It’s Harder to Become a Barber Than a Politician


May 9, 2018 11:55AM

Not everybody is going to graduate high school. The question is what are we going to do about it?

The one thing we should not do is make it harder to get a job. Someone without a high school diploma is going to have more limited options than someone with a degree. One of the few things you can do without a diploma is become a barber. Barbers enjoy high pay, independence, and can possibly turn the job into ownership of a business.

As you may already know, that can’t happen in Tennessee. Tennessee has a law that makes it illegal to become a barber without a high school degree. Why, exactly, has been something of a mystery. When the law was passed in 2015, no one bothered to explain it.

This last legislative session lawmakers debated repealing the law. Unfortunately, they opted to retain it. But at least they gave a reason. They wanted to encourage people to graduate high school. This is a really great example of a poorly examined rationale.

Number One—not graduating high school is a reality for some people. It’s not as simple as saying all of those people are underachievers. People may be forced by life circumstances beyond their control to drop out of high school, like, say, being orphaned at age 13 and having to take care of two of your siblings. That is the case for Elias Zarate, a hardworking father of two in Memphis. Do we really want to tell this person he can’t be a barber? Some people simply can’t pass the work, others cannot afford to take away from their work to go back to school. It’s not a question of motivation. What do we do with them? We’d rather impoverish them to send a message?

Number Two—we are awfully selective about which jobs we chose to use to send a message to stay in school. Jobs that do not require a high school degree include “elected official,” otherwise known as the people who write the laws including this one. Why do we demand barbers graduate high school to send a message to STAY IN SCHOOL but not politicians? And — unlike barbering — what a person actually learns in high school is relevant to being an elected official. Knowing core civics and history are probably quite useful to a state elected official. One wonders how those subjects could possibly be useful for barbers.

Americans can’t stand it when we enact silly laws that just hurt people, especially when good people just want to work and be left alone. But Americans have special reservoirs of outrage when politicians write rules that don’t apply to them. For these reasons, Tennessee should do away with silly roadblocks that do nothing but prevent good people from working a good job.