The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page applauds the White House’s recent report on the problems with occupational licensing, though it does so grudgingly: “Liberals are slowly discovering that the regulatory state they helped create undermines job creation and income growth, in particular for the least skilled and educated workers,” the editorial starts. “This epiphany is overdue, but progress is progress if a left-right reform coalition emerges for more open labor markets.”
Okay, but let’s be fair. While the left has traditionally shown little enthusiasm for the vital constitutional right of economic liberty, conservatives are every bit as much to blame for the dismal state of the law in this area. Conservatives have typically been at least as eager as liberals to condemn the Supreme Court’s 1905 Lochner decision, for instance, which (aside from being rightly decided) stands today as a symbol of legal protection for economic freedom. And Republicans as well as Democrats deserve blame for the many licensing restrictions and other hindrances on entrepreneurship and free enterprise in the states. Louisiana has required a license for florists since 1939. That state’s had a Republican governor for 17 of the last 35 years, and the state legislature’s controlled by Republicans right now. They haven’t repealed it. Nevada, which has the nation’s most anti-competitive licensing law, finally passed a repeal bill earlier this year–only to have it vetoed by Republican Governor Brian Sandoval.
If the Obama White House is showing more sensitivity to the importance of economic freedom today, we should applaud that step rather than going out of our way to chide them for the lateness of their discovery, particularly when both sides have plenty of blame on their hands. Constitutional rights are for people of every party. That includes the right to economic liberty. If we agree that licensing and other restrictions on economic freedom are a cruel and unnecessary violation of the right to earn a living–which they certainly are–then let’s try to fix this problem now, regardless of party affiliation.