TOS Blog: Daily Commentary from an Objectivist Perspective

It’s Time to End Occupational Licensure

A virulent epidemic is violating American’s rights and sapping the U.S. economy: occupational licensure.

The statistics are astounding. According to Forbes’ Suzanne Hoppough, from 1960 to 2007 the percentage of U.S. workers belonging to a licensed profession rose from 4.5 percent to 28 percent. In all, writes Hoppough, occupations requiring a government license in at least one state—including dentists, plumbers, hairdressers, secretaries, librarians, wallpaper hangers, and florists—rose from 80 in 1980 to 1100 by 2008.

The economic cost is incalculable. Licensure restricts the supply of workers in the occupations affected, stifling innovation and entrepreneurship, suppressing competition, and driving up prices. And the violation of American’s rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness are patent: We are forbidden to act or contract in accordance with our judgment, forbidden to pursue our happiness as we see fit, forbidden to earn a living in these areas unless we have permission, in the form of a license, from the state.

What drives the licensure epidemic? It is fueled, in large part, by the established members of the various occupations themselves, through myriad professional organizations such as the National Association of Mortgage Brokers, American Dental Association, and the Cleveland Bar Association. Writes Hoppough: “These modern-day guilds have replaced organized labor as the main vehicle for workers seeking to shield themselves from competition.” Institute for Justice President William Mellor observes that they are “monopolies created by the government.”

But by seeking government “protection,” the guilds have sold their souls to the devil. Statists are beginning to discover the extortive power that government licensure accords them, and they are using that power against those who have helped hand it to them. Consider a few examples:

  • A Florida legislator threatens a doctor with loss of his medical license for exercising his First Amendment rights.
  • A proposed Massachusetts law would force health care providers to treat Medicare and Medicaid patients as a condition of their medical licenses.
  • Beginning next year, New York lawyers will be required to perform fifty hours of free legal services as a condition of their law licenses.

Licensure is anti-freedom, anti-American, and pro-statism—it violates our rights, squelches our liberties, and throttles the economy in myriad ways—and it is high time for Americans to call for its abolition.

Without licensure laws, how would we know whether a person or company is of sufficient credibility, quality, or safety to do business with? By reference to the various companies and institutions that fill the vital demand for information about credibility, quality, and safety.

Consumers want such information (hence the concern), so, in a free market, where people are free to act and to do business in accordance with their own judgment, profit-seeking businesses and nonprofit institutions arise to provide it. Indeed, such organizations already abound.

Consider, for instance, occupational accreditation that is voluntarily instituted in various professional and trade associations, such as the American Dental Association through its Commission on Dental Accreditation and the National Institute for Metalworking Skills. Consider also Zagat, which rates restaurants; Underwriters Laboratories (UL), which provides product safety testing for a wide range of industries; and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which provides a wide range of services including personnel certification and accreditation.

If Americans want information about the credibility, quality, and safety of the people and organizations with whom they do business, they do not need to get such information from the government (nor can the government competently provide such information). Rather, they need freedom—and the goods and services that flow from self-interested people operating under the principle of supply and demand in the marketplace.

It is time for Americans to call for an end to occupational licensure and to demand, instead, that the government protect and not violate our rights.

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Posted in: Individual Rights and Law

Comments are welcome so long as they are civil.
  • Mike Kevitt

     “…time for Americans to call for…”.  Who in the days of yore called for an end of guild monopolies?  The people?  They were serfs.  Was an end ever even called for, even in effect, before 1776?, and then only in effect and only implicitly.  After then, it continued in some small measure until after WWII when it took off again, still rocketing today. 

    The people of today are still like serfs, philosophically, not so affected by being educated.  They are “social ballast” (Ayn Rand’s fitting term), passively accepting, subconsciously and implicitly, the mainstream cultural philosophy of the day, INCLUDING THE PHILOSOPHY PhDs.  So they’re indoctrinated, and their education merely feeds that.

    Since, it appears, we need majority votes to re-recognize our rights, smaller groups must put rational philosophy of human life under their noses, with some drilling on specifics, to activate their minds, philosophically, to explicitly accept or reject any philosophy and philosophy as such, consciously.  Then, their votes at the polls, in legislatures and judicial decisions, etc. will have objective, identifiable cause, whether they do, or don’t recognize rights. 

    We don’t want ballast making the decision for or against rights.  Ballast doesn’t have the competence or authority to decide about rights.  If those WITH the competence vote, they’d best show their authority by voting the right way, by voting for rights.


    An important thing for people to recognize is that licensure laws are as inappropriate for medical doctors and pharmacists as they are for hairdressers and nail salons. Exposing the cosmetology licensing racket works for John Stossel on TV because it appeals to many Americans’ basic common-sense. With a little more discussion about principles, we can help people make the connection to fields like medicine, too.

    Another video I recall:

  • Angie Detriot

    We should end all government certification of trades and professionals as well.   If you want to fly a plan,  just buy one and take it up into the skies.  Who is the government to say you know what you’r doing.  You want to be a dentist?  Buy a chair and get her done!

  • Chris Walker

    Any group that has the ability to define licensure or government mandated standards in any field faces a money-making bonanza where legitimate businesses, often small ones, can be victimized by full-time regulatory controllers backed by unlimited funding.   The best ones come from licenses imposed on existing organizations, starting with regulated fields, such as alcohol sales or medicine to fields where it is pointless to regulate, ie., plumbing.  Around that license then is a certification and training infrastructure which can grow to mammoth proportions until it itself is regulated so that only certain organizations can meet the qualifications to perform training.  If that profession can then be associated with a degree, i.e, paralegals, it can then be open to the funnel of federal financial aid.  With that comes more and more educational institution controls, turning that specific profession into a financial calculation, but also then increasing risks associated with providing loans to individuals where the terms may change on a whim.  All that is left are requirements that an individual must obtain government permission to enter a field (which exists already because even an arrest record may be enough to prevent entry), to change fields (which was a mainstay of the Roman Empire), to be hired by a specific company (as in Europe),  and potentially to create a rule that professions as well as allowed markets are what a person is born into:  Guild socialism.  It took the Black Death to break the shackles of the last peak of this practices due to the sheer lack of available labor to do anything.  Note the number of global pandemic, zombie or alien invasion movies, i.e., The Darkest Hour, where official professions mean little and what matters is courage, knowledge possessed, and the ability to plan and think.  Maybe it is time for a “Guild Apocalypse”, because despite the possession of government certifications, there is absolutely no proof that this has anything to do with competence.  If you found your last doctor by looking through the last list of government licensees in your area, please raise your hand.

  • Michael A LaFerrara


    Operating licensure is outside the scope of this post.
    But as to that “dentist,” unscrupulous practitioners can (and do) operate on the fringes of any occupation. That’s why we have anti-fraud and criminal negligence laws and the like. Government should vigorously enforce these laws, rather than hamper honorable, productive people with licensure requirements.Civil court redress is also available to anyone believed to have been harmed as a result of work performed by unqualified personnel. In a free market, there are strong legal and market incentives for tradesmen and professionals to voluntarily seek certifications in their occupational fields from trusted accreditation firms, as their own judgements dictate. All we need from government is for it to do its job of protecting individual rights.

  • ScottW

    Right on! I have been unemployed for four years (although I have not accepted “unemployment benefits” because they are coerced by govt) and I will soon start selling my homemade pet supplies (scratching posts, dog “tug of war” toys, etc.) door to door. I am worried that some joker will ask me if I have a license and get me all riled up, or that I will be arrested by the police for finally trying to make some money.