Dispatches from the Creation Wars

George Will on Rent Seeking

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.

Comments

  1. #1 llDayo
    March 26, 2007

    “Rent-seeking” seems fairly similar to monopolies or price fixing. Basically, the companies who have already established a market are attempting to discourage new competition by applying unecessary regulations. I thought there were federal laws against these types of things?

  2. #2 Ratel
    March 26, 2007

    On the plus side, I see a market opportunity for any company in the business of making 68″ tall furniture.

  3. #3 khan
    March 26, 2007

    This is also a tactic used to maintain the ‘big box’ stores and factory farms advantage.

    The small local producer/farmer/abattoir that can provide personal service is required to have all the same equipment and personnel as the mega.

  4. #4 coturnix
    March 26, 2007

    Isn’t this the essence of US-style capitalism? Stepping on others’ heads and pushing them down in order to climb up the ladder?

    Oh, btw, a lot of those “interior designers” are Feng-Shui freaks who should not be licenced to leave their own homes, let alone arrange others’.

  5. #5 celcus
    March 26, 2007

    While the issue of rent seeking is certainly a legitimate one, the example of Interior Designers vrs. Decorators is a pretty poor example.

    While Wil cites arranging furniture as some example of absurdity it is anything but that. Residential situation are one thing, but on a commercial projects the placement of furniture, among other things, is regulated by building code, specifically life safety code which is concerned with allowing proper exiting of buildings in the event of fire, etc. The proper placement of fire extinguishers, the flame spread rating and slip coefficient of material, handicapped accessibility issues, as well as aesthetic concepts are all things Interior Designers are concerned with daily.

    There is a reason Interior Designers are concerned with restricting decorators from being considered as some kind of equal. Interior Designers (at least in the majority of states) posses degrees from accredited universities, must complete a professional licensing process, and must maintain the licensed status with continuing education, all in the effort to assure that they are proficient in the many aspects of their job of the sort I cited. By contrast, Ed himself could one day decide to call himself a decorator.

    The “right” to practice a profession is usually reserved for those with the proper credentials, who demonstrate proficiency via a licensing exam, and show evidence of continuing education to retain the license. It seems to work fine for Attorneys, Engineers, Architects, Doctors, Teachers, General Contractors, Electricians, Plumbers, and so on.

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    March 26, 2007

    coturnix wrote:

    Isn’t this the essence of US-style capitalism? Stepping on others’ heads and pushing them down in order to climb up the ladder?

    It’s certainly very common in the US, but it’s actually anti-capitalist behavior. And contrary to the popular myth that libertarians are just “in the pocket of big business”, this is exactly the sort of thing that libertarians despise and would like to bring to an end. It distorts the free market and hurts consumers. That’s why libertarians get so little financial support from big corporations. One of the first posts I wrote for this blog was on the subject of how our bloated Federal government distorts the market and redistributes hundreds of billions of dollars every year from (mostly) middle class taxpayers in to the coffers of huge corporations. As Lewis Lapham wrote in The Wish for Kings:

    The federal treasury at the moment supplies 45 percent of the nation’s income. The politicians dress up the deals in the language of law or policy, but they’re in the business of brokering the tax revenue, and what keeps them in office is not their talent for oratory but their skill at redistributing the national income in a way that rewards their clients, patrons, friends and campaign contributors. They trade in every known commodity – school lunches, tax exemptions, water and mineral rights, aluminum siding, dairy subsidies, pension benefits, highway contracts, prison uniforms – and they work the levers of government like gamblers pulling at slot machines. As with the subsidizing of the farms and the defense industry, so also with paying off the bad debt acquired by the savings and loan associations…

    In the late twentieth century, as in the early nineteenth, a clear majority of American businessmen has shown a profound aversion for anything that remotely resembles a free market or a genuine risk. At their annual conventions they sometimes make brave speeches about the joys of “risk taking” and the wonders of “entrepeneurship”, but what they know and trust is the rigged price, the safe monopoly, the sure percentage. By and large, and certainly in its primary and steadier movements, the national economy depends not only on systematic price-fixing and noncompetitive bidding but also on the guarantee of government intervention. The theory of the free market works at the margins of the economy – among cabdrivers and the owners of pizza parlors who made the mistake of borrowing $20,000 instead of $20 million – but the central pillars of the American enterprise rest…firmly on the foundation stones of federal subsidy…”

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    March 26, 2007

    Celsus-

    I have personally overseen the opening of several multi-million dollar businesses, all of which had to follow precisely the sort of safety and health codes that you speak of, and not one time did we ever use an interior designer or a decorator. Compliance with such regulations is designed right into the blueprints and plans for the building, which must be approved before construction can begin practically everywhere. And if that’s really the issue, why not limit the law to commercial situations and leave out the ridiculously broad language that, in Las Vegas, is actually so broad that it would prevent someone from moving their own furniture in their house (not that it will ever be enforced that way).

  8. #8 Mike Sperry
    March 26, 2007

    There is a difference between Interior Design and Interior Decorating. Interior Designers have generaly gone to 4 years of college or a masters program, while Interior Decorators have not. Designers have some technical courses, and use CAD to design a space, including duct work, and architectural standards and such. Decorators make things pretty. How would an engineer (or laywer or whatever) feel if I decided to market my self an engineer and thus devalue the degree you spent 4 years and $$$ to obtain? Or to put it another way, you want a wall taken out of you living room. Is it load bearing or not? Who would you rather ask, a Designer (4 years of schooling) or a Decorator (great color coordination, and a knack for where to put a pillow)? And yes, there are some Feng-Shui idiots in Interior Design, but there are some scientists who believe in Creationism….

  9. #9 David C. Brayton
    March 26, 2007

    Thank God this law has finally passed. Does anyone remember the 1970s? The 70s were nothing but a train wreck of interior decorators and stylists. (Macrame anyone?) If this had been on the books 30 years ago, imagine the amount of mental anguish that could have been avoided.

  10. #10 Mike Sperry
    March 26, 2007

    “Compliance with such regulations is designed right into the blueprints and plans for the building, which must be approved before construction can begin practically everywhere.”

    Many Architecture firms employ an Interior Designer to design those things right into the Blueplan for you. You might have used and Interior Designer and didn’t know it.

  11. #11 Ed Brayton
    March 26, 2007

    I agree that there may be legitimate distinctions to be made in some circumstances here. But that does not diminish Will’s argument – the laws are written so broadly that they do amount to rent seeking.

  12. #12 Gretchen
    March 26, 2007

    I came across this article today about taxi permits in Anchorage– apparently the city is refusing to give them. Owners can transfer them, but the going rate is about $120,000. Would that qualify as rent seeking?

  13. #13 Rob Knop
    March 26, 2007

    Ed — I saw the same column and was thinking about blogging about it. I don’t always agree with George Will, but I do 100% on this one.

    And, cortunix — as Ed says, no, this isn’t standard American capitalism at all. It’s mixing in the worst parts of socialism with capitalism to disastrous effects. It’s using government regulation to preserve the position of a given business so that other independent businesses can’t complete. Those who like to tear down capitalism tend to characterize it by the dog-eat-dog factor, whereas those who like capitalism emphasize the opportunity that comes from unfettered competition.

    I personally think that government regulation often *is* needed, but this is exactly the worst sort — protecting the entrenched from the little guy.

    -Rob

  14. #14 David C. Brayton
    March 26, 2007

    But seriously, rent seeking shouldn’t be considered inherently bad. It is simply something that occurs in all democracies where the regulated have a voice in the creation of the regulations. Rent seeking is just economic-speak for saying that people have agendas that aren’t always fuly disclosed when they argue for or against a regulation.

    There is a continuum between good regulation (doctors) and useless regulation (interior decorators/designers). The point about rent seeking is to realize that it happens and it happens with just about every regulation passed by government.

    All regulation imposes some costs and shifts economic benefits amongst producers. Simply stating that rent seeking is bad over simplifies things at best and is a non sequitur at worst. Rent seking is kinda like judicial activism in that people think it’s bad but it just means ‘decisions (regulations) I don’t like.

    In this case, I just had to laugh–furniture placement is not a something government needs to worry about; whereas, but the practice of medicine is. I’d like to see a discussion of where to draw that line in the abstract sense. Arguing over the merits of licensed fung shui designers won’t help much.

  15. #15 Ted
    March 26, 2007

    The 70s were nothing but a train wreck of interior decorators and stylists. (Macrame anyone?) If this had been on the books 30 years ago, imagine the amount of mental anguish that could have been avoided.

    The horror. The horror.

    Have you seen the furniture placement of the 1970s porn? Not only should furniture arrangements have been regulated, but the “wakka chikka wakka chikka” soundtracks similarly beg for imposed governmental quality controls.

    You sit down, expecting some aesthetics, but instead get self parody. (I can only hope that the heavy hand of regulation keeps porn from integrating with HDTV. The consumers must be protected.)

    Medicine, porn…it’s all really just a quality of life issue.

  16. #16 doctorgoo
    March 26, 2007

    I’ve never heard of this being called “rent seeking” before, but I’ve definitely seen something similar. Here’s what I remember of this story:

    A local guy was elected (or appointed, I don’t remember which) to a position where he could determine who needed and could get permits in the town for little things like minor rewiring projects, such as wiring a new light under a cabinet or installing a ceiling fan.

    He changed the policies so that anything minor rewiring would now have to be done by a licenced electrician. So what’s the catch? He and his father-in-law were the only local people in town who were now qualified to do the work.

    The local newspaper figured the new rules would easily double their business.

  17. #17 coturnix
    March 26, 2007

    Sorry I was not clear about the snark – I meant that to mean anti-Free Market (I guess I thought it would have been as obvious to everyone as it was for me).

    But I have argued before that this is the model that the US conservatives think is Free Market. In other words, the US conservatives are essentially anti-Free Market and anti-capitalist and proponents of economic aristocracy and the protectionism of it. Libertarians are diverse, but the main current logically leads to anarchy. Only Dems are truly for a Free Market. We have no central-planning, top-down commie types in this country any more (and good riddance).

  18. #18 Jim Lippard
    March 26, 2007

    The Arizona Structural Pest Control Commission took action here against an entrepreneur kid who was helping homeowners seal their homes against roof rats. The Pest Control lobby also put through regulations that forbid renters from spraying for weeds or bugs with over-the-counter weed spray or bug spray, and prohibiting landscapers from doing the same.

    The Institute for Justice of Arizona successfully fought the first restriction and is currently fighting the second.

    The IJ is the primary organization that fights against these kinds of regulations–like regulations that require you to have a funeral director’s license in order to sell caskets, or a cosmetology license to braid hair.

  19. #19 DuWayne
    March 26, 2007

    It seems like a no brainer at first glance, but then, so do reuations that require painters, to be covered by a buiders license. Yet that requirement which has been adopted in many municipalities, as well as a few state governments, has reasonabe reasons. Some painting companies (the very good ones) will pull electric and/or plumbing fixtures, before painting a room. They may also pull doors, portions of windows and/or trim. On the other side, painters spend a lot of time on ladders – licensing often requires fall safety training, as well as training to deal with electricity safely.

    I am not sure where interior design becomes analgous, but I am not an interior designer. Though the obvious response to Ed’s explanation that business’s use architechts to ensure that furniture placement stays within safety guidlines, is that not all business’s starting up, require an architect to approve the plans. When there are no structural alterations, having an interior designer may be what ensures that placement of said furniture, complies with local fire codes, for safe egress.

    I know the lines seem to be overdrawn in many situations, that they seem to encompass far more than is necessary, but they do so, because the lines are rather difficult to draw. While there are many jobs that one can do in the buildin trades, that are unlikely to be a hazzard to the homeowner or the one working, the laws blanket right over them too. The reason is that some of the distinctions are not so clear – so municipal governments (the ones likely to get sued if they approve work that turns out to hurt someone) tend to err on the side of safety. I imagine that this stems from a few narrow situations, where safety is an issue in interior design.

    There is an easy out for it. Call oneself an interior decorator, which requires no license. Without a license and working within certain parameters, one can do remodel work, in the state of Michigan without a builders license. But they cannot call themselves a builder, without the license. Nor can one call themself a plumber, electrition or architect without a license. Part of this may just be to denote that a person has the educational background. Like many others have noted, becoming an interior designer requires a four year degree. Any jackass can become an interior decorator, to be an interior designer, requires that a person prove they know what they are doing, that they have made the investment in their education to persue this profession. Why shouldn’t they have an advantage over, say me, who decides to do interior decorating. If I am good enough, I’ll get the clients regardless of what I call myself. An interior designer, has already proven they (at the least) understand the fundamentals of interior design, as well as the knowledge of making a space safe for rapid egress in case of a fire.

    Also, as was noted above. Interior designers occasionaly require structural alterations. Depending on the scale and scope of the alterations, neither an architect, nor a structural engineer may be required. An interior designer knows at least enough, to know when a structural engineer is needed. Part and parcel with the education that is required to become an interior designer.

  20. #20 llewelly
    March 26, 2007

    George Will:

    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.

    I imagine the large cubicle-installing companies
    are at war with the small, and have won a round.

    However, some caution is advised, as George Will sometimes spouts off
    ignorantly.

  21. #21 DuWayne
    March 26, 2007

    It seems like a no brainer at first glance, but then, so do reuations that require painters, to be covered by a buiders license. Yet that requirement which has been adopted in many municipalities, as well as a few state governments, has reasonabe reasons. Some painting companies (the very good ones) will pull electric and/or plumbing fixtures, before painting a room. They may also pull doors, portions of windows and/or trim. On the other side, painters spend a lot of time on ladders – licensing often requires fall safety training, as well as training to deal with electricity safely.

    I am not sure where interior design becomes analgous, but I am not an interior designer. Though the obvious response to Ed’s explanation that business’s use architechts to ensure that furniture placement stays within safety guidlines, is that not all business’s starting up, require an architect to approve the plans. When there are no structural alterations, having an interior designer may be what ensures that placement of said furniture, complies with local fire codes, for safe egress.

    I know the lines seem to be overdrawn in many situations, that they seem to encompass far more than is necessary, but they do so, because the lines are rather difficult to draw. While there are many jobs that one can do in the buildin trades, that are unlikely to be a hazzard to the homeowner or the one working, the laws blanket right over them too. The reason is that some of the distinctions are not so clear – so municipal governments (the ones likely to get sued if they approve work that turns out to hurt someone) tend to err on the side of safety. I imagine that this stems from a few narrow situations, where safety is an issue in interior design.

    There is an easy out for it. Call oneself an interior decorator, which requires no license. Without a license and working within certain parameters, one can do remodel work, in the state of Michigan without a builders license. But they cannot call themselves a builder, without the license. Nor can one call themself a plumber, electrition or architect without a license. Part of this may just be to denote that a person has the educational background. Like many others have noted, becoming an interior designer requires a four year degree. Any jackass can become an interior decorator, to be an interior designer, requires that a person prove they know what they are doing, that they have made the investment in their education to persue this profession. Why shouldn’t they have an advantage over, say me, who decides to do interior decorating. If I am good enough, I’ll get the clients regardless of what I call myself. An interior designer, has already proven they (at the least) understand the fundamentals of interior design, as well as the knowledge of making a space safe for rapid egress in case of a fire.

    Also, as was noted above. Interior designers occasionaly require structural alterations. Depending on the scale and scope of the alterations, neither an architect, nor a structural engineer may be required. An interior designer knows at least enough, to know when a structural engineer is needed. Part and parcel with the education that is required to become an interior designer.

  22. #22 slavdude
    March 26, 2007

    How might the Supreme Court decision in Kelo fit with this?

  23. #23 Rob Knop
    March 26, 2007

    There is a continuum between good regulation (doctors) and useless regulation (interior decorators/designers).

    It’s worse than that; there’s actively harmful regulation, which I’d argue this is.

    I think that the whole civil law system that allows the RIAA lawsuits is similar. It’s further empowerment of the powerful and entrenched at the expense of the little guy and the creative new idea.

    -Rob

  24. #24 MattXIV
    March 26, 2007

    Mike Speary,

    Just because interior designers can do some structural work or code compliance doesn’t mean that they need an entire new regulatory apparatus set up for their occupation. As for engineering, I come from an engineering background (currently a software developer – and an uncertified one!) and I think that requiring PE certification sometimes is done in a way that consititutes rent-seeking. When the certification requirement is impossed on tasks where the specialized knowlege the certification indicates is not directly relevant or so burdensome to acquire that learning it as needed for the task at hand is impractical then it is just rent-seeking and the law in question definitely steps over these lines.

  25. #25 DuWayne
    March 26, 2007

    Rob –

    How does this damage “the little guy?” Anyone can do interior decorating, they just cannot call themselves interior designers. If they wish to do so, they just have to do the same thing everyone else who can legaly call themselves an interior designer did – get the license. If they don’t want to do that, then they can do much of the same work, under the title, interior decorator. Please explain how this hurts anyone.

    MattXIV

    I don’t see evidence of any entirely new regulatory apparatus. My guess would be that enforcement would fall under existing code compliance regulations.

    When the certification requirement is impossed on tasks where the specialized knowlege the certification indicates is not directly relevant or so burdensome to acquire that learning it as needed for the task at hand is impractical then it is just rent-seeking and the law in question definitely steps over these lines.

    Most licensed trades, have unlicensed analogs, that are allowed to do such work. They just cannot call themselves by the same title as a licensed individual in that field. Ex. I am a handyman. I can legaly switch out electric and plumbing fixtures, as long as I do not have to alter anything inside the walls or below grade (under the floor). I cannot however, call myself an electritian or plumber – even if all the work I did, involved switching out fixtures, I couldn’t, because I am not licensed as either.

    …or so burdensome to acquire that learning it as needed for the task at hand is impractical

    I am not sure what you mean here. Are you trying to say that if the education required for accomplishing a particular task is to burdonsome, it should not be required? If so, then I think you are dead wrong. If the eduation is that burdonsome, it implies that the task is particularly complex and should especialy require said education. If I am misunderstanding, I apologize, that is just what it sounded like to me.

  26. #26 DuWayne
    March 26, 2007

    Rob –

    How does this damage “the little guy?” Anyone can do interior decorating, they just cannot call themselves interior designers. If they wish to do so, they just have to do the same thing everyone else who can legaly call themselves an interior designer did – get the license. If they don’t want to do that, then they can do much of the same work, under the title, interior decorator. Please explain how this hurts anyone.

    MattXIV

    I don’t see evidence of any entirely new regulatory apparatus. My guess would be that enforcement would fall under existing code compliance regulations.

    When the certification requirement is impossed on tasks where the specialized knowlege the certification indicates is not directly relevant or so burdensome to acquire that learning it as needed for the task at hand is impractical then it is just rent-seeking and the law in question definitely steps over these lines.

    Most licensed trades, have unlicensed analogs, that are allowed to do such work. They just cannot call themselves by the same title as a licensed individual in that field. Ex. I am a handyman. I can legaly switch out electric and plumbing fixtures, as long as I do not have to alter anything inside the walls or below grade (under the floor). I cannot however, call myself an electritian or plumber – even if all the work I did, involved switching out fixtures, I couldn’t, because I am not licensed as either.

    …or so burdensome to acquire that learning it as needed for the task at hand is impractical

    I am not sure what you mean here. Are you trying to say that if the education required for accomplishing a particular task is to burdonsome, it should not be required? If so, then I think you are dead wrong. If the eduation is that burdonsome, it implies that the task is particularly complex and should especialy require said education. If I am misunderstanding, I apologize, that is just what it sounded like to me.

  27. #27 DuWayne
    March 26, 2007

    Sorry for the double posts, my computer seems to be a little haywire. . .

  28. #28 Shawn Smith
    March 26, 2007

    So in Las Vegas, where almost nothing is illegal, …

    Apparently, Mr. Will hasn’t been to Las Vegas in quite a while–it is now illegal to smoke in any enclosed area that serves prepared food, including restaurants and bars, with the exception of the gaming parts of the casinos. Brothels have never been legal in Clark County, which Las Vegas is smack dab in the middle of. And, of course, it’s illegal to have a same-sex partner as a spouse, or run a stop sign while on a bicycle, or jaywalk, or sell Sudafed™ over the counter, or countless other things the nanny state doesn’t want you to do. Next time Mr. Will wants to talk out of his ass, maybe he shouldn’t be making such obviously false statements.

  29. #29 Ted
    March 26, 2007

    How might the Supreme Court decision in Kelo fit with this?

    Ding!

    Surprise, the new rent-seeking terminology is related to Cato’s interpretation to Kelo, property rights and government.

    It’s a catchall word that’s being pushed by some people to signify the tyranny of taxation, regulation and government redistribution of wealth in new(er) terminology now that regulatory agencies are changing influence and oversight (Hello Henry Waxman). We grew dismissive of the old talking points and need something that polls better.

    When George will starts talking about rent-seeking it’s worth looking at the relationship between the puppet to the hand.

  30. #30 Ed Brayton
    March 26, 2007

    The “new rent-seeking terminology”? Good lord, the term “rent seeking” was coined in 1974. It’s only new to those who are ignorant of political economics.

  31. #31 Ted
    March 26, 2007

    It’s only new to those who are ignorant of political economics.

    Yeah, that’s why you define it for the readership in the second sentence.

    Rent seeking, for those not familiar with the term, is when one group uses the government to gain an advantage over the competition.

    then

    There are many ways this is done,…

    Certainly, a widely used term to mean a variety of things. As George Will defines it – it’s a blunt instrument used to bludgeon the little guy:

    Funding the welfare state that Americans seem to want requires a dynamic economy. And rent seeking — the bending of public power to confer an advantage on a private
    party–inhibits the economy. We see the spirit of modern rent seeking in the jihad today against Wal-Mart.

    Sure, I’m quote mining, but good lord, lately, it’s been used as ubiquitously as linking to the imminent demise of SS.

  32. #32 Ed Brayton
    March 26, 2007

    Ted wrote:

    Yeah, that’s why you define it for the readership in the second sentence.

    Because I doubt most of my readers are familiar with it. But that hardly makes your claim that it’s a recently invented term for political battle any more credible. It’s a term that has been around almost my entire life, and the concept goes back much further. I learned of it in economics class 20 years and it was an old concept then.

  33. #33 Ted
    March 26, 2007

    Sorry I misread your point.

    All I was saying is that it seems to be used routinely to demonize a fairly common concept – that someone is usually unhappy with the government’s involvement in regulations.

    When it starts appearing in the mainstream press regularly, then I categorize it as a meme. I don’t dispute that it’s been around since the 70s, but when George Will takes the time to use up a wash compost column on it, I’m thinking: Hmm, good ol’ George. Looking out for me by explaining some new trends in interior decorating.

    That, or it’s an uncommonly slow opinion day, what with the war on terror, the war in Iraq, the AG scandal, the wiretappings, the habeas corpus, and the government sanctioned torture.

    So George doesn’t want us to take the interior designers at their word? It says in the article that they’re striving for professionalizing themselves and the article even explains that there are fairly significant differences between the two:

    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.

    I don’t see much wrong with people that want to set up professional guidelines to protect their livelihoods. If they were keeping straight people out on the basis of race, creed, or whatever than it might be an issue.

    But with professional organization an advocacy group for the profession may develop. In the same sense that doctors and lawyers protect their domain through lobbyists, the interior designers can as well. To me this is similar to a trade unions that defend(ed) the middle class.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think George Will is doing us a service here:

    This is done in the name of “professionalization,” but it really amounts to cartelization.

    Now, when I go to Las Vegas and New Mexico (and anyhere in the west for that matter), I’m going to be on the watch for roving gangs of delinquent interior designers acting tough and pushing their weight around. Probably smoking J’s on the corner.

  34. #34 Mike Sperry
    March 26, 2007

    I agree with DuWayne for the most part here. There are some fields where rent seeking is going on, but as the article in question states “it is illegal … to move, IN THE ROLE OF AN INTERIOR DESIGNER, any piece of furniture…” I think that is the key distortion in this article. You can move furniture of any height so long as you do not claim to have accredidation that you have not earned.

  35. #35 Jason
    March 26, 2007

    I think that the whole civil law system that allows the RIAA lawsuits is similar. It’s further empowerment of the powerful and entrenched at the expense of the little guy and the creative new idea.

    “Creative new idea” = using computers to steal music. I’m not sure why you think this should be legal.

  36. #36 bwv
    March 26, 2007

    The other great arena of rent seeking is the corporate income tax code. Another reason why corporate income tax should be abolished.

  37. #37 kehrsam
    March 26, 2007

    Technically, this has nothing to do with Kelo. The power of eminent domain is separate from the general police power that governs this type of regulation. There are reasonable limits on the police power, whereas there are none on either eminent domain or the power to tax (on which see — I believe! — Federalist #21 and 54).

    I agree with Ted, however, that since Kelo and the powerful reaction to it various right wingers have been trying to showhorn as much as possible into the “overreach of government” meme.

    The logical error being made in these cases, however, is that because a certain level of expertise MIGHT be required, it therefore MUST be required. I think Ed or any other good libertarian would agree that there is nothing wrong with the formation of professional societies and their licensing of members meeting the relevant qualifications. The issue is whether that professional should be the only person allowed to perform specified tasks.

    For instance, in most states a layperson is not allowed to assist another person to prepare a will, even from a kit, if they are not themselves a lawyer. Obviously, three years of law school are not required to fill out the blanks in the kit, especially given that many lawyers (including me) didn’t take either Probate or Trusts and Estates in law school. It’s pure rent-seeking.

    Unless there is a substantial risk of harm involved, there is no particular reason to tell the consumer who to hire. Most people understand the difference between a physician and a physician’s assistant; as my MD’s practice charges less to see the PA, this is a decision I often get to make.

    Certain issues demand a professional, whether that be a doctor, lawyer, or architect. Moving furniture really shouldn’t be one of them.

  38. #38 steve s
    March 26, 2007

    Virginia Postrel had a piece like this a while back. Apparently in some place you had to get a certification or license or something to arrange flowers. Worse, the licensing exams were capricious and arbitrary, and they’d fail you for no good reason, after you’ve taken months of classes.

  39. #39 James
    March 27, 2007

    Incidentally coturnix the “anti-free market capitalism” you describe is formally known as Merchantilism. It was the common form of economuic system in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was predicated on pushing wages to their lowest possible level (through the use of maximum wage laws, encouraging population growth among the working class and banning organised labour while encouraging organised employers), and tightly regulating the economy to the benfeit of the upper classes. I agree with you that the Republicans have some merchantilists in their ranks, but I wouldn’t catergorise the Dems as pro-free market (I offer their special relationship with the AFL-CIO as an example).

    These were also the people who first propogated the meme that exports were good for a country and imports bad. Their objective was to amass large sums of gold to pay for colonial conquests. I bet most anti-globalisation activists don’t know that.

    Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations as a reaction to merchantilism. He was highly cynical regarding professional associations, such as the guilds that were still common in his time: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public”. I’m a little less cynical than that, but share some of his reservations.

  40. #40 Francis
    March 27, 2007

    It’s certainly very common in the US, but it’s actually anti-capitalist behavior. And contrary to the popular myth that libertarians are just “in the pocket of big business”, this is exactly the sort of thing that libertarians despise and would like to bring to an end. It distorts the free market and hurts consumers. That’s why libertarians get so little financial support from big corporations.

    ROFL *wipes tears out of eyes*

    Big business loves Libertarians – just look at Cato’s funding and reach. Regrettably, however, much of the confusion is caused by there being three groups both calling themselves libertarians. The first is people like you who receive almost no money. The second are the people who were born on third base and think they hit a triple – usually teenagers and often Objectivists rather than libertarians, who normally get a lot of support from Daddy’s Trust Fund. The third is groups like Cato which are more or less shills for big business and the very wealthy (let’s remove employment legislation allowing us, the wealthy, to return to 19th century business practices, and remove inheritence tax and any other progressive tax to allow obscene fortunes to be amassed at the expense of the poorest, and say that “the government shouldn’t interfere in the logic of the market” so we can externalise all our costs and take part in anti-competative practices). And this third group on its own (with more than a few sops to the second) means that libertarians are in total one of the best funded political groups per capita anywhere.

  41. #41 DuWayne
    March 27, 2007

    I think that it’s important to seperate the issues being discussed here. One issue being specific restrictions placed on non-licensed individuals, which are often times ridiculous. The admonishnment not to move furniture more than 69″ tall, is one of them – I can see where they are going with it, but it needs to be worded a lot differently – specifily restricting such movement, only in commercial spaces, would be reasonable. (Mike – that restriction woud be against anyone who is not moving the furniture, with the intent of relocating it. When they say “in the role of,” they mean someone doing that job – no matter what they call themselves.) An agregious example in some municipalities (I know of no states that have passed this blanket) it is illegal for anyone who is not licensed as either a builder, electrician or maintenance proffesional, to change a lightbulb, except in their own home. If you look for them, you will find many other, some more, ridiculous examples.

    This does not mean one needs to throw out the baby with the bath water. Interior designer, is a proffesional designation. To advertise as one, in most states, one must have a degree and passed a state certification. Anyone can do most of the work an interior designer does, without a license, they just cannot call themselves an interior designer – why should they be allowed to? Did they do the work required to get that proffesional designation? Do they have enough architecture and engineering classes, to know what they can and cannot get away with, in a given space, with their dsigns? Do they have a fundamental understanding of traffic flow, in the case of a fire or other emergency? These are just some of the things that interior designers learn in school and are tested on to get certified or licensed. Why the hell should any schmoe, who knows little to nothing about any of those things, be allowed to claim the same title that a person who actually took the time to learn their trade, is allowed to use?

    I work (though not currently) as a handyman. Where I used to live, it was legal to do such work, without any kind of license. Where I am now (Portland OR) requires a license to work as a handyman. This gives people like me, who know what the hell they’re doing, a distinct advantage over jack-asses who are trying to work for some beer money. Back in MI, I couldn’t work in this trade – too much competition from incompitent morons, who work really cheap. The same competition exists out here – but there are a lot of folks who would rather hire a person with a license, because it protects them. The person with a license is a lot more likely to know what they are doing and if it turns out they do not, the homeowner can go after their license. Likewise it makes it easier for me to get paid. I (spec. the licenseholder I work under) can put a lein on their home,if they don’t want to pay. No hassle, no lawyer – just file the paperwork. If they want to fight it, they must prove they had good reason for not paying.

    Kerhsam –
    There are a lot of grey areas where your average joe is just not aware of the potential problems that may occur, if the work they are hiring for, is not done properly. Case in point; I got an emergency call as a handyman, when a child got his head stuck in a porch railing. The rail had been installed just weeks before – by code, the spindles should have been set less than four inches apart – they were more than five, in parts of the profile. I had to cut the railing so the kid could get out – the nature of the profile on the railing meant that I had to run my sawzall less than an inch from the kids kneck – this was not a fun job – one slip and I could have cut his throat. The asshole that installed the railing was not licensed and didn’t have a clue what the code was. As the porch was not very high off the ground, the homeowners didn’t think it was a very big deal – turns out they were mistaken. I’m not saying that licensing always prevents these kind of mistakes, but it minimizes them and leaves the homeowner with recourse when things do occur.

  42. #42 Perry Willis
    March 27, 2007

    Wow. Clearly some posting here won’t be satisfied until they live in a world very much like the one depicted in the movie “Brazil.” Regulations uber alles. Ve must force people to buy only the very best at all times, as determined by ve the regulators, and must prohibit all potential bad things, no matter how marginal, as determined by us. But please pay little attention to how screwed up ve the regulators are. Utopia, utopia, just a few more regulations, and regulations to regulate the regulations, and we’ll be there. Breathtaking.

    The more complex the world becomes, the fewer and simpler the rules should be.

  43. #43 JS
    March 27, 2007

    Perry should really look up the definition of ‘straw man argument.’

    Yes, yes, I’ll stop feeding the troll now…

    – JS

  44. #44 Perry Willis
    March 27, 2007

    JS —

    I feel so persuaded.

  45. #45 Ed Brayton
    March 27, 2007

    Perry is hardly a troll. I only wish that he would comment here more often as he used to do. You may disagree with him, but he certainly deserves to be taken seriously.

  46. #46 DuWayne
    March 27, 2007

    Perry Willis –

    I am not in favor of out of control regulation. I am in favor of reasonable regulation. I am happy to get rid of as much excessive regulation as possible. I am in favor of getting rid of patently ridiculous regulations, such as the one suggested in Mr. Will’s column, though I could see a certain validity in such restrictions in commercial or office spaces.

    I also think that people with a lot of experience in regulated industries should have a strong hand in developing the regulations, governing their respective industries. I do not think it should be left soley to the giants of industry, nor in my trade, construction, is it. Unfortunately, that is the case where most industries are concerned, and it’s a huge problem Thankfully, building codes are strongest at the local level – on jos I have worked on, we had to get variances in code, that were later reflected in permanent changes to the code.

    I am mainly not in favor of going to the bad old days, when large construction projects were measured in fatal accidents. I am not in favor of the days when an office fire could easily result in hundreds of lives lost. I am not interested in the days human life was just the cost of doing business. I am all in favor of rooting out all that is ridiculous in government regulations, I am just interested in finding out if something is as ridiculous as it seems first.

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