Conservatives incessantly bemoan the tangled thicket of government regulation, which is what they say socialists like Barack Obama live to inflict on otherwise productive free market capitalists.
This is a note about two curious omissions from that perennial lament.
For eight giddy if not glorious years, the free-market capitalists had everything they ever wanted. Under Bush/Cheney, regulations evaporated.
Republicans controlled the Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court. Congress repealed time-tested, essential regulations. The Court struck down others. And Bush/Cheney wouldn’t let government regulators enforce the rest. When any bureaucrat tried to maintain order, ethics, safety, or transparency in the market, one of the regulated companies would complain and the errant regulator was summarily transferred, demoted, or fired.
So how did their golden age of unfettered capitalism work out?
They blew up the financial system, crippled the economy, screamed for emergency socialism to bail out the banks, caused the worst recession in half a century, and wreaked untold misery on millions of Americans who lost their jobs and their homes.
Surely, they had finally learned their lesson? Naah. They’re singing the same song, only louder, now that Democrats hold the White House and (sort of) the Senate.
And there’s a second shell game afoot when entrepreneurial capitalists complain about regulation.
These supposed free-marketers are the first to demand corporate welfare, protectionist trade restrictions, and every other form of government intrusion that will hamstring their competitors or preserve their cartels and monopolies.
Remember how they lobbied the Senate into Prohibiting Medicare from negotiating better prices on pharmaceuticals?
This week’s Economist looks at one such batch of regulations demanded by business –- anti-competitive licensing requirements. In the U.S., 38% of all jobs now require some form of certification (In the UK, it’s 13%).
For example, Benedictine abbot Justin Brown in Louisiana has been supplementing his tiny income by handmaking wooden coffins. He was just notified by the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors that state law says he can’t do that unless he’s a certified member – which they would make it excruciatingly difficult and expensive to become.
“Heaven knows,” says the Economist, “what harm a corpse might suffer from an unlicensed coffin.”
To lighten the regulatory burden, Florida’s legislature recently advanced a bill to remove licensing requirements from 20 non-critical occupations, including hair-braiding, interior design, and teaching ballroom dancing. Surely everyone, left or right, could get behind this fresh breeze of liberation from wasted time, money, and frustration.
Cartels of businesses engaged in such pursuits sent in their lobbyists and kept all the regulations in place.
In many if not most states, licenses are required for florists, barbers, wigmakers, wrestlers, tour guides, interior designers, and purveyors of frozen custard, fireworks, and second-hand books. You can’t be too careful. Alabama demands that would-be manicurists take 750 hours of instruction and an examination.
(Hey, cuticle, how much is five plus five?)
In Utah, Jestina Clayton, an African hair braider with 23 years of experience (this, too, from the Economist) is barred from pursuing her craft.
The Utah Barber, Cosmetologist/Barber, Electrologist and Nail Technician Licensing Board (all hail the laissez-faire capitalists of Utah!) decrees that Jestina must have a license – which will cost up to $18,000 for 2,000 hours of study, none of it dealing with African hair braiding.
Thus do crusading free-market foxes regulate capitalist hen houses.
To save you from socialism, they would regulate every hair on your head.