Tyranny is exercised in all sorts of creative ways. Sometimes we feel it overtly, as often is the case when government circumscribes our liberty. But sometimes tyrannical forces remain hidden or are simply baked into a system we long ago accepted and no longer question. This unquestioning—perhaps even unknowing—acceptance is precisely where many Texans find themselves when it comes to occupational licensing.
You’re forgiven if you are unfamiliar with the last two words of the above paragraph. Occupational licensing does not exactly grab headlines, but it should. You see, if you work in any number of fields—HVAC contractor, manicurist, barber, plumber, travel guide, real estate agent, auctioneer, teacher, shampooer—your “occupation” is regulated by the state of Texas. You must obtain a license to operate. And often, you must be re-licensed every number of years. If you refuse to meet the state-imposed rules, you cannot legally practice in your field.
You cannot, for instance, shampoo hair. Or give manicures. Certainly, you cannot take nature lovers on travel excursions.
If all of this sounds ridiculous, it should. Though occupational licensing laws were ostensibly created to protect the public (no one wants unlicensed surgeons operating on grandma), the mania to extend these mandates over professions as mundane as massage therapy is out of control. This is thanks in large part to greed. Getting licensed costs money, and money is the one thing the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR), the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC)—and the professional “guilds” that act as self-appointed internal regulators of a given industry—are comfortable keeping free and flowing.
Up-front fees, however, are just one of the many negatives of this tyrannical system. Where we find markets beset by needless occupational licensing, we tend also to find raised costs, reduced competition, and general consumer harm. (I see this first-hand in my own field as a licensed real estate broker.) Occupational licensing subverts consumer interests and preferences to the will of a few politicians, regulators, and special interests. Not only is this harmful to the Texas economy, but it threatens the liberty of all Texans.
The true path to economic growth and increased liberty is to eliminate much of the occupational licensing in Texas and trust the interests of millions of producers and consumers through voluntary exchange in the free market.
The question is how?
In a study from the Huffines Liberty Foundation, we found the TDLR lists 38 categories of occupations or businesses it regulates on its website. Some of them I called out as outrageous above. And as it turns out, 28 out of the 38 categories can be eliminated if some common-sense questions were answered honestly. In short, the state and consumers can rely on voluntary and market schemes to protect consumers’ health, safety, and pocketbooks, along with the use of civil action when harms occur that cannot be addressed otherwise.
Even using the state’s own criteria—four questions, as it turns out—to justify licensing imposition, the list can be pared down. As an example, let’s take the first question TDLR asks: “Could the objective of an occupational license be achieved through market forces, private certification and accreditation programs, or enforcement of other laws?” Using simple common sense and honesty, do we still think barbers and shampooers need licenses? Do laser hair removal specialists? Do tow truck operators? A child could make these determinations.
So here is the bottom line: If you agree that even one of the occupations currently regulated should be reconsidered, it means the TDLR made a mistake. A serious mistake that costs jobs and hurts people’s lives. In this situation, the just thing would be a wholesale consideration of the total list, something many states are doing for similar reasons.
The TDLR has proven to be an instrument of the lobbyists and bureaucrats that reinforce government interference in the free market and justifies the occupational licensing system. The way to eliminate licenses is through the Texas Legislature. It takes political courage and common sense. Either you believe in the consumer, or you believe in the government. And at the moment, the government is being used to make more money to the detriment of all Texans.
Courageous leaders that believe in the free market need to step up and eliminate these barriers to entry. At a minimum, nearly all license requirements should be paused. The proper role of government is always to defend our liberty. The opposite is happening right now.
If we do nothing, then this system of soft tyranny grows, covering more and more of our professions. Why would we willingly accept this? Why would we not do what is best for all Texans and not just the privileged few?
Don Huffines is a former State Senator, self-made businessman, and proud fifth-generation Texan. You can keep up with his work advancing liberty, prosperity, and virtue at HuffinesLiberty.com and follow him @DonHuffines on Twitter and other social media. Huffines’ column, Liberty Report, runs weekly in The Dallas Express.