Virginia’s Overregulated Occupations

If the Old Dominion truly has the best business climate in the United States, as many Virginians like to think it does, that status surely can be attributable only to the many and perverse way in which other states screw things up. The Commonwealth does so many things wrong that, viewing ourselves in isolation, it would be easy to imagine that we have among the worst business climates.

A case in point is the regulation of professions and occupations. The Institute for Justice has just published a report, “License to Work,” that compares how heavily 102 occupations are regulated across the 50 states. Lo and behold, Virginia ranks as the 11th most most broadly and onerously licensed state in the country, regulating occupations from athletic trainers and earth drillers to barbers, skin care specialists, animal control officers, upholsterers, taxidermists, fire alarm installers and milk samplers.

Virginia’s regulation of preschool teachers is the most onerous in the country, requiring education/experience equivalent to 1,825 days and passage of an exam. Teacher assistants require 730 days education/experience.

Nearly one in three Americans work in an occupation regulated the state through licensure. Louisiana, Arizona and California top the list for the breadth and strictness of occupational regulation.

Regulations are invariably justified by the need for consumer protection. But only a handful of occupations are regulated in all states, with no apparent harm to the public in non-licensed states. “Such inconsistencies give good reason to doubt that many licensing schemes are necessary,” states the report.

“If Governor McDonnell and Virginia lawmakers really want to spur entrepreneurial growth,” writes report co-author Dick Carpenter in the Jefferson Policy Journal, “they should add to their to-do list the reduction or elimination of licensure burdens that do little more than protect some people from competition by keeping others out of work.”


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  1. larryg Avatar

    is this yet more orthodoxy from the libertarian fringe….

    how about a comparison between state with no regs and states with regs for particular occupations … with the metrics being things like practitioners per capita between states with regs and states without?

    Bonus Question: several organizations rate states on how business-friendly the are or how well run they are , etc.

    Do any of these ratings groups address this issue as one of their criteria?

    Where’s the beef? we already got our limit of blather…. 🙂

    the last rant I read on this started off talking about a gal trying to start up a campground and went through a list of regulations she had to meet but then the guy couldn’t just leave it there.. then he got into the fact that she had to withhold income and payroll taxes from her employees…as if even taxes themselves are onerous “regulations”.

    in terms of those terrible occupational regulations.. let me many folks want the guy/gal who is pointing an xray at your head – actually be regulated to make sure they know what the doo da they are doing?

    raise your hands if you are IN FAVOR of regulation.

    Now that we have established what you are.. we will now determine just how pricey your version of regulation should be (or not).

  2. DJRippert Avatar

    Many occupations that once required heavy regulation no longer require heavy regulation. For example, advances in plan avionics have eliminated the need for a navigator. There are even airlines openly discussing a future with a single pilot in the plane as long as there is a flight attendant capable of making an emergency landing.

    I doubt whether LarryG’s “person pointing an X-Ray at your head” could do you any harm if they tried.

  3. FreeDem Avatar

    Liberal wunderkind Matt Yglesias has been talking about occupational licensing as bad policy for a very long time, so this is hardly an issue for the libertarian fringe. In many ways it is a clear continuation of the deregulation of the airlines and trucking industries promoted by Democrats in the 1970s.

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    More from the self-styled “Thomas Jefferson Institute” and its Cato minions. What is so wrong about have some regulation of someone who samples your milk or cuts your hair?
    I fail to see the Harumph here.

  5. larryg Avatar

    yup… yadda yadda yadda …libtards, dem and assorted goofballs…

    DJ says you no longer need “heavy” regulation.

    My question is who decides this?

    FreeDem says this is not a libertarian fringe issue…

    maybe… but as soon as someone has the left side of their brain fried from a mal-operated x-ray machine… you’ll find the libertarian types standing by themselves on the idea that regulation is not needed.

    A lot of this boils down to what individuals think – …. added up to voting majorities.

    That’s why I say “fringe” because at the end of the day – most folks support most regulation of most occupations… while some may be reaching the point of not needing it – the determination of that is not left up to those folks in those occupations.

    Regulations often start from unregulated “abuses” that happen to people who then go to their elected representatives with their stories. One constituent does not cause a law – it often comes from a series of stories – that occurs across several elected – who then co-sponsor legislation and then call as witnesses those that have been abused.

    Libertarians live most often in a theoretical world – not the real world that legislators live in when they hear from constituents…

    I’m not justifying regulation – just pointing out that it happens usually for a reason….and one can make all the logical arguments they want but one real-life counter-example can change the game.

  6. It seems reasonable to me for Virginia to set reasonable standards for those occupations where a failure of a person to meet such standards could have a significant negative impact on public health, welfare and safety. But there needs to be an independent view to make sure that incumbents are not using the licensing process to keep out competitors.
    I’d say its reasonable to license morticians, but not lawn service companies.

  7. FreeDem Avatar

    larryg, most of these regulated occupations are little more than 20th/21st century reincarnations of the Medieval Guilds responsible for reduced competition and increased costs.

    Did you even bother to read the report? That’s a rhetorical question, I know the answer is no.

    Why, if these regulations are passed in the name of safety, does it take four times longer to become a massage therapist than an emergency medical technician? Longer for a barber or cosmetologist than the emergency medical technician?

  8. larryg Avatar

    @FreeDem – I don’t disagree but let’s START with the ones in Virginia that other states have already done away with.

    and then once we get to the set of regs that are in common with other states, let’s develop a criteria that safeguards the health and welfare of consumers.

    I don’t disagree with the basic premise but if you really read the Heritage/Cato/allied thoughts on this – this is just the bow wave of what they are really after because they are fundamentally opposed not just to inappropriate regulations but the concept itself of regulation.

    They don’t really have a logical “stopping point”.. their aim is to start with the most egregious and then keep on trucking until there is no regulation.

    fess up… isn’t that their real agenda?

  9. larryg Avatar

    the premise in the “report” is that there is no need for regulation and that the fees are not justified.

    looking down the list of less regulated occupations.. like conveyor operator and sprinkler system techs… I’d think both of these occupations could result in killing or hurting people if not performed according to industry standards.

    so, if anything, some occupations that probably should have some level of required certification are not regulated in some states at all.

    this report is over 200 pages long but no where in it, can I find a simple comparison of the states that details per capita numbers of the occupations verses the state regulation…

    .. which in my mind would clearly prove their beginning premise.

    In other words if there were lower numbers of an occupation (measured per capita or some equivalent normalized metric) in the states with heavier regulation and/or permit fees…

    the case would be effectively made in my view.

    otherwise… what we seem to have in 200+ pages is some material in the front outlining their premise(s) and then almost 200 pages of state “profiles”.

    I’m not really denigrating the ‘study’ but I would expect to be convinced better in 200 pages … and I’m not better convinced just because it is 200 pages.

    sometimes I think these reports are “filled” to become voluminous and that, in turn, encourages most folks to read the premise and the conclusion and basically slip the data.

    If we could see a per capita impact as a result of regulation/fees/education required comparatively – it would be a much more convincing report ESPECIALLY in comparing states that regulate certain occupations compared to states that don’t regulate at all.

  10. Hydra Avatar

    “Can the government throw you in jail for offering advice on the Internet about what food people should buy at the grocery store?”

    “That is exactly the claim made by the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition. In December 2011, diabetic blogger Steve Cooksey started a Dear Abby-style advice column on his popular blog ( to answer reader questions. One month later, the State Board informed Steve that he could not give readers advice on diet, whether for free or for compensation, because doing so constituted the unlicensed, and thus criminal, practice of dietetics. The State Board also told Steve that his private emails and telephone calls with readers and friends were illegal, as was his paid life-coaching service. The State Board went through Steve’s writings with a red pen, indicating what he may and may not say without a government-issued license.”

    This is from the Carpe Diem blog.

    The Institute for justice has initiated a lawsuit.

  11. larryg Avatar

    It helps to hear the North Carolina response though:

    for example:

    ” It has been reported that the NCBDN is threatening to send Mr. Cooksey to jail for recounting publicly his battle against diabetes and encouraging others to follow his lifestyle.

    The NCBDN has no authority to criminalize any actions a person takes. By law, if a person has violated Chapter 90, Article 25 of the North Carolina General Statutes, the NCBDN may report such an action to a local prosecutor, however, it would be the prosecutor’s decision whether or not to seek a misdemeanor charge.

    In the almost twenty years of this law’s existence there have only been two instances where the NCBDN has presented information to the authorities in order to allow the authorities to decide whether or not to pursue criminal prosecution. In both cases these persons were presenting falsified professional credentials and stolen identities.”

    if you want a REAL issue:

    ” Louisiana monks go to court to sell their caskets”

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