Thursday, February 03, 2011

License? We Don't Need No Stinking License!

Kevin Lacy, a stupid bureaucrat who is the chief traffic engineer for the state of North Carolina, lodged a complaint with the N.C. Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors because a computer scientist sent him a justification for installing traffic lights in his neighborhood.

Lacy claims the presentation was so well put together it rises to the level of engineering and it was done without a license. Keep in mind here that the guy who put together the report does not even claim to be an engineer. David Cox, who wrote the proposal is claiming that Lacy is just trying to stifle dissent (which seems evident).

The licensing board has promised to look in to the allegation but said that the worst likely outcome for Mr. Cox would be a letter telling him not to do it again. Practicing engineering without a license is a misdemeanor in North Carolina. Cox is not employed by anyone as an engineer and had no power to implement his plan on his own; how could he possibly be guilty of anything?

This brings up the larger question of why the state should require professional licenses. Is it necessary? Switching to California, there are 44 different categories of licensing with different types of licenses in some of those categories just by the Department of Consumer Affairs. Other agencies handle other types of licenses ranging from real estate to to legal stuff. Potentially there are several hundred professions that require licensing (including their specialties) in California.

Why, for example are hair dressers required to have a license by the state? The answer is simple. It limits competition. There can be no other reason for it. Anyone can cut hair. I've even cut my own hair. Sure, it takes some training, practice and skill but so does any profession. Simply put, because only licensed cosmetologists can cut hair, it drives up the price by limiting competition because not everyone who can cut hair has the resources or desire to spend 1600 hours (200 days of 8 hours each) in the classroom just so they can cut hair for a living (or a hobby). Let's say you really like the idea of cutting hair part time to supplement your income. Are you going to spend about a year of your life in class to do it? Probably not.

So let's say we can agree that hair dressers don't really need licenses. What about doctors? I don't think they need a state license either. WHAT?! If doctors don't have licenses, we're going to have a bunch of quacks out there practicing medicine and people will DIE! I can hear the arguments already. Personally, I would not go see a doctor who did not have medical training. But I would much rather rely on a private certification agency to determine that my doctor is well trained and does not have too many complaints against him. There could even be several competing private certification boards. These boards could publish their qualification criteria as well as complaints lodged against their members. The public, via the web, could also have a place to complain about doctors that was independent of those agencies.

I see no advantage the state could possibly have over one or more private certification boards. Hospitals could (and would) refuse to hire people who were not certified by one of the boards. In fact, they might be inclined to only hire doctors certified by one board over the other because they might have different standards in different areas. Specialists could have their own boards as well if they liked.

So what happens if someone wants to practice medicine without belonging to one of these boards? I've probably violated rules against practicing medicine. I've taken out stitches, I've pulled out slivers, I've treated colds, flu, etc. I've even performed what could be termed minor surgeries. And if I messed up? Well, I suppose there is always the risk of infections or other complications. But I wasn't taking out a spleen or anything like that. But so what if I did? If someone trusted me enough to take out a spleen and I represented that I could perform that action then it's just like any other economic transaction between two parties. If I lie about being certified or it turns out I misrepresented my qualifications there are already legal remedies for that. No state licensing board is necessary.

Anyway, it's not as if state licensing has even come close to eliminating misconduct, malpractice, fraud, stupidity or even simple mistakes from the medical or other professions.

The only reason for government based licenses is that governments like to have control and other people in various professions want to artificially limit competition.

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