Last week, the Obama Administration released a report on the effects of occupational licensing, and calling for reforms that would better protect the rights of entrepreneurs and workers to earn a living without unreasonable government interference. This is a gratifying development: licensing laws often bar the nation’s hardest-working people from earning a living, not to protect the public, but simply to protect the private interests of already-existing businesses that don’t want competition. As the report says, licensing laws cost millions of jobs and raise the cost of living by billions of dollars: “The stakes involved are high, and to help our economy grow to its full potential we need to create a 21st century regulatory system—one that protects public health and welfare while promoting economic growth, innovation, competition, and job creation.” This week I’ll be parsing the report and discussing some of its recommendations.
What practical effect will the report have? It suggests a number of “best practices” for states to follow when regulating businesses, but it has no specific suggestion for legislative changes, and that’s partly because most restrictions on economic freedom are at the state, rather than the federal level. Although federal courts could certainly do a lot more to protect the constitutional right to earn a living, this report’s recommendations—though many are valid—fall a little short.
But there are some things Congress could do today to protect economic freedom more effectively. In my latest article in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, I suggest three ways it could prevent the abuse of licensing laws:
For more details, consult my article.
The right to earn a living is a basic human right, and one that is fundamentally important to the promotion and protection of the American Dream. Unfortunately, entrepreneurs are typically shut out of the lawmaking process and have little hope of defending that right in state legislatures against the private interests that frequently use their power to outlaw their own competition. The point of the Fourteenth Amendment was to protect civil rights against the intrusions of state governments—and there’s no reason Washington could not act now to give real meaning to that promise.