George Will has a brilliant column on current examples of rent seeking. Rent seeking, for those not familiar with the term, is when one group uses the government to gain an advantage over the competition. There are many ways this is done, but one of the main ways is by issuing regulations that provide burdensome hurdles that make it difficult for their competitors to remain in business. Here’s an example:
Consider the minor — but symptomatic — matter of the government-abetted aggression by “interior designers” against mere “decorators,” or against interior designers whom other interior designers wish to demote to the status of decorators. Some designers think decorators should be a lesser breed without the law on its side.
Those categories have blurry borders. Essentially, interior designers design an entire space, sometimes including structural aspects; decorators have less comprehensive and more mundane duties — matching colors, selecting furniture, etc.
In New Mexico, anyone can work as an interior designer. But it is a crime, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in prison, to list yourself on the Internet or in the Yellow Pages as, or to otherwise call yourself, an “interior designer” without being certified as such. Those who favor this censoring of truthful commercial speech are a private group that controls, using an exam administered by a private national organization, access to that title.
But it gets much worse:
In Nevada, such regulation has arrived. So in Las Vegas, where almost nothing is illegal, it is illegal — unless you are licensed, or employed by someone licensed — to move, in the role of an interior designer, any piece of furniture, such as an armoire, that is more than 69 inches tall. A Nevada bureaucrat says that “placement of furniture” is an aspect of “space planning” and therefore is regulated — restricted to a “registered interior designer.”
Placing furniture without a license? Heaven forfend. Such regulations come with government rationing of the right to practice a profession. Who benefits? Creating artificial scarcity of services raises the prices of those entitled to perform the services. The pressure for government-created scarcity is intensifying because the general public — rank amateurs — are using the Internet to purchase things and advice, bypassing designers.
This is quite absurd and it goes on all the time. Sandefur told me about a case he handled where his client did non-chemical pest control, purely physical and mechanical barriers to mice and birds and such in people’s homes and barns. The state of California required him to be licensed for the use of pesticides, including months of classes and a large fee for the testing – but he didn’t use pesticides. Indeed, what he did avoided the need to use pesticides. Does this benefit the consumer? Not in the least. It only benefits his competitors.
Not all examples of such regulation are necessarily a bad idea, of course. It is reasonable to require that a doctor show the proper training and knowledge necessary to call himself an MD and to distinguish between those who have such training and those who don’t. But do we really need licensed furniture placers? Is this a huge problem, unlicensed decorators putting someone’s hutch in the wrong place? Not likely. This is pure rent-seeking that does not benefit the public, only those who are using the government to hamper their competitors, increase the scarcity of their profession and drive up their profits.