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The Society-Wide Human Cost of Occupational Licensing

Apply this principle — from a Reason interview with a Boston hair stylist:

If people want to work in Zona’s salons, in virtually any capacity, they must first obtain a cosmetologist license from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. That’s true even for positions that don’t have anything to do with cutting, coloring, or styling hair. Even shampooing or blow-drying hair, or being a stylist’s assistant—the types of entry-level jobs that allow someone to test out the profession before deciding whether to work in it—must be filled only by licensed professionals. …

These one-size-fits-all licensing rules make it harder to find new employees. They also contribute to high turnover in the profession, Zona says, because newly minted cosmetologists who never had a chance to try an entry-level job before getting a license often leave the profession because it’s different from what they expected. That’s not good for businesses, which want a stable workforce, and it’s even worse for those workers who wasted thousands of dollars and months of their lives.

This can’t be a problem only in hair styling, and if we consider the cost in human potential (for people who never find their vocation because of licensing walls) as well as in innovation (due to the loss of variety and perspectives), licensing is doing real harm to our entire society.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to be (for whatever reason) the sort of person whom others ask to do something when they just can’t find anybody.  I’ve done sales, teaching, graphic design, construction, and countless one-off projects for pay and as a volunteer.  Some of those efforts turned out better than others (some ended pretty badly), but that’s life, and outcomes vary dramatically even for people who go through years of training, but they’ve already invested so much that their options are limited.

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Bringing Logic to the Net Neutrality Debate

The Sunday Providence Journal carried my op-ed on net neutrality:

Really, with what other service do people insist that customers’ only options must be everything or nothing? Should we all have to have the same gym memberships? Should every car have to have the same engine and the same sound system?

A preference for an all-or-nothing industry, as with health care, tends to mean that the advocates want to be able to control the “all” so they can control our lives. Auton and Holden probably have no such intent, but following their suggestion would clear a path for those who do.

One comment, from Mike Berry illustrates the challenge of political discourse these days:

Hard to follow the logic here.
Mandatory free and open access cannot possibly restrict what ISPs sell us. It does the opposite.
Internet access is not like gym memberships or auto service. It should be a utility in which, yes, we ALL get the same thing!!

Notice the immediate logical inconsistency in Berry’s response.  On the one hand, he says net neutrality “cannot possibly restrict what ISPs sell us”; on the other hand, he insists that ISPs should sell everybody the exact same thing.

Objectively, it appears that Berry is tangled up in the talking points.  Proponents of net neutrality use phrases like “mandatory free and open access” because that implies more access not less, but using a talking point doesn’t mean it’s accurate.  Maybe if Internet access were some boundless resource that could simply be plucked for free and distributed without limit, but that isn’t the case.

The mention of utilities is also instructive.  Think about your electric bill.  Regulators and activists are working to ensure that you cannot get electricity from coal while they force you to pay extra for politically favored energy like wind.

In that case, we’re only talking about how the product is generated.  With the Internet, the control of the “utility” would implicitly cover what we receive.  We’ll quickly find that disfavored content — the coal of the Internet — is blocked while we wind up with government fees on our bills to fund content or services to which we object.

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Rhode Island Shouldn’t Let the Manufacturing Surge Pass Us By

To some extent, a commentary essay by  David Farr and Jay Timmons is a bit of a promotional spot for their organizations and the manufacturing industry generally, but this is broadly encouraging:

At the end of 2017, the National Association of Manufacturers surveyed its membership and the results were recording-breaking. Almost 95 percent of respondents felt positive about the outlook of their businesses — an all-time high in the survey’s 20-year history.

From our perch in Rhode Island, however, it’s difficult not to gulp a little at this:

Manufacturers’ newfound confidence didn’t happen by accident. Major developments in Washington, D.C., dramatically improved the business climate in the United States, most notably regulatory relief and, at the end of the year, historic tax reform.

It all freed up time, energy and resources that would otherwise have gone toward complying with complicated federal rules and the highest tax rates in the developed world. As a result, manufacturers are investing in their people and communities. We’re seeing story after story of businesses expanding their operations, offering raises or bonuses, buying new equipment and hiring new workers.

It’s early, yet, for state-level analysis, but early indications from economic data suggest that the national surge has been weaker in Rhode Island, if it hasn’t been passing us by entirely.  We need to impress upon our elected officials that they must change the approach of state government.

(via Stephen Green)

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Misconceptions About Net Neutrality and Who Wants to Control Us

Rhode Island Library Association heads Kieran Auton and Julie Holden recently published an op-ed in the Providence Journal that opens with a misleading introduction and moves into a silly argument about net neutrality.  Here’s the introduction:

These days, when we talk on the phone, send a text, or stream a movie, we expect our experience to be seamless. If we are at work, at school, at home, or in the library, being online and being connected is a way of life. Yet, our state is economically diverse, and many cannot afford internet service in their homes. Every day, thousands of Rhode Islanders go to their local library for free high-speed internet access. In fact, libraries are the main provider of internet access for many in our

Ending net neutrality is not about allowing Internet service providers to put the screws to low-income households and low-revenue non-profits.  If anything, it opens the possibility of getting the Internet into households that don’t have it, because it allows the variation of plans.  Perhaps a low-income household can’t afford the cost of a plan with streaming television and video games but could afford a plan that allows its members to do job searches and school research and other classic Internet activities.  Perhaps a library could differentiate its Internet access, with a few dedicated machines for high-powered activity, but many more for activities more typical of a library, like reading and research.

The policy that Auton and Holden prefer is akin to forcing everybody to buy the same data plan for their cell phones.  Internet providers are companies.  They need customers, and they won’t stay in business long if they don’t give customers what they want.  Differentiation helps that objective.  Really, with what other service do people insist that customers’ only options must be everything or nothing?

Typically, the answer to that question is that a preference for an all-or-nothing industry, as with health care, tends to mean that the advocates want to be able to control the “all” so they can control our lives.

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Pushing for Occupational Licensing

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has today released a media and information page and an initial brief supporting reform of occupational licensing laws and other regulations.  From the second link:

Rhode Islanders Dream, Too. The right to earn a living in the profession of one’s choice without government interference is fundamental to each person’s freedom to fulfill his or her individual dreams and goals. In making Rhode Island a less friendly place to call home for Americans looking to fulfill a lifelong dream, to raise a family, and to build a career, our state government restricts that right by forcing too many of its residents to seek its permission and to overcome burdensome and costly barriers before engaging in meaningful work.

In a comprehensive national analysis of occupational licensing barriers for low-to-middle-income workers and aspiring entrepreneurs, a 2017 Institute for Justice report ranked Rhode Island among the 10 most widely and onerously licensed states. Already suffering bottom 10 rankings on the Family Prosperity Index (FPI), overall business climate, and on Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), Rhode Islanders should be provided with every opportunity to engage in gainful work.

Unfortunately, Rhode Island is becoming less of a “home of the free” and more of a “land that requires permission.” For many, the costly fees and training mandates that are irrationally and unfairly imposed on certain occupations presents an insurmountable barrier to engaging in a new profession. As one factor in its bottom 10 FPI ranking, the lack of opportunity to engage in prosperous work has forced tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders to move out of state, bringing with them billions of dollars of income earning potential.

Rhode Island’s dismal business climate, because of excessively high levels of taxation and regulation, keeps our state uncompetitive on a regional and national basis. Especially hard hit are low-income occupations for which earning a primary or secondary income is vital to family self-sufficiency.

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The Unhealthy Restrictions of Being the 3rd Worst State for Zoning

When it comes to national rankings, those that show Rhode Island badly on the wrong side abound.  Ted Nesi highlights another one, on WPRI:

Rhode Island has some of the most restrictive regulations for land development in the country, which is likely raising the cost of housing in the state, according to a recent study.

The study by Vanessa Brown Calder, a researcher at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute think tank, ranked Rhode Island as the 3rd most restrictive state for zoning regulation and the 8th most restrictive for land-use regulation.

“These constraints on land development within cities and suburbs aim to achieve various safety, environmental, and aesthetic goals,” Calder wrote. “But the regulations have also tended to reduce the supply of housing, including multifamily and low-income housing. With reduced supply, many U.S. cities suffer from housing affordability problems.”

Progressives tend to look at housing affordability as a welfare issue, because they generally like the idea that government can tell people what they can, can’t, and must do with their property.  The solution, for them, is to use government’s power to take people’s money in order to transfer it to those whom them zoning regulations lock out of housing.  Naturally, this has the advantage of requiring everybody to go to government for benefits and permissions, as well as creating that money-power funnel I mentioned yesterday.

But immobilizing people in this way is not healthy, whether by making it difficult for them to find new homes or layering government forms on them whenever they do move.  Beyond simply the principle of freedom is its practical value.  Allowing people to move from place to place and adapt their homes (whether by price or by function) creates opportunities for them that benefit society as a whole, especially when it comes to the economy.

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Airport Pickups an Early Question of a Gig Economy

For the Providence Journal, Jim Hummel has an article and video report on T.F. Green’s minimum charge for short-term parking and requirement for ride-sharing drivers (from, e.g., Uber and Lyft) to pick up in that lot:

Taking the statements of everybody in the report at face value, there are certainly two sides to the story.  The airport has to operate on its own revenue, and ride-sharing is eating into that revenue, so the money has to come from somewhere.

That said, accommodations could surely be found so that ride-sharing drivers could pick up closer to the door and under shelter.  The fee for pickups is a matter of negotiation, but convenience is a matter of protectionism.

Moreover, these are questions that we’re going to have to figure out how to answer, because technology is going to keep disrupting old arrangements like exclusive access for a single taxi company.

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Are We Trying to End a Positive Trend?

The story of vaping in schools has appeared in a number of places in the past few days. Here’s Jessica Picard reporting in the Valley Breeze:

“Our concern is that we are seeing an increasing trend in vaping. We thought it was important that we share with parents what we are seeing,” said Supt. Robert Mitchell.

Increased use of e-cigarettes is not just in the high school, but in the middle schools as well, said school officials.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, current use of electronic cigarettes increased among middle and high school students from 2011 to 2016. The CDC reported that in 2016, about four out of every 100 middle school students and 11 out of every 100 high school students said they had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.

In isolation, this may indeed be a bad thing, but that’s not how we should look at it.  According to the federal Department of Health & Human Services, “from 2011 to 2015, the percentage of 12th-grade students who had ever used an e-cigarette increased from 4.7 to 16 percent.”  But over that same period of time, the percentage of seniors who said the same about actual cigarettes decreased from 10.3% to 5.5%.  Smokeless tobacco (like snuff and chewing tobacco) is down from 8.3% to 6.1%.  (These groups aren’t exclusive, meaning that there’s some overlap between them.)

As of 2014, more students had used an e-cigarette than an actual cigarette.  The question that the advocates and (in turn) the journalists miss is this:  If the alternative to e-cigarettes is not nothing, but smoking or chewing tobacco, isn’t this outcome positive?

Looking at the trend for teenage smoking, the line is down, down, down since the mid-90s.  That’s what one would expect as the rules and social pressure have changed.  When I was a high school smoker back then, we were still able to go out to the smoking area behind the library.  No doubt as that convenience decreased, fewer kids bothered.

It could be that some percentage of teenagers will simply do something “adult” and addictive like smoking.  It’s probably better to allow that to be something like smoking, rather than smoking itself.

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