Tattooing and Acupuncture, and the employment of employees still require to be registered.
    __
    Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act
    __
    The Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 is the key act which will affect all commercial concerns, whether self-employed or an employee, and whether mobile or based at a Salon. Under this Act a number of Regulations have been made. The more relevant of these include:
    __
    * The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981;
    * The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989;
    * The Health and Safety (Information for Employees) Regulations 1989;
    * Health and Safety (Training for Employment) Regulations 1990;
    * The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992;
    * Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992
    * Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992;
    * Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992;
    * The Reporting of Injuries Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995;
    * The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996;
    * The Health and Safety (Young Persons) Regulations 1997;
    * Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998;
    * The Working Time Regulations 1998;
    * The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002;

  194. 194
    Mnemosyne says:

    @shecky:

    Is there a real problem that needs to be addressed or can even be effectively addressed by barber licensing boards? Nobody here has really made a good case for that.

    The fact that you continually ignore the multiple potential public health problems associated with poor hygienic practices by barbers and hairdressers — including, as I mentioned just above, insecticide-resistant lice — doesn’t mean that no argument has been made. It means that you still haven’t come up with a valid argument about why public health concerns are immaterial, so you keep ignoring them and pretending they don’t exist.

    We’re not talking about starting up a whole new regime of regulation. You’re talking about ending the current regime, but you can’t seem to present a rational reason why other than your hatred of regulations. The fact that we don’t currently have massive public health problems is not a good reason to end the regulations that fixed those problems. It’s not like lice and fungus have magically vanished from the planet or become unable to be transmitted between people.

  195. 195
    Jack says:

    @hilzoy:
    For some ridiculous reason I’ve read most of the comments, but yours is the first sensible thing I’ve read. Jesus, their should not be a massive barrier to people becoming barbers and hair stylists. If there are legitimate health and safety concerns perhaps some sort of licensing is a useful way of regulating the industry, but the concept that this licensing can be used to stifle competition shouldn’t be ignored. It’s as if everybody has dismissed the possibility of over-regulation.

  196. 196
    Keith G says:

    @shecky: It seems that some folks feel there are problems.

    Knock about this place for a view from down under.

    Edit: One of the goals stated in the above site: Protection of consumers from unqualified or semi skilled people practicing as hairdressers.

    http://www.hrb.org.au/content.php?page=28

  197. 197
    gex says:

    Yup. I really think the thought experiments ARE too loud to hear anything from outside the “lab”.

  198. 198
    El Cid says:

    @Jack: I don’t think most of us care whether the system of protecting the public interest is formed by regulations or a licensing system as long as it is the most rational, effective, and least needlessly restrictive system as possible.

  199. 199
    El Cid says:

    @Jack: By the way, remember that one of the main prompts for professional organizational licensing system is to avoid government regulation.

    It isn’t like libruls went back in time and said, ‘Hey, this professional licensing system would be the best way to go!’

  200. 200
    gex says:

    @Jack: It is not that everyone missed it. It is that many have missed our arguments that there is no significant barrier imposed by barber regulations. Unless many of you think that it is very difficult to get that license. Or many of you think that there’s a shortage of barbers and that is driving up prices.

    All I know is that within 5 miles of my house there are about a half dozen places that will cut my hair for $10. I’ve never had a hairdresser complain about how hard it was to get their license, even among the three that I know personally.

    It seems weird to be accused of not being concerned about over regulation in this regard when no one is seriously making the case that barbers are over regulated. The main case I’m hearing is that barbers shouldn’t be regulated at all.

    Which points really to the big flaw in libertarianism. It is pretty clear that individuals aren’t willing to pay what it costs to have disease control in society. And you end up with this when you let industries regulate themselves: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10.....4meat.html.

    Here’s a hint. This:

    Many big slaughterhouses will sell only to grinders who agree not to test their shipments for E. coli, according to officials at two large grinding companies.

    Is not really what anyone was thinking when they thought about industry regulating itself I would imagine. But it brought us to the point where contracts specify that the meat cannot be tested for safety. What magical fairy dust prevents businesses with high public health risks from going this route sans the mechanism that requires outside inspections of cleanliness?

    ETA: I’m using regulation and licensing interchangeably here, even though I guess you guys are using them differently. I mean licensing.

  201. 201
    Martin says:

    @beltane: Which was precisely my point. If barbers, already licensed are never brought up on malpractice claims, then why are they licensed?

    ‘Software Engineers’ typically have little relation to people that call themselves software engineers. Just because you’re cranking out bits of Excel doesn’t put you in the same league as a guy writing the software that runs a defribulator or a drug delivery system. If Excel doesn’t work, Microsoft is embarrassed – maybe. If that medical system doesn’t work, or the power grid shuts down, or the computer system that controls the rudder in a 737 stops working, people die and thats a place that you want liability to show up. In most of these cases the employer takes the liability, but not in all.

    Not all engineering jobs require licensure. It depends on the circumstances. So a software engineer, and a Professional Software Engineer can be different things.

    Oh, and most engineering programs give their students an opportunity to learn how to weld, put not as part of the regular curriculum. If you want to go work on the formula car team, you’re going to have to get some welding skill. It’s encouraged but not mandatory.

  202. 202
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Martin:

    If barbers, already licensed are never brought up on malpractice claims, then why are they licensed?

    I’m not sure what you’re saying here — barbers (and other licensed cosmetology professionals) can be sanctioned by the state that issued the license for malpractice.

    That may not have been your point at all, though, which may be why I’m confused.

  203. 203
    J.W. Hamner says:

    @gex:

    It is not that everyone missed it. It is that many have missed our arguments that there is no significant barrier imposed by barber regulations. Unless many of you think that it is very difficult to get that license. Or many of you think that there’s a shortage of barbers and that is driving up prices.

    hilzoy pointed out above that there are whole underground economies among the poor based around jobs that require professional licenses and/or expensive schooling. I don’t have any idea whether this kind of thing causes a lesser/greater public health threat than relaxing barriers to entry to these professions… nor do I know whether those barriers ensure a livable wage that would disappear with deregulation. But I think it’s important to note that very few people who responded to the original MY post, or here, had any interest in talking about it… maybe that’s Yglesias’s fault for being “glib”… but it does seem like there are larger issues at stake that don’t necessarily break down along purely ideological lines.

  204. 204
    DougJ says:

    @Belvoir:

    If it weren’t for all that burdensome licensing and regulation, little Sally Draper wouldn’t have had to cut her own hair last night on Mad Men.

    Win.

  205. 205
    DougJ says:

    @hilzoy:

    I think Matt’s barber example was silly: he had plainly never thought seriously about perms and so forth. That said, I think (what I took to be) his broader point was sound:

    But why can’t he back off the example? Why are we holding him to such a low standard? When we write posts like that here, we get beat up in the comments and retract or rephrase. Why can’t he?

  206. 206
    J.W. Hamner says:

    @DougJ:
    I doubt there is a job he could have picked that he wouldn’t be attacked for. Maybe it’s just that we have all the perfect regulations of professions already in place… or maybe… just maybe… there is a pretty strong status quo bias at work.

  207. 207
    hilzoy says:

    DougJ: I think he should have. That said, the general point seems more interesting to me than Matt’s character. ;)

  208. 208
    DA says:

    Yglesias is absolutely right that there is a very strong status-quo bias in play here. You can come up with a potential safety error for almost any profession that is on the same scale as a barber’s error (e.g., any job where you handle food, you could potentially start a lethal epidemic) but we don’t require licensing for every job. That’s not to say safety regulations are a bad thing, but licensing is not the same thing. Licensing is there to cut down competition, and because inertia keeps it in place.

    This particular issue is small potatoes – you could make a barber’s license half as difficult or twice as difficult to get and most people would never notice the difference – but he’s still right about it.

  209. 209
  210. 210
    Martin says:

    @Mnemosyne: I know they can be, but if it never happens, by whatever reason, then the point of licensure never materializes. So, why are they licensed?

    State sanctions can come about with lesser standards, such as certification or just general inspection (as with restaurants). I don’t know if people are conflating licensure with any kind of regulation, but licensure is a specific form of regulation that is tied to malpractice. Licensure should only be supported if the application of malpractice is the goal. I don’t know how much barber malpractice takes place, but I’d hazard a guess that the number is sufficiently close to 0 to make licensure complete overkill.

  211. 211
    silentbeep says:

    “reduce to a smart-ass thought experiment about a profession you don’t take seriously”

    I think DougJ you have pointed out something that has really bothered me about Matt’s post and E.D.s: I think It’s because barbers and beauticians are not taken seriously, we get things like “they shouldn’t be licensed and why do these people have to go to school anyway?” kind of arguments.

    Matt bothers me less, because to his credit, he stuck to mainly talking about barbershops only. He was not attacking the supposedly silly idea about going to school for it. I think the reasons why commenters were so annoyed with him, was because he refused to expand on his ideas. He never explicitly addressed issues having to do with pedicures, manicures, hairdye, waxing, facials etc. I found his posts frustrating, because he wasn’t making his case for deregulating all of cosmetology – I’d really like to hear such a case be made. Rather, he refused to engage throughtfuly with the objections and I think that’s why some of the commenters were so frustrated (including myself).

    With E.D. my frustration is greater: his anti-beauty school schtick is belittling of a profession that people pay good money for, and take pride in. It is possible to get the government out of forcing everyone to go to beauty school – I think this is a fair idea to consider. The government does not require people who cook in restaurants to go to culinary school – as long as the restaurant passes food and safety regulations and has a business license the government does not care about the culinary skills of the cooks. But culinary school is still an attractive option for people, such schools aren’t going anywhere. I could see a similar dynamic with beauty school – have basic health and safety regulations in salons, but not necessarily require everyone by law to get beauty school education. Like culinary schools, beauty school wouldn’t go anywhere, the skills are too valuable that such schools impart, and they are quality signifiers for the consumer and any potential employer. I think E.D. is too dismissive of beauty school in and of itself.

  212. 212
    Brachiator says:

    @shecky:

    This is the crux of the issue that almost everyone on this thread seems to overlook… the idea that some things really need some oversight, other things, not so much.

    Actually, it’s you who miss the point that the whole discussion of licensing as some form of devious regulation is a red herring when it comes to barbers and hair stylists.

    Although it clearly bugs you for some reason, licensing is not a significant barrier to anyone who wants to become a barber.

    It just boggles the mind that someone with the skill and gumption to start a business cutting hair needs to get the cartel’s approval to do so.

    This begs the question of how someone gets or demonstrates the skill to cut hair.

    Let’s be clear. Hair cutting is not rocket science, and the associated sanitary practices are not the making of med school training.

    This is funny. Do you know the history of how doctors had to be led kicking and screaming to wash their hands? Sanitary practices are only recently part of med school training.

    Anyone with steady hands and common sense can do it.

    Now you are just making shit up. Nice try, though.

    @boot:

    You all keep citing public health rationales for maintaining barber licensure but don’t grapple with the fact that barbers aren’t licensed in the UK—is there a wave of hepatitis overtaking that country from unlicensed barberians?

    The UK was the place that held that doctors were a superior class to surgeons because doctors knew a lot of theoretical and philosophical crap that was largely nonsense, while surgeons actually (ugh) touched their patients. Not sure that the UK is the best case for the irrelevance of licensing standards.

  213. 213
    Stillwater says:

    @DougJ: When we write posts like that here, we get beat up in the comments and retract or rephrase. Why can’t he?

    Christ man, have you ever read an Yglesias comment thread? The man gets torn to shreds so bad he can pass through window screens. He puts stuff out there, and the chips fall.

    Man UP!

  214. 214
    Stillwater says:

    @Mnemosyne. The fact that you continually ignore the multiple potential public health problems associated with poor hygienic practices by barbers and hairdressers—including, as I mentioned just above, insecticide-resistant lice.

    Lol. Spoof, right? Gotta be.

  215. 215
    Stillwater says:

    @hilzoy: I think Matt’s barber example was silly: he had plainly never thought seriously about perms and so forth.

    OK. This whole thread is a spoof.

  216. 216
    silentbeep says:

    I have an idea: I suggest that E.D. watch episodes of Tabitha’s Salon Makeover, Shear Genius and Blowout (all on Bravo BTW) Perhaps he can order back episodes on Amazon? Maybe he would have a better idea of the skills required to be a good hair stylist. I suggest the same thing thing for shecky up above who thinks all it takes to cut hair well “is some common sense.” Am I being serious? Or just glib? Y’all can be the judge of that.

    ha

  217. 217
    silentbeep says:

    @Stillwater: no it’s not a spoof. when you get ringworm or a staph infection resistant to antibiotics from a bad pedicure, let us know, m’kay?

  218. 218
    Stillwater says:

    @silentbeep: when you get ringworm or a staph infection resistant to antibiotics from a bad pedicure, let us know, m’kay?

    Why the hell do you think you’d be any less likely to get one of those things because of a licensing? Do you really think licensing prevents malpractice?

    Get out there in the world and look around. People do what they do, and that’s about all you can say.

  219. 219
    Brachiator says:

    @J.W. Hamner:

    hilzoy pointed out above that there are whole underground economies among the poor based around jobs that require professional licenses and/or expensive schooling.

    But this is obviously false if you just think about it. The guy who steals computers off a truck and sells them out of his garage is not discouraged from becoming a legitimate store owner because of licensing requirements.

    I have no idea how expensive barber college might be, but I also pointed out in an earlier post that one can also become a barber by going through a two year apprentice program.

    But both the underground economy and the libertarian deregulation wet dream is based on the notion that anybody who wants to start any business, including a medical practice, should be free to do so without any interference, from government or anyone else.

    The key issue here is that for the libertarian, there is only the service provider and the customer. The service provider doesn’t ever have to demonstrate mastery or competence (one of the purposes of licensing) and the customer is not allowed to ask for any proof that the service provider knows a damn thing. If the customer gets a raw deal or ends up dead, well that’s just the invisible hand of the free market delivering a lethal smack down.

    If an underground economy electrician wires my house wrong and all my shit burns down, the libertarian will pop up and protest, “Well, a licensed contractor could have screwed up, too.” But the problem is that the libertarian never offers any remedy for this (except maybe that my survivors could sue the bastard) and falls back on some wobbly notion of risk.

    Here and elsewhere, libertarians are infantile and should not be taken seriously.

  220. 220
    Stillwater says:

    @Stillwater: People do what they do, and that’s about all you can say.

    Except that the threat of a catastrophic lawsuit will keep some people from suiting, let alone entering the game.

  221. 221
    silentbeep says:

    @Stillwater: did I say i was in favor of licensing? nope. What I am in favor of is some basic health inspections and safety regulations. Licensing is another issue.

    “Why the hell do you think you’d be any less likely to get one of those things because of a licensing? Do you really think licensing prevents malpractice?”

    Calm down. It’s just a haricut.

    ;)

  222. 222
    silentbeep says:

    @Stillwater: What are you talking about? You seem angry about my supposed support of licensing and I said no such thing to indicate that.

    What I am in favor of is basic safety and health regulations and inspections. Those nasty staph infections from a bad pedicure? Yeah in the real world they do happen and it’s not a “spoof.”

  223. 223
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Stillwater:

    Why the hell do you think you’d be any less likely to get one of those things because of a licensing? Do you really think licensing prevents malpractice?

    Licensing cosmeticians prevents malpractice the same way licensing drivers prevents accidents: it requires a certain base level of competence but it doesn’t guarantee results.

    Are you arguing we should stop licensing drivers because people still get into car accidents?

  224. 224
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Stillwater:

    Yes, I completely made up insecticide-resistant lice. They don’t really exist, and they’re certainly not a public health problem. You got me there. And there’s definitely no way you could get them if your barber didn’t disinfect his brushes and combs between customers as required by law.

  225. 225
    gex says:

    @J.W. Hamner: Well I guess I find that the socio-economic factors that induce people to use underground economies isn’t sufficient reason to lower standards in the actual economy. I’d much rather address the socio-economic disparity other ways.

    I suppose it is completely valid to try to legitimize those underground economies by removing rules for the industry as a whole. I’m just not sure that is the appropriate solution.

  226. 226
    Stillwater says:

    @silentbeep: Lol about the haircut. I also believe that regs and inspections are the answer here.

    @Mnemosyne: Are you arguing we should stop licensing drivers because people still get into car accidents? I’m arguing we should stop ticketing drivers who get into car accidents.

    @Mnemosyne: Yes, I completely made up insecticide-resistant lice.

    Whew, that’s a relief. I sure don’t want to catch a strain of that stuff at my friend Li’l off the Tips unlicensed barber’s joint.

  227. 227
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Stillwater:

    I’m arguing we should stop ticketing drivers who get into car accidents.

    Silly me, I was expecting a coherent argument. You should probably put down the bong before posting.

    Whew, that’s a relief. I sure don’t want to catch a strain of that stuff at my friend Li’l off the Tips unlicensed barber’s joint.

    Don’t forget to demand your eggs over easy at breakfast, because salmonella is a myth, too. Like we’re supposed to believe that little invisible bugs can live in eggs and make us sick.

  228. 228
    Stillwater says:

    @Mnemosyne: Silly me, I was expecting a coherent argument.

    Well, when you put that much pressure on a guy, its hard to perform. Maybe in the morning I’ll be able to satisfy you. Let’s pick it up then. But till then, I want you to think about my argument overnight: no. tickets.

    Like we’re supposed to believe that little invisible bugs can live in eggs and make us sick.

    Zakly. I don’t go for that whole ‘can’t see’em but they’re there’ view of the world. Liberish, to me. My world doesn’t contain: lice (that’s for sure), police citations (I just close my eyes when this happens), institutions, space (duh), the Presidency, Mad Men (though I hear it’s good), debt or sweater vests.

  229. 229
    Quiddity says:

    @Batocchio: I think you have to confront Nozick head on and not use arguments about disposable income or other alleged special features of the transaction.

    Nozick says that those who find distribution D1 “just” (presumably an egalitarian one) should consider distribution D2 (the result of a million people giving Chamberlain 25 cents) equally “just”, because D2 is the result of starting from D1 and applying many instances of a presumably “fair” transaction.

    Nozick’s basic position is that scale doesn’t matter.

    He is free to take that position. I, on the other hand, disagree. I see scale as being a meaningful characteristic of distributional processes. I may not like Nozick’s distribution D2 because it may lead to (economic or political) power imbalances. Or maybe it just don’t like distribution D2 on aesthetic grounds. But Nozick cannot tell me, or you, that you must like D2 simply because it’s the result of a lot of small “fair” transactions.

    The choice of Chamberlain is a giveaway. Everybody thinks that he was a good player and, on the whole, deserved to be rewarded for his performance. So why begrudge the fellow if he’s raking in the dough?

    Consider, however, a different recipient. A bum on the street asking for a handout. If somebody gives him 25 cents, nobody is much concerned. In fact, that act of charity is generally approved. But if one million people give the bum 25 cents, will people admire the result? Not likely. It’s okay to give the bum something to relieve his distress, but it’s qualitatively different to give him $250,000. (I wonder what Nozick would say to this example.)

  230. 230
    Quiddity says:

    Nozick is quoted at the Howler here (scroll down).

  231. 231
    boot says:

    @brachiator

    The UK was the place that held that doctors were a superior class to surgeons because doctors knew a lot of theoretical and philosophical crap that was largely nonsense, while surgeons actually (ugh) touched their patients. Not sure that the UK is the best case for the irrelevance of licensing standards.

    This isn’t a real argument. I asked whether licensing was necessary if there’s no public health risk associated with not licensing, not whether the UK’s history of professional licensing is absent of any impropriety.

  232. 232
    georgia pig says:

    FYI, I talked to my barber this morning and raised this issue. He said the biggest barrier to entry is location. Barbershops are generally walk-in businesses. It’s good to have a location that is near other stuff, like restaurants and dry cleaners, in case the customer has to wait. It’s also good to have a shop in an area with high average disposable income, where people are not that price sensitive about haircuts. Thus, licensing appears to be one of a host of factors, and may not be significant at all. However, libertarians like to make everything about their favorite hobbyhorses, i.e., taxation and regulation. They’re one-trick ponies.

    We live in a representative democracy. The elected reps can chose to have a licensing requirement, an inspection requirement, whatever. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as there is some rational basis for the choice, the regulatory burden is somewhat commensurate with the rational basis and it’s not discriminatory against particular groups based on arbitrary criteria such as race. Sure, you can bitch about whether the regulatory requirement is or can be enforced, but that doesn’t make licensing per se wrong. BTW, Martin gets this backassward, one reason for having a licensing requirement is because it’s economically disadvantageous to sue a barber for malpractice (you can sue anyone for negligence). Barbers don’t have much money and probably can’t be adequately insured, the point is to get the regulator to pull the bad barber’s license to prevent further harm, something that a negligence claim doesn’t necessarily do.

    The thing I find particularly annoying are arguments that think that a single factor — e.g., government regulation — determines whether you have an optimal outcome, or that an optimal outcome in the aggregate (e.g., the economy as a whole) requires an optimal outcome in each component of the aggregate (e.g., regulation of barbers). These arguments engage in some of the worst forms of reductionism. There are a whole lot of other considerations, many of which have been presented here. Come to think of it, the analogic power of talking about barbers lies in the realization that even something so seemingly simple can be far more complex than some realize. But most barber analogists really just want to use barbers so that they can evoke images of a simple guy wearing a loose shoes and a Hawaiian shirt.

  233. 233
    Keith G says:

    @boot:
    @shecky:

    I am not a big fan of assumptions. So, I have fired off a series of emails across the pond to locate sources who can with some authority how UK officials deal with barber/salon regulations and the rational.

    @Mnemosyne:

    I’ll keep you posted.

  234. 234
    4jkb4ia says:

    That was Robert Nozick? I saw it applied by Milton Friedman, possibly to Michael Jordan.
    It’s not brilliant, but the idea that not all of “the rich” have gotten there by stealing from the populace was important, although the idea of distinguishing between “the rich” and “capitalists” was certainly out there. Conor Freidersdorf is discussing something similar at Sully’s on the idea that “the elite” are not a homogenous group.
    (For this purpose “homogenous” is a perfectly good word. It is even in the American Heritage Dictionary.)
    (David Brooks ironically illustrates the topic of today’s column by phoning it in for the first half. “The Age of Wonder” featured the Fanny Burney story)

  235. 235
    crack says:

    Once again Hilzoy saves a thread.

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