End Government Licensing
Sept. 14, 2007
Irvine, CA--According to a recent “Wall Street Journal” story, the range of professions now requiring a government license in certain states includes taxidermy, massage therapy, interior decorating, selling mobile homes--even fortune-telling! While many would laugh about these particular fields having government licensing requirements, nearly everyone concedes that government licensing is, in general, a necessary and beneficial practice--especially for complex fields like medicine.
“In fact,” said Alex Epstein, an analyst at the Ayn Rand Institute, ”if we want a market with ample information, high-quality products, and freedom of competition, government licensing is an impediment that must be abolished across the board.
“Contrary to advocates of government licensing, it is not true that without it, we would be taken in by unqualified charlatans in every endeavor, whether getting a haircut, a taxicab ride, or a triple bypass. Since there is great value for consumers and producers to have independent, expert verification of quality products and services, they would gladly pay for it. This is especially true for businesses whose most valuable asset is their reputation. The only difference between free-market licensing and government licensing is that private licensing organizations cannot force people to follow their advice, but must instead persuade them to follow their counsel. This is a life-and-death difference because it leaves experts, producers, and consumers free to acquire and act on the best possible information. Under government licensing, by contrast, individual judgment is rendered irrelevant, what the government says, goes.
“The more complex the field, the more destructive coercive licensing is, because the more urgent it is that there be freedom of thought and action. In a vast, continually evolving field like medicine, in which a huge and growing range of medical procedures exists, each requiring different skill sets, it is absurd and incredibly costly to have the government reserving jobs for full-fledged MDs that could be done by other medical professionals, while giving an official stamp of approval to MDs who do jobs that they lack necessary specialized knowledge to do (such as general practitioners who prescribe complex psychiatric medications).
“It may be funny when governments takes charge of licensing fortune tellers, but it is deadly when it is in charge of licensing doctors. We should abolish the government’s coercive licensing power and unleash a free market of objective-standards bodies who function by persuasion, not compulsion.”
Alex Epstein was a writer and a fellow on staff
at ARI between 2004 and 2011.