Occupational licensing is one of those nasty abuses of the citizenry that should outrage both the right and the left, yet it’s still rampant in this country. It is a perfect example of government protecting the bigger and stronger, and stomping on the weaker. It hurts low-income entrepreneurs the most and has no rationale that is not already fulfilled by private, voluntary rating systems such as Google and Yelp.
Local and state governments make money through licensing fees, occupational schools make money from mandatory classes, and incumbent businesses are protected from competition. Who are the losers? Hard-working poor people who are ready and willing to provide valuable services but are threatened with jail and fines if they do so. Consumers also lose, by paying higher prices than they would in a free market.
So I’m going to start this “Answers To” series where I respond to some of the more common and inane arguments I hear in support of government. This isn’t so much to uncover new theoretical arguments, because most of this stuff has been dealt with by libertarian thinkers. It’s more about rhetoric – how an argument is presented and what an effective response might be. I encourage you, dear reader, to submit arguments you’ve heard (and answers!) to apollo at apolloslater dot com.
A common one I’ve heard is one probably encountered by most libertarians. You’ll be arguing with your friend about some tax or regulation and you’ll say something like, I don’t think people should be “forced at gunpoint” or that “violence” should be used to accomplish something. At which point your friend gives you a blank stare and thinks you’re bananas.
After all, you don’t see mass executions of people who aren’t paying taxes! Maybe if someone screws up, they pay a fine and that’s the end of it. So there’s a lack of perspective here – not seeing the end of a chain of events that resisting taxes would bring about (I’m charged a fine; if I don’t pay, I’m thrown in jail; if I resist, I’ll be beaten or shot). And not seeing the threat of violence that underpins government mandates, precisely because the threat causes most people to comply, making the execution of the threat a rare, unobserved event.
Explaining this chain of events and the effect of the underlying threat may help your friend understand your position. You can also say, I’ll agree to your new tax or regulation, as long as the government cannot use physical force to enforce it. Put the onus on him to describe how his program would work without the threat of physical violence. If it does, then he is describing a voluntary program. If it requires a threat, then you’ve proven your point.