Free Markets, Free People

Challenging licensing laws

What do doctors and florists have in common in the state of Louisiana?  Both have to be licensed by the state.  That’s right – the person who preforms heart surgery on you and the person who arranges the flowers you get afterward both have to meet licensing requirements set by the state.

A 7-decades-old state law requires florists to pass a test and get a license to arrange and sell flowers, making Louisiana the only state in the USA with such a requirement. Supporters of the law say it ensures florists know what they’re doing and deliver quality products.

“Know what they’re doing and deliver quality products?” I thought the market, i.e. customers, usually rewarded or punished those in that profession who didn’t “know what they’re doing and [don’t] deliver quality products”.

So is this licensing requirement a) rational b) necessary and even c) constitutional? What it certainly is, though, is a bar to entry into the market imposed by government.

The arguments about licensing in general fall on two sides. Some see no reason to license anything – the market will sort out the good from the bad. Those that approve of licensing argue than in many cases lives and health are at stake and, in such cases, it is the role of government to step in and ensure those who pursue those professions are competent enough to do so.

Arranging flowers certainly doesn’t seem to fit the category of a risk to either the life or health of their clients.

What it certainly does is limit those who can enter the market. First, it imposes a $2,000 licensing fee. That will obviously keep a certain percentage who might otherwise become florists from attempting it because they don’t have the money. Certainly that might be a small percentage and you can make the argument that anyone who can’t afford the fee probably can’t afford to be a florist, but is that your or the state’s call? Instead it is an artificial barrier to entry in the market arbitrarily imposed by the state.

And, usually, when such a bar to entry is evident, you’ll find businesses who’ve met the bar to be the most ardent of supporters. Why? Because it is an artificial means to limit competition. For instance, this case:

The test to obtain a Louisiana florist license consists of an 80-question written exam and a four-part hands-on section, where aspiring florists are scored on how well they put together funeral wreaths, table bouquets and other arrangements, said Mike Rome, vice president of the Louisiana State Florists’ Association, which supports the law.

On the written exam, candidates are asked questions about floral arranging and flowers in general, including how to prolong the life of flowers, wiring methods and plant identification.

In the design section, the aspiring florists have four hours to arrange four designs: a wedding arrangement, corsage, funeral wreath and table bouquet.

Judges then score the designs using guidelines such as “Has the design the proper focal point?,” “Is the correct gauge wire used on flowers?” and “Is a corsage pin attached to the corsage in a way that will not injure anyone?”

Candidates are judged by a panel of three licensed florists. The average score of the written and floral arrangement sections needs to be 70% or higher to pass. The arrangements are judged more on technical competence than creativity, Rome said.

“The florist license gives the consumer a little more assurance that you get a quality product,” Rome said. “Florists are artists; they’re very opinionated. But sometimes you have to follow industry standards.”

“Industry standards?” What “industry standards”. Louisiana is the only state in the union that licenses florists. So whatever standards are imposed by a rather biased group, who apparently brook very little deviation from whatever arbitrary standards they’ve dreamed up, have control over who or who doesn’t join them in that state’s florist market.

As John Stossel reminds us:

Established businesses have always used government to handcuff competition. Years ago, small grocers tried to ban supermarkets. A&P was going to “destroy Main Street,” the grocers cried. Minnesota legislators responded to their lobbying by passing a law that forbade supermarkets to hold sales. Consumers were hurt.

And that is the result of this legal travesty.

As it turns out, 4 would-be florists have taken the requirement to court:

A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court here last week is challenging the law’s constitutionality, claiming it infringes on a resident’s right to earn a living. The suit, filed by the Institute of Justice, a libertarian non-profit law firm based in Washington, D.C., lists as plaintiffs four local florists who have either failed the test or refuse to take it.

“Who is the state to tell me I’m not an artist?” said Monique Chauvin, 42, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Chauvin, owner of Mitch’s Flowers in New Orleans, failed the test in 2000 and has not retaken it. “It’s time for this archaic law to be off the books,” she said.

Chauvin, who has apparently owned a successful florist business in New Orleans for 10 years is defacto proof that the requirement is unnecessary. She’s obviously been successful enough in the marketplace (i.e. her customers find her floral arrangements satisfactory enough to keep her in business – even in a recession) without licensing to stay open for 10 years.

So, why is Chauvin bringing a lawsuit now? Enforcement:

Chauvin said her legal fight is about keeping her shop open through the economic recession. She now has two options: hire a licensed florist or take the test again. If not, she’ll be forced to close her shop.

The market, not a state panel, should be the final judge of her bouquets, she said.

“If a customer is not happy with what we do, he’s not going to come back to me,” Chauvin said. “That should be the quality control.”

Exactly. So in answer to the three questions above – a) it’s not rational.  It imposes arbitrary requirements as well as artificial bars to entry on a profession which threatens neither life or health. b) it’s not necessary. Consumers don’t need government “protection” from florists. and c) it’s most likely not constitutional since most would agree it interferes with a person’s fundamental right to earn an honest living in profession which doesn’t threaten life or health.

Of course, my use of the words “life or health” imply I find the licensing of those who work in professions that can have a detrimental effect on life or health, such as the medical field, to be ok.  Well, yes and no.  I think, for instance, a market solution is possible for those professions as well.  Think, for instance, if the American Medical Association, instead of being a shill for government health care reform, was a body that set minimal professional standards for the medical profession and anyone seeking membership had to demonstrate competence enough to meet those standards.   If you were seeking out a doctor, most likely your first question would be “is he (or she) a member of the AMA?”  And, in this day and time, you’d most likely be able to access an AMA data base to check doctor’s out before going to them.  And your insurance carrier would certainly require you use such a doctor, wouldn’t it? In fact,  you’d likely be leery of any doctor that wasn’t a member.  Same solution as now exists done on a voluntary basis without government intervention. And certainly there might be other associations that would form which would also lend credibility to a doctor’s abilities than just the one.

Would the AMA have a reason to assure its members met their standards and continued to meet them?  Of course it would.  It’s very existence would depend on it, as would the credibility of every one of it’s members.

Of course that’s all been rendered moot by government deciding it should be the final arbiter in that regard.  But it is food for thought, isn’t it?

~McQ

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7 Responses to Challenging licensing laws

  • It’s as logical and relevant as New Jersey not allowing self-pump gas stations…

  • “Those that approve of licensing argue than in many cases lives and health are at stake and, in such cases, it is the role of government to step in and ensure those who pursue those professions are competent enough to do so.” I disagree that it is the role of the govt in this case. Why can’t there be a (or several) “Underwriters Laboratories” of licensing, private outfits whose survival depends upon making sure that they fully check out the people they license? The control-freaks will scream “But what if someone slips through and somebody gets hurt!” Well that happens now from time to time and the licensing bodies never pay any consequences. In my scenario, they would just like any other private outfit that does not provide a valuable service.

  • The Old Man, you know with flower arrangements, maybe we could just see if the arrangement passes the smell test.

  • my pun aside, there are also now on-line reviews, internet sites that rate services, etc. We should be living in a world with less need for ‘licensing’ for something like flower quality.

  • Evidently most of the citizens of Louisiana are too dumb to put flowers in a vase. Well, that explains David Duke.

  • As someone who works for a state medical licensing agency I can say unequivocally that we do need some sort of licensing “entity.”  Does it need to be run by the government, not at all.  However, in our case at the very least, it is a cash cow industry for the state gov. and they wouldn’t want to give up that control or $$$.