Permission to Live the American Dream


March 20, 2017 1:34PM

When people hear the term “occupational licensing,” they probably conjure up an image of a doctor, a nurse, or a lawyer. They likely don’t envision salon hair washers, hair braiders, land surveyors, or horse massage therapists. But the reality is that occupational licensing, once reserved for professions that directly impacted one’s health or safety, has grown to encompass far, far more.

Back in the 1950s, only one in 20 workers needed a license to do their jobs. It has since grown to one-in-three. This means that millions of Americans must first get government permission to work, and usually that can only happen after spending hundreds or even thousands of hours in a classroom, taking a test, and then paying a fee to the state.

And guess who oversees this madness. Most often, it’s none other than the very competitors of those seeking to enter a given occupation. Want to be a barber? You’ll have to get permission from a board of barbers. A locksmith? Grovel before a commission of locksmiths. And on and on it goes.

Not only do unelected industry insiders lord over these boards, they often have unfettered authority to expand their power. So is the case with Tennessee’s veterinary board, which arbitrarily declared animal massage therapy the practice of veterinary medicine, shutting down our clients’ business with the stroke of a pen. Despite being trained in horse massage therapy, Martha Stowe and Laurie Wheeler (who is actually licensed to massage humans as well) have been threatened with fines and even criminal penalties for massaging horses without a vet license.

Fortunately, we at Beacon are poised to uproot this weed. If a license is not necessary to protect the health and safety of consumers, it should meet the chopping block. Hopefully our legal challenge to the horse massage rule will succeed, and Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed eliminating the state’s shampoo licensing law after we filed a lawsuit challenging it. But this is just the beginning. Last year, the Tennessee legislature became the first in the nation to pass a Right to Earn a Living Act. With it, more and more licensing laws will face the scrutiny they deserve.

It is unconscionable that we have turned the right to earn a living into a system that requires Americans to beg for government permission just to do their job. People shouldn’t need permission to live the American Dream.