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George Will on Rent-Seeking:

George Will's column today has a great discussion of some classic rent-seeking regulation:

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.

***

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.

Will notes that the folks at the Institute for Justice are on the case. IJ has information on the New Mexico interior design case here.

anonVCfan:
No less silly than the airs the legal profession puts on...
3.22.2007 8:40pm
Elliot123 (mail):
This does remind one of the fit of vapors attorneys have when a city clerk gives the public a form the attorney would rather provide for a fee.
3.22.2007 8:45pm
Cynic:
Exactly, the whole idea of a bar controlled by lawyers...!

Or, for instance, in some states you need to be a "low voltage electrician" with years of training and apprenticeship before you are allowed to run telephone or network wires. A professional network engineer is not allowed to put any wires, period, through any wall, without such a license. There are lots of other examples of licenses that essentially create a form of group monopoly, without providing any real benefit to the public.
3.22.2007 8:59pm
jp2 (mail):
The lawyer cartel . . . yes, that is a HUGE can of worms. (Speaking as a lawyer.)
3.22.2007 9:01pm
alter ego:
IIRC (never a certainty), in Illinois late 70s-early 80s the big auto dealers didn't want to stay open on Sundays, but were losing business to smaller dealers who were willing to work all weekend. So, what's the logical response for big political donors in this position? Right, they got a law passed making it illegal to sell cars on Sunday. It's no longer in effect apparently, I don't know what happened to it.
3.22.2007 9:10pm
Carolina:
Lawyers are the worst in this regard (I am one).

At least with other professions who stridently restrict who can enter (pharmacists, doctors, teachers, nurses etc) a credential from one state is fairly easily transferred to another.

In law, quite a few states (California included) mandate that anyone who wants to practice there take the bar exam, no matter how many years of experience they have.
3.22.2007 9:14pm
K Bennight (mail):
It's hard to argue the "unauthorized practice of law" rules are not anti-competitive. On the other hand, I am presently trying to straighten out title to land as to which the most recent sale was done on a form from an office supply store. It's going to be expensive for the people who thought they owned the property.
3.22.2007 9:25pm
Scipio_79:
as a lawyer too, i tend to agree with the aforementioned comments concerning lawyers and regulation, but really, even i think that my profession is more important than an interior design.
3.22.2007 9:34pm
hey (mail):
All guilds are bad for the public, but sometimes the tradeoffs are worthwhile.

Interior designers tend to have curriculums just short of architecture and are very useful for commercial, institutional, and industrial applications. Their reach into residential and social aspects of commercial design is ridiculous and not worth it.

One of the major problems with guild regulation is that one guild controls the political, bureaucratic, and regulatory process and thus looks kindly on other guilds so as to protect its own illegitimate theft from the public. Perhaps legislators should be required to not be part of or have been part of a guild.
3.22.2007 9:36pm
hey (mail):
Even the good guild - doctors - does many exceptionally damaging things. The ridiculously low numbers of spots in med school and residencies that supports lavish doctor salaries (both GP and specialists) being the major issue, though there are some fairly ridiculous restrictions on midwives and nurse practitioners.
3.22.2007 9:39pm
Charles Chapman (mail) (www):
Let me at least state the other position on the "lawyer cartel" issue. Consider immigration law. Everyone knows it is just a matter of filling in forms, right?

Well, when I first started practicing law I did immigration law. Mostly administrative appeals, habeas petitions to the District Court, and appeals to the the Ninth Circuit. My practice included a very large number of cases where a non-lawyer notario "handed someone a piece of paper" (and often "typed" it), thereby potentially (and often very probably) ruining my client's life forever.

Cases where people applied for citizenship and wound up in deportation proceedings because the citizenship application revealed on its face that the applicant was deportable (e.g., marriage to U.S. citizen terminated within 2 years; applicant left the job that got them the green card too soon, creating an inference of fraud).

Cases where the application for change of non-immigrant status (followed by the inevitable job-based green card application) would have been granted had the applicant simply waited two weeks to avoid the inference of non-immigrant visa application fraud.

Fraudulent political asylum cases where it turned out that the applicant's grandfather was a foreign born U.S. citizen, meaning we could have naturalized the applicant's mother, who then could have petitioned for her un-married daughter, giving a guaranteed Greencard. Except the notario didn't know the law, so the client risks not only being deported, but being barred from ever applying for lawful permanent residence through proper means.

Was an action for legal malpractice a remedy? It never happened. It is very hard to pursue such a case from the Philippines, or even Mexico. And who would take it on a contingent fee?

Does the marketplace provide adequate information? Not in my experience. I can't tell you how many people I dealt with who were screwed over by ignorant and/or unscrupulous non-attorneys.

FWIW, in my opinion law, or at least (perhaps surprisingly at first blush) immigration law, is one area where a regulated minimal level of competency is really important. The marketplace simply does not provide that audience with adequate information regarding the critical issue of competency, and the fall-back remedy of an civil action for damages is no remedy at all for a battered woman who is being deported back to Yemen because someone (yes, a real case) cut and pasted the *same* description of discrimination into every political asylum application.
3.22.2007 9:42pm
Hattio (mail):
Well,
I generally agree that the bar association is a guild and, as such, should be viewed with suspicion. But, once you accept the notion of a bar association, the non-portability between states is easy to accept. After all, Nevada human bodies are no different than Minnesota human bodies, so doctors should be able to transfer, but many states have extremely different laws.

BTW, did anyone else notice that the law on its face would prevent a person from moving their own furniture...and would require all movers to be licensed interior decorators. I assume there are other areas of the law not quoted that take care of re-arranging your own furniture. But it wouldn't surprise me if moving men had to be licensed.
3.22.2007 10:03pm
ReaderY:
It may not be wise, it may not be politic -- but government can define and regulate professions, and it's the business of voters, and no business of the courts if some of its efforts to do so turn out to be bad ideas.
3.22.2007 10:24pm
MnZ (mail):
A fine example of how regulation can benefit the public...
3.22.2007 10:24pm
anonVCfan:
The arguments for barriers to entry to the medical professions are quite strong, and there is a decent correlation between those arguments and the actual barriers. Any licensed doctor with an MD meets at least some minimum skill level.

Lawyers, on the other hand... well, with all of the smarmy people who become lawyers, it's hard to argue that the barriers are actually doing anything other than making money for barbri and bar associations. I agree that the law profession may be more "important" and more prone to costly abuse than interior design, but what are the barriers to entry actually doing to curb the abuse?
3.22.2007 10:32pm
PDXLawyer (mail):
People hiring a non-licensed professional (or doing it themselves) usually *know* that they're getting second rate work, but have made the cost-benefit tradeoff. Course, that doesn't stop them from whining later in many cases.

Charles' experience regarding notario publicos is something of a special case, since there is a translation issue as I understand it, and a "notario" in Mexico is typically educated in the law, unlike an American notary. In Oregon it is illegal for a notary public to call themselves a "notario" on the grounds that it is a misleading translation.
3.22.2007 10:32pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
But doesn't "unauthorized practice of law" have a much better ring to it than "unauthorized placement of furniture"? This was good for a laugh.
3.22.2007 10:41pm
lawstudent:
Check out the latest issue of the Boston College Law Review on the private ownership of standards: http://www.bc.edu/schools/law/lawreviews/bclawreview.html
3.22.2007 10:52pm
Charles Chapman (mail) (www):
PDXLawyer, you are right about the "notario" translation issue to some extent, but I don't think it is as big of a problem as most people think. The vast majority of clients I had knew that the "notario" who had prepared their papers was not a lawyer. They just didn't realize that it made any difference.

The problem was that the immigration clients I had didn't know that they were getting second rate work. They really didn't. They had friends who used a "typing service" and everything went fine. It never occurred to them that their case might be more complicated. A large part of problem is that the job looks like it involves only "filling in some forms."
3.22.2007 10:56pm
Kanchou:
As a public(county) law librarian in California, I would concur with PDXlawyer that people often actively seek out what they consider "second rated" legal advices, if they think that's all they need.

In my legal reference work, I usually direct people researching immigration issues to Gordon &Mailman or Kurzban, etc. sometimes down to specific volume or even chapters. Instead of being thankful, I had people yelled at me and cursed me because I wouldn't cross the line to give them legal advices. For some people, their time is too valuable to read for them self, but not enough to pay a lawyer to do it for them.
3.22.2007 11:51pm
JohnAnnArbor:

So, what's the logical response for big political donors in this position? Right, they got a law passed making it illegal to sell cars on Sunday.

Better than in the Detroit area until the mid-90s. Before that, all car dealers were closed both Saturday and Sunday. Those that tried weekend hours had their windows smashed.
3.23.2007 12:20am
Richard A. (mail):
Where in the constitution does the government get the power to regulate professions?
3.23.2007 1:51am
Roy Haddad (mail):

The arguments for barriers to entry to the medical professions are quite strong, and there is a decent correlation between those arguments and the actual barriers. Any licensed doctor with an MD meets at least some minimum skill level.


By the definition of "license", any licensed anything meets some minimum level of requirement. The question is, does restricting those who have not satisfied those requirements, rather than simply noting that lack (which is what a voluntary association could just as easily do) actually benefit consumers? The only way I can imagine it would is the brutishly paternalistic one.

(And note that one can be very highly skilled while not satisfying a particular requirement - veteran lawyers and out-of-state bars are the obvious example here.)
3.23.2007 2:58am
A Northwestern Law Student:
Where in the constitution does the government get the power to regulate professions?

The Commerce Clause, of course. And for state governments, their powers do not derive from the federal constitution. The general police power, which "includes all legislation and almost every function of civil government," Sligh v. Kirkwood, 237 U.S. 52, 59 (1915), is inherent in the states, limited only by their constitutions (and federal law), and pretty clearly covers the regulation of professions.

The problem, of course, is when the regulations bear no rational relationship to any state interest except the repayment of political favors. As I recall, there was a federal appellate opinion a year or two ago striking down a state regulation requiring that caskets be sold only by licensed funeral directors. When pressed, the state claimed that funeral directors would at least have the training to be able to deal with people who were grieving. Not rational, said the court, and I certainly agree. I think the same applies to the moving of furniture by other than interior decorators.
3.23.2007 3:07am
Houston Lawyer:
This reminds me of the prosecution of Black women who do hair braiding without their hair dresser licenses even though the training for hair dressers excludes hair braiding.

Self-regulation of the bar has led to mandatory continuing legal education. However, most of the CLE courses I have attended (because they are in my birth month) are of little use. Consequently, the regulation, while laudable on its face, is pretty much a farce.
3.23.2007 10:43am
Spartacus (www):
It may not be wise, it may not be politic -- but government can define and regulate professions, and it's the business of voters, and no business of the courts if some of its efforts to do so turn out to be bad ideas.

Good argument against "judicial activism," but this type of law breeds utter contempt for politicians . . . or for the imbelciles that vote them into power and refuse to demand more than this.

As for the constitutional/commerce clause arguemnt, it is irrelevant. These are state laws, and the state has pretty much plenary "police power."
3.23.2007 10:48am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Where there is potential for real damage being done by an unskilled practitioner, I think the requirement for a state license are reasonable. As the immigration lawyer above noted so well, screw-ups on legal documents can have life-altering consequences. A friend of mine formed her LLC using a form her CPA gave her. In doing so, she accidentally gave her silent, 10% partner a 50% interest in the business, with managerial control equal to her own. Oops.

Similarly, mistakes by those installing plumbing or electrical wiring have the potential to kill us or do tremendous damage to our own and others' property. Some minimal level of competency should be demanded, and the public is wise, I think, to vest government with that licensing power.

However, where fields don't have the potential to cause substantial damage to life or property, I think wisdom should push us to the market, not government. Look at the financial planning field. Although there are some requirements imposed by the government for certain transactions (Series 7), much of the quality control in that field is done through private certifying agencies. The agencies, through trademark laws, control use of their seal of approval, like "Certified Financial Planner." In order to obtain the right to use that brand, the financial planner must pass the appropriate qualifying tests.

It would seem to me that the interior designers are just too lazy to form their own certifying agency, so they want to take the easy way out and get the government to do it.
3.23.2007 11:13am
Bored Lawyer:

BTW, did anyone else notice that the law on its face would prevent a person from moving their own furniture


This could be a definitie advantage in some circumstances:

Wife: Honey, I want to rearrange our furniture, could you move the couch by the window?

Husband: Sorry, honey, no can do. I don't have an interior decorator's license.
3.23.2007 12:30pm
pete (mail) (www):
Kanchou, try being a regular public librarian for a while. Not only do people want free legal advice, but they want free medical and other advice as well. For legal advice we point people to the Vernon's or to the 'do it yourself' forms and databases.

In all cases we give the standard disclaimer that we are not doctors/lawyers/computer repairmen etc. and are reading the answer verbatim from a book or website. The medical problems people ask about without wanting to talk to a doctor can get kind of scary.
3.23.2007 1:07pm
pete (mail) (www):
Pat HMV, as someone who had a Series 7 license in the past, I think it is a good minumum requirement considering the potential for abuse in securities trading. The license combined with others I was required to get (series 66 and an insurance one as well) covered every product I could sell in a pretty thorough way including options, even though I never tried to sell options. That does not mean that all series 7 holders are competent to give financial advice. Some of the most successful financial planners I knew were great salesmen, but I would not trust them as they could not handle some of the not-to-difficult examples that we would go over in office training situations. But the Series 7 exam was tough enough to weed out the most incompetent and I knew even smart and competent people who I would trust with my investments who failed it the first time they took it.

The more troubling part was the number of people who failed the insurance exam. In Texas at least the license to sell health and life insurance is easy to get and I only had to study for a few hours to pass the exam compared to the series 7 that tooks me weeks to study for. But a lot of people who end up selling life and health insurance fail that exam at least once.
3.23.2007 1:31pm
FoolsMate:
<blockquote>
Where there is potential for real damage being done by an unskilled practitioner, I think the requirement for a state license are reasonable. As the immigration lawyer above noted so well, screw-ups on legal documents can have life-altering consequences. A friend of mine formed her LLC using a form her CPA gave her. In doing so, she accidentally gave her silent, 10% partner a 50% interest in the business, with managerial control equal to her own. Oops.
</blockquote>

Having a law license is no guarantee against incompetence, inexperience, laziness or typographical etc. errors, as an acquaintance of mine learned when trying to immigrate from GB for a job. The first law firm he hired to handle the paperwork etc <i>missed a deadline</i> and then <i>said there was nothing they could do</i> at that point (no refund). The double incompetence was revealed when the second lawyer hired fixed the problem.

The most competent lawyers are for the most part, expensive enough that they are out of reach for Joe Average to hire, or not worth hiring for small cases. I can think of many instances where consumers would benefit by retaining a competent (in a narrow area) unlicensed "lawyer" who charges a low price because he is unlicensed, rather than a licensed lawyer who charges a low price because he is incompetent.
3.23.2007 1:53pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Actually, there is a commerce clause issue with respect to lawyers' regulations, and I don't know if it has ever been litigated.

That issue is the DORMANT commerce clause. As is often joked about in Con Law classes, the courts regulate such things as what mud flaps a state can require on a truck that comes from out of state, based on the idea that a state cannot discriminate in favor of in-state commerce.

The unauthorized practice statutes, as to qualified lawyers in other states, could very well constitute a discrminatory impediment to out of state commerce. (There's also a full faith and credit issue, but that's a huge longshot.)
3.23.2007 2:41pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Where there is potential for real damage being done by an unskilled practitioner, I think the requirement for a state license are reasonable. As the immigration lawyer above noted so well, screw-ups on legal documents can have life-altering consequences. A friend of mine formed her LLC using a form her CPA gave her. In doing so, she accidentally gave her silent, 10% partner a 50% interest in the business, with managerial control equal to her own. Oops.

Similarly, mistakes by those installing plumbing or electrical wiring have the potential to kill us or do tremendous damage to our own and others' property. Some minimal level of competency should be demanded, and the public is wise, I think, to vest government with that licensing power.
Perhaps where the professional can do damage to other people (as in the case of wiring, which can burn down a neighbor's house), but what's the justification for licensing when the only damage the professional does is to the consumer? If your friend wants to take the risk of misforming her LLC, why is that the government's concern?

Moreover, let's not forget that the alternative to using a non-licensed person is often self-help. (Because the reason for using a non-licensed person is often to save money.) Who's likely to do a better job -- an experienced CPA or an untrained amateur? (Or, for that matter, an untrained lawyer? Licensing means you passed a test, not that you're competent.)
3.23.2007 4:17pm
Robert Lyman (mail):
Lawyers, on the other hand... well, with all of the smarmy people who become lawyers, it's hard to argue that the barriers are actually doing anything other than making money for barbri and bar associations.

Spoken like someone who has never had to read a pro-se pleading.

But yes, there are some really bad lawyers out there, too.
3.23.2007 5:21pm
veteran:
Richard A asks:

Where in the constitution does the government get the power to regulate professions?

A Northwestern law student answers:

The Commerce Clause, of course.

So, would that be considered "the fine print"?
3.23.2007 5:54pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Pete... I agree that the Series 7 is a good minimum requirement and had no intent to imply that it wasn't.

David... the argument about self-help being the other alternative is legitimate but, I think, ultimately unpersuasive. In choosing to do something on their own, the individual <i>knows</i> he is undertaking a risk from an unqualified person. Hiring an unregulated individual advertising as a qualified electrician increases the risk of him <i>unknowingly</i> hiring an unqualified person to do the work.

As for damage only to one's own house, that damage can pose a risk to your own safety as well as the safety of your guests. Should a fire occur, that also has the potential to damage your neighbors as well. And your house will probably be owned by somebody else one day, who will have no idea what's been done behind the sheetrock... that's one reason we impose inspection and permitting requirements on home renovations, especially the electrical work.

And yes, licensing (passing a test) is no <i>guarantee</i> of competency, but a regulation can be valid even if not 100% effective. Passing the test substantially reduces the risk of incompetency.
3.23.2007 6:18pm
wooga:
Spoken like someone who has never had to read a pro-se pleading.

I once had to demurrer to a pro-se's hand written complaint for "discrimination and thief." It had about one page of ranting, which, as far as I could make out, involved somebody cutting down a satellite dish.
3.23.2007 6:23pm
BladeDoc (mail):
I'm a physician so this is a statement against interest (is that the terminology?). I think ALL the laws creating guilds should go away and be replaced by disclosure laws. I went to a good school, passed my board exam, and have been in practice for 5 years. I believe I can compete with the do-it-yourselfers, faith healers, or unlicensed quacks just fine. It's like the old joke -- sign seen on a barber shop "Haircuts just $5!!" , and across the street Sign 2 -- "We fix $5 Haircuts!!"

If people were expected to rely on themselves maybe they would learn to make better choices. Of course I also believe that all drugs should be OTC and that seatbelt and helmet laws are an assault on the freedom to be stupid. Go figure.
3.23.2007 6:34pm
Pol Mordreth (mail):

If people were expected to rely on themselves maybe they would learn to make better choices.


I agree, as long as I don't have to pay for all the ones who get hurt by their own stupidity, as I currently have to in the medicine and insurance games.

However, what about architects? Should I be responsible for researching the provenance of every building I go into to determine if it was designed by a reasonably competent architect? Built by a competent engineer? wired by a competent electrician? For most of us, going to work isn't (and shouldn't be) the equivalent of taking your life into your hands. This then becomes a fine line, as some professions do require regulation. My rule of thumb, if someone's work product has the ability to harm me through no negligence on my part, they need to be regulated. Some states have stricter regulation than others, so I can vote with my feet.

As an aside, Mr. Will is way off base with his article. A 'licensed Interior Designer' is required to be effectively a specialization of Architect. they have to know building codes, fire safety, toxic gases, egress requirements, etc. I can see where the State has an interest in insisting on those people with the BS and cert are called something different than somebody who happens to have an 8th grade literacy level but can instinctively match colors. (hyperbole intentional)

R/
Pol
3.23.2007 7:06pm
Nibbles:
For a bunch of lawyers, you all don't seem to read the law much.

First of all NRS 623.330(1)(e) exempts "Any person who prepares plans, drawings or specifications for buildings for his own private residential use."

NRS 623.330(1)(g) further exempts:

"Any person who prepares drawings of the layout of materials or furnishings used in interior design or provides assistance in the selection of materials or furnishings used in interior design, including, without limitation:

(1) Decorative accessories;

(2) Wallpaper, wallcoverings or paint;

(3) Linoleum, tile, carpeting or floor coverings;

(4) Draperies, blinds or window coverings;

(5) Lighting fixtures which are not part of a structure;

(6) Plumbing fixtures which are not a part of a structure; and

(7) Furniture or equipment,

if the preparation or implementation of those drawings or the installation of those materials or furnishings is not regulated by any building code or other law, ordinance, rule or regulation governing the alteration or construction of a structure."

I'm not sure where the 69" height limit on furniture comes in, but it probably comes from the building codes. I would guess related to earthquake saftey.

Interior design does have safety aspects. Egress in case of fire is important, especially in warehouses and other commercial structures. Do you want just anybody to be able to lay out the interior of a crowded night club?

And no, I'm not an interior designer although I do hold a Nevada license in a related field.
3.23.2007 7:44pm
Kanchou (www):
Pete: Been there, done that. I went to library school because I paid my way through my undergraduate years working in academic library that open to general public. I agree the unlicensed practice of the law had shielded us law librarians from some of the more unreasonable demands.

I don't know what's the number in Texas(guessing based on reference to Vernon), but in California, half of the family law cases ended up with at least one party became per pro/pro se/self-representing litigants. And I had up to a score of them in one day. It's amazing to see people who are willing to cut corners when so much are at stake. And it's not just the people who can not afford it. In my county, the court use a software to calculate child and spousal support. When I help people using it, over 30% of them have income in 6 digits.

David M. Nieporent:

Licensing means you passed a test, not that you're competent.
That's true, but is the state bar is doing their job, one should be competent to maintain the license. I had personally assisted one self-representing litigant file complain against another patron, his former attorney and received reimbursement from client security fund.* The attorney was suspended for a combination of being incompetent and dishonesty. Professional licensing requirement usually have a bonding requirement on top of qualification requirement and skill tests, precisely because passing the exam does not grantee one is competent.

*Client security fund in California doesn't really protect clients from incompetent attorneys, more against dishonest ones.
3.23.2007 8:03pm
Toby:
In response to the alleged show-stopper on immigration:

One of my sisters, a nu n who thereby spends more time than most of us with the most vulnerable, ran for a decade an immigration family law practice. SHe eventually got some sort of court officer status, after years of cleaning up absolute messes promulgated by <drumroll>lawyers</drumroll>.

This is not to claim all immigration lawyers are incompetent. I am happy to imagine most are competent. I am not arguing "any idiot can do it" because I do not feel my sister, with her doctorates in theology, is an idiot.

I am arguing, however, that argument from anecdote is weak at best. From her work, I could easily draw inference, based upon truthfull anecdote, that there is not a competent immigation lawyer in Southern California.

But I really suspect that ther are at least a couple...
3.23.2007 9:54pm
Visitor Again:
A long time ago--in 1957 when I turned 14--I was a victim of the unlicensed. My parents, then new immigrants to this land, bought a home haircutting kit in their never-ending quest to cut costs and tried it out on me. I remember them taking turns on the back of my head, each one trying to undo the other's incompetence, lopping of hair on one side or the other in rotation until, in their hopeless efforts to get it level across the back, they got almost to the top of my head. The next morning I went to a cut-rate (50 cents), but licensed barber who took one look at me and said: "Good God, who did that to you? I can't fix that. There's nothing I can do."

Ever since I have been in favor of licenses as a way of weeding out at least some of the worst incompetence--not all of it, of course, but some of it. But the problem is that the licensing system has nearly always run amok. I have no doubt that one does not need to be a lawyer to handle some types of what are generally considered legal problems competently. Perhaps there ought to be licenses that authorize one who is not a lawyer but has specified training to do particular tasks within the law. The bar, of course, has fought strenuously against this kind of thinking. Hell, they even fought against paralegals at first.
3.24.2007 1:14am
markm (mail):

As an aside, Mr. Will is way off base with his article. A 'licensed Interior Designer' is required to be effectively a specialization of Architect. they have to know building codes, fire safety, toxic gases, egress requirements, etc.

But do you need all that to move furniture? Similarly, there are the hairdressing licenses that require someone to learn to handle toxic salon chemicals - even if all they are going to do is braid hair. The basic problem is that license-holders get the activities covered by the license extended way beyond the scope of the safety requirements that justified the license in the first place.

Neither electrician and plumbing licenses nor building code inspectors guarantee competence. Some years ago, I bought an old house from the bank that had repossessed it. Among other things, the bank supplied a certificate from an electrician that had inspected the wiring. Once in the house, it took me 10 minutes with a $3 tester to find a half-dozen miswired power sockets. Not that this is surprising in a house that was built in 1905, but what exactly did that electrician do for his fee?

Friends of mine recently moved into a new house, and at the moment the water was turned on, it began spraying out everywhere. The plumbers forgot to tighten up dozens of joints, and the inspector didn't catch it, which I can't see as possible if he really inspected the pipes. (This same inspector is hell on do-it-yourselfers.) Many of these leaky joints had been sealed up into the walls after the inspector signed off on them.

The contractors must have paid for repairs, but not for the inconvenience, but the inspection office kept the thousand-dollar plus fees they had collected, and no doubt collected more for signing off on the repair work. In my experience, this is absolutely typical for government agencies - they screw up, others pay for it, and the agency gets more money! In this case, there is a practical free-market alternative. If government agencies didn't inspect buildings, insurance companies, lenders, and informed buyers would still insist on seeing an inspection certificate from a reputable private inspection service. A few screwups like my friends experienced would put a private inspector out of business, unlike a government agency. And when I do some work on my house myself, I could shop around for a good inspector that will explain in advance what he'll be looking for, rather than trying to trip me up...
3.24.2007 8:42am
CID:
*sigh* Thanks to Pol and Nibbles for some facts, rather than even-more-unresearched-opinions.

Let's look again at what Mr. Will said, just to clarify one issue:


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.


Keywords here are "in the role of an interior designer".

Of course a private citizen can move one's own furniture as often as one chooses within one's home. And if you want your neighbor's opinion, that's absolutely fine, too. As far as I know, there aren't any laws about where you can put your armoire in your own home.

There are a MYRIAD of laws that regulate furniture placement in public spaces, however.

If someone is assuming the role of interior designer for a public space, should they not be held LIABLE (any lawyers here see that word for what it is?) for ensuring that it meets legal regulations?

Given the general public's ignorance of these laws and regulations, wouldn't it be a good idea to only allow people who've PROVEN they know what they're talking about to make these decisions?

But let's get back to the specific example:

A 70" file cabinet could block egress from a building in the case of a fire. There's a law about the width of a path of travel for egress from a building.

A 70" file cabinet could limit the path of travel for a person in a wheelchair. There's a law (and a LOT of litigation) about accessibility by the handicapped.

A 70" file cabinet is generally immovable by one person.

Should someone be trapped, or have their civil rights impeded by a file cabinet that they cannot move alone, SOMEONE must be held responsible - someone must be LIABLE - for the non-compliance with code.

The government certifies (registers, licenses) professionals to do work in order to have someone to hold responsible for applying the laws it generates.

PatHMV: In most states that currently have title or practice acts, the requirement for certification/registration/licensure is most often based on successfully completing a professional exam administered by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ.org) - the exam is only available to designers who have a minimum level of both education and experience.

There is no doubt that Mr. Will is correct that interior designers are, indeed, asking the government to limit their profession to those they feel are qualified... but in this case, it's utterly appropriate because the health, safety and welfare of the (blissfully ignorant) public is at issue.
3.26.2007 4:50pm