Hypocrisy and Tragedy in Occupational Licensing

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On ideological grounds, I’d suggest that Shoshana Weissman overplays the equivalence, here:

The Left complains of the undue political influence bought by wealthy special interests, but it regularly trusts the actions and intent of the very government that is subject to that influence. Meanwhile, the Right complains that big government is overly intrusive and burdensome, but it denies the existence of the systemic inequality that results from its overreach. Maybe we should all focus on correcting our own hypocrisies before we turn to those of our political opponents.

First, I think Weissman misuses the word “hypocrisy.”  What she’s describing, in this paragraph, are blind spots, and you can’t be hypocritical if you’re missing a big part of the equation.  More importantly, it seems to me Weissman must be searching for some way to find a “pox on both their houses” angle if she thinks that conservatives, as a group, don’t often point to the reality that government fosters inequality; if we do anything too much along these lines, it’s to deny that the free market can create inequality, too.  It also seems to me that these two observations are qualitatively different, with the left-wing one being an example of a blind spot that actually undermines their first principle, while the right-wing one is, at most, an example of cavalier treatment of an important concern.

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Overriding all this, though, is the sad story that Weissman shares:

Sandy Meadows was a widow living in Louisiana who used floristry to support herself — something she’d not had to do before her husband passed away. Unfortunately for Meadows, the state of Louisiana requires an occupational license in order to arrange flowers. She repeatedly attempted to pass the licensing exam — a largely subjective aesthetic test — but she was unable to do so. “A panel of working florists would grade the arrangements and decide whether the applicant was good enough to set up shop and compete with them. Usually they said no,” wrote her lawyer, Clark Neily.

Upon learning that Meadows was managing the floral department at a grocery store, the Louisiana Horticulture Commission threatened to shut down the entire store if she did not cease her unlicensed practice of floristry. The store was ultimately forced to let Meadows go.

Meadows wound up dying alone and in poverty (perhaps of suicide).  What makes the story notably tragic is that she had managed to find a job and was removed from it because of the protectionism inherent in occupational licensing.  We should never forget, though, that we can’t know how many people suffer in similar circumstances because they couldn’t get that job in the first place.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    a largely subjective aesthetic test

    On that basis, I wonder how many art museums could be shuttered? Along with several private galleries I can think of.

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