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Licensed to Steal

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Question: What do architects, attorneys, dentists, dietitians, embalmers, funeral directors, innkeepers, nurses, optometrists, pharmacists, physicians, surveyors, and veterinarians have in common?

Answer: They are all employed in occupations that are licensed or similarly regulated by the state.

Question: What else do these occupations have in common?

Answer: They are all under-represented by minority practitioners. Is there a relationship? You bet your state-board certification there is! Although keeping minorities in their proper place — and keeping them out of select occupations — is never openly stipulated as a reason for invoking governmental licensure, there is no question that such has always been one of the major effects. Limited access by whatever criteria the state has historically used has inevitably served to exclude African-Americans in particular and minorities in general from the licensed professions.

Reduction in competition which results from licensure inevitably raises the price of the products or services provided by the privileged occupations. This, in turn, turns licensing into a one-two punch against minorities. Not only are they effectively excluded from the higher-paying, licensed occupations, but they are also forced to pay higher prices resulting from their exclusion from the competition. The situation is akin to that which existed on plantations in the ante-bellum South, where slaves were forced to wear clothing made from flax because cotton from the fields in which they labored was too dear to weave into slave cloth. Booker T. Washington recalled in his autobiography, Up From Slavery, “The most trying ordeal that I was forced to endure as a slave boy . . . was the wearing of a flax shirt.”

Civil-rights legislation succeeded in opening up some licensed occupations to African-Americans and other minorities. But progress has been slow. Regrettably, however, when minority members have finally succeeded in gaining access to restricted occupations, all too often they have supported the continuation of barriers rather than calling for their end.

Are there other occupations which restrict entry through licensure? Here are some examples from the state of Ohio, where I live: accountants (CPAs), athletic agents, athletic trainers, auctioneers, audiologists, barbers, boiler operators, chiropractors, commission merchants, cosmetologists, counselors, debt poolers, nursing-home administrators, occupational therapists, opticians, pawnbrokers, physical therapists, physicians’ assistants, private investigators, psychologists, real-estate brokers, sanitarians, social workers, speech pathologists, and stock brokers.

You also need Ohio’s approval to be a banker, junkyard owner, motor-vehicle salvage dealer, second-hand dealer, security-services operator, or pesticide applicator.

You need the approval of municipalities to be a taxicab driver or hot-dog vendor. And in many areas of Ohio, you must have journeyman status in a labor union to practice any of the building trades — an area still woefully under-represented by African-Americans.

Considering the devastating effect that licensing laws and trade-union legislation have had on minorities, it is truly a wonder that these monuments to racial oppression have survived civil-rights legislation in the United States. With unemployment among African-Americans running well ahead of whites, it is a wonder that more of the former are not clamoring for an end to licensing laws. They — as well as other minorities — are the real victims of this modern-day tyranny.

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    Mr. Russell, a Freedom Daily subscriber, is a writer residing in Ohio.