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Dan Greenberg:

I've know and much liked Dan since the early 1990s, when we both lived in D.C., and I'm delighted to see that he's making a splash, even in the limited arenas of Arkansas politics and Reason magazine. Check out the story about his campaign against Arkansas' interior designer licensing scheme, and more, at Reason.

Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
That's a somewhat-less-than-robust lead-in.

(off to read the article anyway)


one of Greenberg's hobbies is apparently reading policy papers from the D.C. economic liberty litigators at the Institute for Justice



worse ways to spend one's time, and the scenario in the article is reminiscent of a similar license required for hairbraiding in another state, also brought to light by the IofJ.
11.7.2008 6:09pm
Joegelman (mail) (www):
Eugene
I think your friend Dan is confusing Interior Designers with Interior Decorators. Decorators are indeed responsible for color coordination and other decisions that are a matter of taste and of little serious consequence.

Interior Designers (many of whom are interior Architects) must have a level of education that qualifies them to make much more serious decisions like the type of flooring in a commercial space, the type of interior material, space planning and so forth. These are matters that go directly to public safety. For example, using flooring that may increase slip-and fall liability in a supermarket, using lighting material or seating material that may increase the risk of fire in a theater; Space planning that my hinder escape routes. Licensed Interior Designers take full responsibility for these matters, are insured, and sign off on meeting all interior construction safety and fire codes; Less important for small residences, but crucial for public spaces and larger structures. Your friend simply does not understand the construction process.

A licensed Architect can also act as an Interior Designer, but an Interior Designer is not necessarily a licensed Architect. The only way to make sure that an Interior Designer is qualified to sign off on very important code and safety decisions is to maintain a licensing system that assures that a practicing Interior Designer is educated, knowledgeable, insured, bonded and licensed. That is a matter of public safety not a matter of taste.
11.7.2008 6:12pm
Fub:
... and I'm delighted to see that he's making a splash, even in the limited arenas of Arkansas politics and Reason magazine.
Heh. I do commend him and hope he succeeds in his campaigns. From everything I've read about him he's very savvy. So I'm sure he's more than ready for the "limited arena of Arkansas politics", where debates can get mighty het up.

In 1837, Speaker of the House John Wilson fatally stabbed Representative Joseph J. Anthony after a debate over taxes.

And in 1874 President Grant ordered troops to intervene in the Brooks-Baxter War.
11.7.2008 6:13pm
MatthewM (mail):
Joegelman,

You're wrong about the distinction between interior designers/decorators in the context of the cartelization laws discussed here. All designers -- including those who merely select color schemes or furniture -- are required to be licensed under these laws. So the "public safety" rationale does not hold up as a justification for these particular regulations.

Moreover, I contest the entire factual basis of your assertions. There is no empirical evidence whatsoever that shows that the use of "licensed" interior designers has led to a higher level of safety in buildings. The examples you give concern adherence to particular safety codes, which do not require the professional "certification" which the interior designer laws require.

Finally, from a libertarian perspective, "public safety" is not a sufficient rationale for laws of this kind. It is not a legitimate use of state power to require that buildings be made safer; that is what people should be free to demand, if they want it. And if they want to skimp and live/work/ or visit less safe buildings, that is there choice. Only outright negligence should be addressed by government, and that single exception must be rigidly circumscribed to ensure that government does not take over the building industry, as it practically has already.
11.7.2008 7:34pm
NaG (mail):
Perhaps Joegelman can tell us about the appalling dangers to the public that have been plainly evident in those 28 states that do not have licensing requirements for interior designers.
11.7.2008 7:45pm
pauldom:
MatthewM

Finally, from a libertarian perspective, "public safety" is not a sufficient rationale for laws of this kind. It is not a legitimate use of state power to require that buildings be made safer; that is what people should be free to demand, if they want it. And if they want to skimp and live/work/ or visit less safe buildings, that is there choice. Only outright negligence should be addressed by government . . . .


When you say "for laws of this kind," do you mean because there is (apparently) no evidence that the license makes people safer? Or are you making a broader claim about licensing/public safety? If the latter, I'm trying to figure out how one distinguishes "less safety" from "outright negligence." I'm not arguing, just asking.
11.7.2008 8:03pm
Ben P:

In 1837, Speaker of the House John Wilson fatally stabbed Representative Joseph J. Anthony after a debate over taxes.


Not only that, two other duels were scheduled after that first legislative session ended.

Shortly after Arkansas gained statehood one of our first Representatives to Congress, Henry Conway, killed one of our first governors, Robert Crittenden, in a duel.

Sadly, there are no longer regular duels in Arkansas, there's only outlandishly corrupt local politics.
11.7.2008 9:06pm
Fub:
Ben P wrote at 11.7.2008 9:06pm:
Shortly after Arkansas gained statehood one of our first Representatives to Congress, Henry Conway, killed one of our first governors, Robert Crittenden, in a duel.
Yep, only vice-versa -- Crittenden killed Conway. And eventually got a fair chunk of real estate named after himself too.
Sadly, there are no longer regular duels in Arkansas, there's only outlandishly corrupt local politics.
Yeah, the good ol' days of serious Democratic politics were long gone by our time. But I still recall playing mumblety-peg at recess.
11.7.2008 11:12pm
Joegelman (mail) (www):
MatthewM,
Well in that case are you arguing that Architects and Engineers should also not be licensed and that as a matter of public safety anyone should be qualified to throw up a skyscraper or bridge? You see, this is where Libertarians lose people (I have a libertarian streak in me as well, but seriously). And how exactly are people going to know, according to your theory, which unsafe building to ignore and which building to patron?

Keep in mind that interior designers mostly do work on refurbishing existing buildings, or tenant improvements in existing buildings where the services of a full-blown Architect may not be justified economically.

As for States that do not require Interior Designer licensing. It is entirely possible that these states have other methods of achieving the exact same safety standards, such as requiring the signature of licensed Architects or qualified licensed Contractors, but bottom line, someone educated, licensed, bonded and insured must sign and take responsibility for structures that involve the public safety. That's one standard that separates a civilized and highly organized society from third world hell-holes where such standards are non-existent.

I can tell you that there IS one major profession that should not require a license and that is LAW.
11.8.2008 12:15am
Fub:
Joegelman wrote at 11.8.2008 12:15am:
MatthewM,
Well in that case are you arguing that Architects and Engineers should also not be licensed and that as a matter of public safety anyone should be qualified to throw up a skyscraper or bridge? You see, this is where Libertarians lose people (I have a libertarian streak in me as well, but seriously). And how exactly are people going to know, according to your theory, which unsafe building to ignore and which building to patron?
I'm not MatthewM, and I'm not interested in debating whether interior designers should be licensed or not. But I will add one fact to the mix.

Until about 15 years ago, the FCC required licensure of engineers who worked on commercial radio transmitters of all types. There was considerable public safety rationale for that. For example: an off-frequency or misbehaving transmitter can interfere with public safety communications, distress calls, ship-to-shore, aircraft-to-tower, and the like; even an improperly lighted antenna tower is a hazard to airplane navigation.

Now that licensure is not only not required, the licenses are no longer even offered by the FCC. The burden of liability for regulatory compliance was shifted to the licensee of the transmitter facility (the party who has the license to broadcast on the allocated frequency, the radio station owner).

Does that mean that idiots now design, construct and maintain transmitter facilities? It means the opposite. Broadcast licensees want to keep their broadcast licenses, and not be sued by people injured by bad radio transmissions. So radio engineers are as sharp as ever -- if they want to work in the business.
11.8.2008 1:26am
neurodoc:
For some reason, I can't access the website of the National Council of Interior Design Qualifications (NCIDQ), which I suspect would gives us a better idea of what is involved here. I did, however, find this from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics...
Traditionally, most interior designers focused on decorating—choosing a style and color palette and then selecting appropriate furniture, floor and window coverings, artwork, and lighting...
That "traditional" focus of those calling themselves interior designers sounds to me remarkably like the "traditional" focus of those calling themselves interior decorators. And if I wanted someone to do that sort of work for me, I would rely much more heavily on a look at their portfolio of work for others than a hechsher from the NCID. Rather a different matter I think from educational/training requirements and qualifying examinations for the licensure and certifications of health care professionals.

I, like Joegelman (and unlike (MatthewM), think it absolutely lunatic to maintain that "safety" is insufficient justification for government licensure of building trade professionals like architects and construction engineers. Are those who think otherwise willing to see school buildings collapse from time to time, killing the children within them, as has happened in China and Haiti recently? I expect that even Ron Paul is not that whacky, though I'm not sure of it.
11.8.2008 10:22am
byomtov (mail):
from a libertarian perspective, "public safety" is not a sufficient rationale for laws of this kind. It is not a legitimate use of state power to require that buildings be made safer; that is what people should be free to demand, if they want it.

Anyone who wants to understand why libertarianism has a hard time being taken seriously should read this.
11.8.2008 11:36am
Joegelman (mail) (www):
Neuro's mention of yesterday's collaps of a school building in Haiti in which dozens of children (possibly more) were killed, is spot on. I can almost gurantee that Haiti has no licensing requirments.
Joe
11.8.2008 4:02pm
Light Hearted (mail):
I agree libertarians should not bring up licensure laws at introductory cocktail gatherings, but the economic argument against licensure is fairly damning. It is easily found in the mainstream economics literature.

The problem is that licensing as costs as well as benefits, and careful cost-benefit analysis often speaks against licensure.

For example, their are more accidental home electrocutions in states that license electricians compared to those that don't. Reason? Because electricians charge a lot more in states where they are licensed (and therefore in shorter supply), and as a result there is more incentive for people to try to fix things themselves.

I'm a physician myself, and I assure you that licensure laws do not prevent the practice of significantly incompetent physicians, but they do tend to make our reimbursements much better, and they also lull patients into an illusion of acceptance, because after all the doctor IS licensed to practice medicine. I'm sure lawyers on this blog could make similar statements of their profession.

Of course, libertarians have nothing against certification. Quite likely, people will learn quickly to ask for a professional's certification before hiring him. The difference between certification and licensure? With certification, the customers are informed as to the level of the vendor's training, level of passage of standardized certification exams, etc. They can then decide for themselves whether that level of training is sufficient. With licensure, the state makes the decision for you.

As a result, with certification, you can decide whether the person treating your mild sunburn needs the level of pre-residency training of the person removing your brain tumor. With licensure, the best surgeon in California is not immediately available to assist you if he has just moved to Florida and not yet gone through the bureaucratic swamp of paperwork to get a Florida license.

Despite the fact YOU can't decide the level of quality you wish to pay for based on your particular problem, doctors now can. After telling the licensing agencies for decades that nothing less than 4 years of medical school and further residency training suffices for ANY medical diagnosis, now matter how easy, physicians have found, as their remunerations are squeezed, that maybe people with somewhat less training can act as helpful adjuncts after all. Just as long as THEY get to decide rather than YOU. So you now go to see a doctor and often end up seeing a nurse practitioner or physician assistant.

The politics of licensure are also of interest; they are typically used to restrict entry into a field, and have the most deleterious effects on the poor and minorities, for whom another way out of the ghetto--apprenticing oneself to someone who can teach you a trade--is closed off.

But most people are easily frightened of something new to their experience, so I fully agree that this should not be the first thing a libertarian brings up. Similarly, professional economists specializing in monetary theory should probably not first bring up, in discussing solutions to the current financial crisis, the benefits of private banking and the competitive issuance of specie (private money), despite the fact that Nobel Laureates such as Friedrich Hayek supported the idea.
11.8.2008 10:25pm
Fub:
neurodoc wrote at 11.8.2008 10:22am:
I, like Joegelman (and unlike (MatthewM), think it absolutely lunatic to maintain that "safety" is insufficient justification for government licensure of building trade professionals like architects and construction engineers. Are those who think otherwise willing to see school buildings collapse from time to time, killing the children within them, as has happened in China and Haiti recently? I expect that even Ron Paul is not that whacky, though I'm not sure of it.
Since "safety" is an extremely malleable concept in the hands of government (recall the ridiculously low threshold for the rational basis test), I tend to be skeptical of claims that invoke it as a justification for mandatory licensure.

But, I do rather like the Code of Hammurabi on the subject of liability for architectural and construction defects:
229 If a builder build a house for some one, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.

230 If it kill the son of the owner the son of that builder shall be put to death.

231 If it kill a slave of the owner, then he shall pay slave for slave to the owner of the house.

232 If it ruin goods, he shall make compensation for all that has been ruined, and inasmuch as he did not construct properly this house which he built and it fell, he shall re-erect the house from his own means.

233 If a builder build a house for some one, even though he has not yet completed it; if then the walls seem toppling, the builder must make the walls solid from his own means.
Those are much simpler than modern professional licensure statutes, and with relatively minor modifications I think they would be much more effective. This might be especially true in the Haitian example.
11.9.2008 12:43pm
Dan Greenberg (mail) (www):
One relevant fact that is perhaps not clear from the discussion above is that -- in Arkansas -- anybody can call themselves an "interior designer" and do business in the state. However, to bill oneself as a "registered interior designer," you must have 6 years of education and training and pay a registration fee.

It is hard for me to see any justification for this scheme, since I don't understand how anybody is being protected from bad interior designers -- since anybody can call him- or herself an interior designer, as long as there is no use of the r-word. However, if you understand this legislation as the first step in creating a cartel that harms consumers, I think the real justification is easier to understand (although more difficult to sympathize with!).

As a student of government, one thing I have observed repeatedly is that good intentions are not a sufficient ingredient for good policy. I think many people who advocate regulatory schemes of one kind or another have good intentions. However, the fact that, as the IJ study referenced in the article says, "there are no statistically significant differences in the average number of complaints against [interior design] companies in highly regulated states, less-regulated states and states with no regulation" suggests to me that regulatory schemes involving interior designers -- that necessarily burden companies and consumers -- should meet a high burden of proof before we conclude that they are good policy.
11.9.2008 12:46pm