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Raising prices and reducing opportunities in one easy lesson

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary.

Adam Smith (1776). Wealth of Nations (I.10.82)

Restraint of trade comes in many forms.  One is in the form of price fixing by sellers.  Price-fixing agreements have long been unenforceable  under common law, but the practice was made expressly illegal under the Sherman Antitrust Act, passed in the late nineteenth century.  Our national policy attempts to promote competition.

Another form of restraining trade is for producers in the industry to get together and lobby the legislature to erect what economists call “barriers to entry” to make it hard for new competitors to get into the industry.  We see state legislatures protecting those in some politically potent professions at the expense of both potential competitors and overall competition.  What this means is the favored get to work in particular professions while newcomers must jump over hurdles to get a job in that area that often contribute to neither the worker’s productivity nor the safety of the public.  At the same time, these restraints of trade make the good or service more costly without reducing risk to the buyer or improves value to the buyer.

Here is a recent opinion article from the Louisiana political blog The Hay Ride, which notes that occupational licensing in Louisiana makes it harder for Louisiana workers to get jobs than in other states.  Louisiana is cited by a study from the Institute for Justice as having more occupations covered by licensing than any other state and our license requirements are among the toughest.  Here is a video from the Institute for Justice on occupational licensing.  As thOne of my favorite examples of unneeded occupational licensing is for massage therapy.   What protects consumers from ill prepared or unprofessional massage therapists if they were not licensed?  Those therapists businesses would shrink to a level that they could not make a living as they get no repeat business, and it gets around that they are not very good.  In other words, people do not get massages from people they think “rub them the wrong way.” 

And even worse, the gain to those in the profession only comes to those who got in before the licensing.  Those who get in later have to pay for the extra schooling and the licensing fees. 

-MC

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