On punishing plumbers

October 15, 2014 | By ETHAN BLEVINS

In the midst of a struggling economy, California has decided to crack down on the nefarious handymen that you hire to fix your stuff. Thanks to a new California law, honest people trying to scrape by doing repair or construction work now face greater barriers to feeding their families.

California has long required costly licenses for construction contractors. For decades, the “Joint Enforcement Strike Force” (a group that sounds more like a legion of stormtroopers than a gaggle of nosy bureaucrats) has been “protecting” consumers from choosing who they want to hire. But the large contractors who might have to compete against unlicensed scallywags have asked the California government to do more. The state responded with a law that will make the most hardened Craigslist repair guy tremble.

Under this new law, the Joint Enforcement Strike Force will now have “full access to all places of labor” to check that contractors are licensed to do honest work. The new law also subjects unlicensed evildoers to criminal prosecution. As for the repeat offender who continues to enter into voluntary exchanges with abandon, a second offense will result in at least a $5000 fine and ninety days in jail. What else were California prisons going to do with all of that empty space, anyway? And Californians won’t find many cheap offers to fix stuff cluttering Craigslist anymore, because it’s now a crime for anyone to “advertise for construction or work of improvement unless that person holds a valid license.” But consumers won’t be accomplices in the crime of earning a living. Instead, if you hire the friendly neighborhood handyman to fix a leaky roof, you may be a “victim of crime” entitled to restitution for your “economic loss.”

In hard times, we might hope that governments would make it easier to find work and hire cheap labor. Instead, the California legislature listens to big businesses that don’t like competition. Licensed contractors complain that unlicensed folks undercut them. But government should level the playing field by removing the licensing requirement entirely. This would help workers and consumers. Costly licenses hurt consumers by raising the price of labor. And expensive licensing requirements mean that the poor and unemployed often can’t use skills that would otherwise put food on the table. But Californians no longer stand  a chance of hiring those unlicensed knaves now. And the unemployed folks who can’t afford a license but want to use a handy skill to get some work may now end up a convicted criminal. Thanks be to the state of California, which has again pulled its citizens back from the abyss of anarchy and freedom that mankind is so prone to plunge into.

To learn about Pacific Legal Foundation’s fight against unfair licensing and other threats to economic liberty, go here, here, and here.