mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Pulling out hair over barbers...

The WSJ's OpinionJournal links this story about barber licensing in Idaho as the "bottom story of the day".

Now, usually I agree with James Taranto, but I'm going to have to say I disagree. This is a major story that I find fascinating.

See, this is the kind of stuff that libertarian-leaning economist types get worked up about. What Idaho is doing is requiring that anyone who wants to be a "barber"
and be legally allowed to offer shaves has to complete several hundred hours of training and pass a licensing tests.

Licensing restrictions that don't improve service, but instead restrict competition by putting barriers to entry to a business are the kind of thing that benefits a small group of business owners at the expense of customers (who pay higher prices) and people who would like to enter the business, but can't because of the high cost (in monetary or time) of aquiring a license. Economists usually call this rent seeking, and they don't like it because it makes people worse off overall.

Licensing is usually defended by people who benefit from it by claiming that it improves the quality of the service. But it's hard to imagine that one needs 900 hours of training and a license in order to offer a shave. After all, MadAnthony has been shaving himself since puberty on a nearly-daily basis (until my recent attempt to grow a beard) and has yet to injure himself. On the other hand, I am a licensed driver, yet most of my coworkers would argue that they have little faith in my driving abilities.

So licensing barbers is just a chance for those who have barber licenses to make more money by restricting competition. And I think the Idaho debate is a great example of rent seeking.


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