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Grant Bosse: Licensing restricts the right to work in NH

March 20. 2017 9:43PM

Rest assured, Granite Staters. Your state government is hard at work protecting you from violent crime, dirty water and bad hair days.

The state Board of Barbering, Cosmetology and Esthetics regulates who can cut hair professionally in New Hampshire.

In order to obtain a barber’s license, you need to have a high school degree, 800 hours of instruction at a state-approved barbering school, 1,600 hours apprenticing under an already licensed barber, pass a test and pay a fee. There are even steeper requirements for cosmetology, defined as “arranging, dressing, curling, waving, cleansing, cutting, bleaching, coloring or similarly treating the hair of any person.”

If you want to be an esthetician, which means someone who applies makeup professionally, you only need 600 hours of training.

Until last year, New Hampshire was one of only five states that required shampoo assistants, who don’t actually touch the scissors, to get a state license. Hey, getting shampoo in your eyes can really sting, so we needed protection.

I was a little sorry to see the shampoo apprentice license repealed as part of an overhaul of the barbering statute, just because it made such a wonderful example of the overreach of occupational licensing.

Having to get permission from state bureaucrats to do a job restricts the right to work in New Hampshire. Like most obstacles in the workplace, they are hardest for the poor and poorly educated to overcome.

This evening, I’ll be moderating a panel discussion on occupational licensing in New Hampshire, sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute. The Koch name may send some liberal readers down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, but this issue cuts across the political and ideological spectrum.

In 2015, the Obama administration published a lengthy report on the increase in occupational licensing across state government in the name of protecting consumers from dangerous or incompetent service businesses. The report found: “However, the quality, health and safety benefits of licensing do not always materialize. When they do, they come at a cost that is easy to overlook because it is borne by many different people and is difficult to observe in day-to-day experience.”

Even when there’s a case to be made that a profession could pose a risk to the public, there’s little evidence that state licensing requirements actually protect customers any better than the free market would.

Can the emerging Reputation Economy, powered by apps like Uber and Yelp, provide consumers with better protection than state gatekeepers?

Washington State Rep. Matt Manweller sponsored a bill to replace state licensing requirements for seven professions with online review portals. You could rate your manicurist or auctioneer, giving the next customer feedback on the provider’s quality, cost and reliability.

Licensing hurdles delay the ability of workers to re-enter the workforce in a new profession, impose costs on people who can least afford them, and can put immovable roadblocks in the way of anyone convicted of a crime.

There’s a libertarian case that the market could ultimately provide better protection than any licensing requirement, even for highly-skilled professions like doctors. I’m not making that case. I’m fine requiring doctors to go to medical school and get a license. But do athletic trainers necessarily need a bachelor’s degree? Does a dietitian need to register with the state in order to tell me to eat fewer cheeseburgers and more vegetables? I think online reviews could do as much to ensure safe, quality hair care as a state licensing board.

The Institute for Justice ranks New Hampshire slightly better than the average state for putting up such barriers to employment, but that still leaves plenty of room for improvement. On today’s Opinion page (A7) Will Ruger and Dana Wade examine how New Hampshire’s licensing barriers compare to other states.

Let’s make it easier for people looking for new professions to grab a rung on the economic ladder.

Grant Bosse is the editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News.

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