Mobile Barber Shops? Good Idea, But Never Mind.

WHY NOT JUST DEREGULATE?

Ronald Reagan used to tell a joke that went like this: “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” Members of the South Carolina House have taken the middle part of the joke – if it keeps moving, regulate it – to a new level. In April, the House passed a bill that would create a “mobile barbershop” license. This license would allow barbers to put their businesses on wheels, much like food trucks, which in turn would allow them to reach more demographics of their communities – for instance, the sick or homebound.

The mobile barbershop license comes with all the usual regulations – permitting requirements, fees, mandatory inspections, licensure for the barber in charge, and so on. The bill isn’t a deregulation measure, therefore: it’s simply granting governmental permission to do business in a certain way. And it does so by promulgating a new occupational license that brings in yet another government revenue stream.

Barbers, of course, already face an array of regulations. To become a licensed barber in South Carolina, an applicant needs 1,500 hours of barber school, in which licensing laws are an actual part of the curriculum, or to complete a year of on-the-job training under a qualified instructor (who himself requires his own instructor’s license to teach, and may only take two students at a time). On top of this, licensed barbers must renew their existing licenses with the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (LLR) at the end of June each year at a cost of $150 annually. Barbers are also charged fees for changing a business names, changing locations, acquiring other businesses – all amounting to hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fees.

Of course, if lawmakers wanted to help barbers, or to create a freer environment in which barbers could operate, they could simply make the barbershop license cover mobile operations as well – no new fee required. But House leaders, no doubt responding to industry interest groups, chose instead to create an entirely new regulatory regime for mobile barbering.

The occupation shouldn’t be licensed at all. The only real effect of occupational licensing is stifling competition and increasing consumer cost. Sometimes, as in the case of mobile barbering, new regulations discourage innovation. Mobile barbering could revolutionize the industry and give people access to a service who wouldn’t otherwise benefit from it. But not with this new regulatory program.

South Carolina currently requires licenses for over 139 professions and occupations, including everything from soil classification to funeral service to braiding hair. These government entities don’t have the knowledge or capacity to keep up with innovations in all these fields, and many of the regulations imposed on private businesses are obsolete, draconian, and perverse. In most cases, private industries themselves are better suited to create quality-control criteria and accompanying credentials. Customers are more than capable of using these privately generated seals of approval. Once industries are allowed to use the force of law to regulate businesses, regulation becomes a tool by which established firms discourage competition and innovation.

The South Carolina Senate will take the bill up when session starts back in January.

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