America: Land Of The free Licensed

From the Economist, a nice little story about government regulation and all the benefits costs to society.

In the wild, horses eat tough grass that naturally wears down their teeth. In captivity, they are fed softer food they can eat more quickly, so their teeth grow unchecked. Unless filed down—a process known as “floating”—they can grow too long and cut the horse’s cheeks. Floating is hard work. Carl Mitz has been doing it for 22 years. He calms each horse before holding its mouth open and vigorously filing its teeth by hand until they are just so. A third-generation horseman, he says he has handled 100,000 horses. His customers are satisfied, judging by the sheaf of testimonials on his desk. But the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners wants to shut him down.

Mr Mitz may be a skilled artisan, but he is not a vet. And the board says that only vets may float horses’ teeth. If Mr Mitz persists in doing his job, he will be practising veterinary medicine without a licence. The penalty could include steep fines and even prison. Mr Mitz is miffed. Even if he could get into vets’ school, which he doubts, he could not possibly afford the fees. And he does not see why he should take years off work and pay tens of thousands of dollars to pursue studies that may not help him in his work. Vets’ schools typically teach little about equine dentistry. “It’s ludicrous,” he says.

Coming up next, the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners plans to outlaw tough grass, as it allows unlicensed horses to float their own teeth.

This is something that has come up many times on this blog and elsewhere. A group of professionals, in an effort to secure their own jobs through protectionism, institute licensing schemes for the good of the horses public. And in the process, they hurt consumers and hurt potential fellow producers, enriching themselves using the police power of the state.

There’s nothing remarkable about this story that would cause me to include it here, except the sheer insanity of the case. Much like the woman stopped from engaging in a hair-braiding business because she hadn’t completed a full 1500 hours of cosmetology school, this is a case of someone who excels at a very specialized task being forced into licensure for a much, much wider field. And the task they excel in isn’t rocket surgery, and won’t cause anyone harm (except maybe a sore scalp for one of the braidees, or a little toothache for a horse).

This is simply another absurd example of a basic libertarian principle: regulation in theory may be good, but regulation in practice is usually counterproductive, costly, and hurts consumers (the very people it is intended to help).

  • somebody

    I think the number one problem is that people don’t question government actions anymore. Most people, when you ask them, think that whatever gov’t does is necessary . . . you know, for the good of the country.