Thursday, May 18, 2017

Come out of the cold, Muffy

When I was in college, back in the 1980s, I had a classmate nicknamed Muffy (it was the 80s, after all) who would cut your hair for $5, about the same price as one would pay for a haircut in those days. Muffy did an outstanding job. She would cut your hair in the lounge in her dorm and she had a steady stream of customers, because she was outstanding and coincidentally drop-dead gorgeous.

Muffy got plenty of business, all word of mouth, from her classmates. One could argue that she was costing the barber shops of Beloit some business, but I don't recall any of them going out of business while she was on campus. She was breaking the law, though, because you are not supposed to cut hair for money unless you have a cosmetology license. She was from the San Diego area. It's possible she had a cosmetology license from California, but I never asked her and I doubt she did. Had someone reported her activities, she likely would have been in trouble. I am confident that the statute of limitations has run on her tonsorial crime wave, so I can tell the story.

Now, more than 30 years later, it appears that Wisconsin is looking at whether many licensing requirements are even necessary:
A new council would be created to review the necessity of every occupational licensing requirement in Wisconsin under a bill being circulated for co-sponsors.

The measure unveiled Wednesday would require the submission of a report by the end of 2018 that recommends elimination of licenses and other changes rules and requirements. The Legislature in 2019 would then consider approving the recommendations.
As Walter Russell Mead notes, these requirements are often less about professional standards and more about protecting a guild:
There is a virtual consensus among economists that state-enforced training requirements for a variety of low to mid-skill jobs, from catering to hair-braiding to interior decorating, have grown excessive, exerting a major drag on economic growth and employment—especially for people who don’t have the time or money to take thousands of hours of costly courses to practice a basic trade that isn’t particularly dangerous and whose skills can easily be judged by consumers.

Licensing requirements for low-skilled work have exploded over the past decades for no other reason than that professional guilds have been able to capture state legislatures and used them to help entrench their market positions. 
I don't object to paying extra for the services of someone with demonstrated expertise, but for most of us, the licensing requirements aren't relevant. Muffy wasn't running a full-fledged salon; she wasn't giving perms or doing complicated makeovers. She was just giving haircuts to her vaguely dissolute classmates and saving them a trip to town. I haven't seen Muffy in 30 years and have no idea what she's doing now, but I trust her life of crime is done.

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