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The Right to Work


The people of Louisiana must sleep soundly knowing that their state protects them from ... unlicensed florists.

That's right. In Louisiana, you can't sell flower arrangements unless you have permission from the government. How do you get permission? You must pass a test that is graded by a board of florists who already have licenses. To prepare for the test, you might have to spend $2,000 on a special course.

The test requires knowledge of techniques that florists rarely use anymore. One question asks the name of the state's agriculture commissioner — as though you can't be a good florist without knowing that piece of vital information.

The licensing board defends its test, claiming it protects consumers from florists who might sell them unhealthy flowers. I understand the established florists' wish to protect their profession's reputation, but in practice such licensing laws mainly serve to limit competition. Making it harder for newcomers to open florist shops lets established florists hog the business.

Other states are considering adopting Louisiana's licensing law, but before any do, I hope that the law will be stricken. The Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm, has challenged the licensing in court, saying it violates liberty and equal protection, and so is unconstitutional.

"One of the most fundamental tenets of the American dream is the right to earn an honest living without arbitrary government interference. What could be more arbitrary than saying who can and who cannot sell flowers?" IJ President Chip Mellor says.

Others states have their own sets of ridiculous licensing rules. In Virginia, you need a license to be a yoga instructor. Florida threatened an interior designer with a $25,000 fine if she didn't do a six-year apprenticeship and pass a test, at a cost of several thousand dollars. Fortunately, the Institute for Justice got that law overturned.

I'm rooting for IJ because licensing interferes with the freedom to make a living, harms consumers by limiting competition and protects established firms. It's an old story. Established businesses have always used government to handcuff competition. Years ago, small grocers tried to ban supermarkets.

A&P was going to "destroy Main Street," the grocers cried. Minnesota legislators responded to their lobbying by passing a law that forbade supermarkets to hold sales. Consumers were hurt.

OK, while licensing of florists, interior designers and yoga teachers is ridiculous, what about more important professions, like law? Surely people need protection from people who would practice law without a license. Again, I say no. Lawyers' monopoly on helping people with wills, bankruptcies and divorces is just another expensive restraint of trade.

David Price recently spent six months in a Kansas jail because he wrote a letter on behalf of a man who was wrongly accused of practicing architecture without a license. When Price refused to promise never to "practice law" again, a judge sent him to jail.

All he did was write a letter. Price didn't misrepresent his credentials. However, he did save a man from paying $3,000 to a lawyer. Perhaps that was his real offense.

Some of the most famous lawyers in American history, including Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo, had no license from the state. Their customers decided whether they were worthy of being hired.

Competition is better than government at protecting consumers from shoddy work. Furthermore, licensing creates a false sense of security. Consider this: When you move to a new community, do you ask neighbors or colleagues to recommend doctors, dentists and mechanics even though those jobs are licensed? Of course. Because you know that even with licensing laws, there is a wide range of quality and outright quackery in every occupation. You know that licensing doesn't really protect you.

A free competitive market for reputation protects consumers much more effectively than government can. Today, online services like Angie's List ( make it even easier for consumers to get better information about businesses than government licensing boards will ever provide. We do need protection from shoddy businesses. But it's freedom and competition that produce the best protection.

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "Give Me a Break" and of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at <a href="" <>></a>. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at




13 Comments | Post Comment
Hard to disagree re: florists. However, I take exception to your contention that yoga instructors do not need to be licensed.

I know someone who was badly injured by a yoga instructor. Anyone could claim to be one, and make up a series of exercises with no demonstrable benefit and the potential to injure. Physicians are now referring patients to yoga instructors as part of their therapy. Surely, they want assurance that the instructors will help rather than hinder.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Carla
Wed Mar 10, 2010 7:54 AM
Responding to Carla....
The Libertarian point of view would be that it is the consumer's responsibility to verify whether this instructor is qualified and trustworthy. In an open market where there is no government regulation on such services(either hindering OR helping), the competition between those providing the services would drive the quality up. In the case of yoga instruction, there would inevitably be the creation of a private organization(s) that could certify an instructor. If a consumer has two yoga instructors to choose between, and one has this certification, and the other does not, who would logically be chosen? The instructor with the certification, of course. The instructor without the certification would either need to get this certification or find a new profession. In the case of a Doctor referring the patient, they too would choose to send them to one who has been certified by this reputable source. This type of open competition would ensure an even BETTER quality of instructors in the marketplace; not only by making the good ones better, but by making the bad ones better, or getting rid of them altogether.
The example I use of a certification is just a hypothesis. If it were not certification, then it would be a ranking system or some other form of quality control. The best example I always use for this type of private quality control is the certification of Kosher foods in the U.S and the rest of the world. For those that follow the strict Jewish Dietary Laws, it is extremely important to know that what they are putting in their body is free of certain substances. For over 80 years, the Orthodox Union(along with a number of other companies) has provided these folks with that service. You have undoubtedly have seen their symbol on dozens of products. It's the O encircling a U(looks like a U within a circle) that you see on the label of such foods. They efficiently provide this service for over 2300 companies with 4500 plans in 70 countries across the world. All together, this covers 300,000 products. They do this better than any government ever could because this is all they do, and they have perfected the process. If the government were to be responsible for such a service, then the majority of tax payers would be paying for a service they never need, as those who do use it are in the minority.
The free market can and does work when not restrained by the government. We just never get a chance to see it in action because of the handcuffs that are applied.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Jeremy
Wed Mar 10, 2010 9:50 AM
Sorry Carla, even the yoga thing is a stretch (don't pardon the pun). A person who hurts someone else is liable for that whether they are licensed or not. Having a license in no way confers competence on any individual since government licensing test measure a minimum skill set.

You think you friend wouldn't have gotten hurt if the instructor was licensed?

There are private trade groups for a reason and it's a safe bet consumers put more confidence in them than they do in government licensing.

Looking for a reputable yoga instructor? Check with the yoga association, etc. A private group can kick someone out for complaints where as it's much harder for a government agency to remove the truly incompetent from the license rolls.

In summary, government licensing for any profession should not exist. It helps no one and hinders competition.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Difster
Wed Mar 10, 2010 9:53 AM

You need to check on Tennessee. If you have just about any profession in Tennessee you have to pay a $400 yearly "Professional Privilege Tax." Its insane. Since when is it a privilege to earn a wage. I know you will do the right thing John...Call them out on it on what it is....another phony tax to raise revenue.
Comment: #4
Posted by: mark
Wed Mar 10, 2010 10:29 AM

I just saw this:

It looks like things may be changing for yoga teachers in VA.

Comment: #5
Posted by: Chris
Wed Mar 10, 2010 12:19 PM
John, maybe a little off subject, but maybe you can help me. After watching your "free electric car" special, we ordered one. We upgraded to the 6 seater, and paid a little more (about $7800) Well that was thirteen weeks ago, and every time I call them, they say I should hear back with a delivery date in 7-10 days. We were told now we might get it in mid April. We were required to pay 100% up front, and it would be delivered in 6-12 weeks. I'm getting real nervous! I did a search, and found the head guy at the company was prosecuted by the state of Aizona for real estate fraud. I'm not saying we have been ripped off yet....but I'm getting a bad feeling. Might be a good follow up story to see who actually received their cars, and how the tax credit thing worked out.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Ethan
Wed Mar 10, 2010 2:01 PM

I agree about the gov. doing a poor job in determining the quality and experience of an individual to practice a trade. I am a contractor in California, which has one of the more strict tests in the country, and the test is still a JOKE! The test is given by computer and I was in and out in less than an hour. If you can pass that test, it means you are not a complete mouth breather, but little else. By comparison, I am also a member of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) and the Certified Remodeler course they give takes 16 weeks of classes, four hours a class. The test took six and 1/2 hours and I came out sweating! Not only did I receive a certification, I learned plenty. I had to pay for the course and the test, so I took them seriously. The certification sets me and my fellow members apart from other remodelers in the community. Not only because we passes a rigorous test, but because we are willing to be accountable of our own free will.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Harry Headrick
Wed Mar 10, 2010 3:22 PM
Saying that it is the consumer's responsibility to do their own checking about the qualifications of a professional provider in a critical trade (not florists, obviously) is fine, but we know that young people just starting out, and many others with little experience or savvy, will be victimized by unscrupulous providers. Relying solely upon private certifying organizations has some problems. If anyone can print some letterhead and form their own "certification" agency, you really have no defense against bad practice and fraud. Doing away with state licensing would require some further action to make sure that predators could not declare open season on those who are vulnerable for any number of reasons.
Perhaps instead of licensing practitioners, states should simply vet professional organizations for authority to certify and insure the authenticity of the organization and its process. Reasonable fees, competence and equity could all be required along with a clear statement of standards and purpose.
At the very least, removing state licensing would require a robust program of consumer education to make sure that the sharks were not able to gorge themselves on the defenseless. The libertarian paean to individual responsibility is almost always sung by those who have been well educated (formally or informally) and who are well equipped temperamentally and circumstantially to navigate dangerous waters.
Comment: #8
Posted by: David Peck
Wed Mar 10, 2010 5:30 PM
Even those who have no clue can't be kept from the predators license or not. Instead of regulating every jot and tittle of everyday business, our lawmakers and law enforcement job is penalizing/protecting against those who perpetrate bad practice and fraud, whether they have a license or not. Fraud is fraud and can be prosecuted as such. That is government's correct place, serving justice, you can't prevent the fraud or malpractice from happening by regulating or licensing. Government is no smarter than the clueless because the bigger it gets governments main focus is by nature self preservation, and fosters inefficiency, poor management, waste and ultimately even fraud.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Brendon
Thu Mar 11, 2010 1:41 PM
It's simple. License requirements should be proportional to liability. What is the liability for a poor haircut? The cost of a new haircut. What is the liability for a bad brain surgery? The cost of a life. What is the liability for a poorly designed refinery? Multiple lives and multiple millions of dollars.


I am sure you can guess my feeling about licensing florists…
Comment: #10
Posted by: Shel
Thu Mar 11, 2010 5:55 PM
Dear Mr. Stossel, wait til you hear this one, I live in a small rural area right outside of Philadephia, most of the country is pretty urban looking not to many trees, however on our 2 acre property we have many trees and every year between moderate to heavy storms we always have to clean up our property. When trees fall, we usually cut them up and we were aloud to burn the small branches and twigs once a month. We'll in July 2009, the PA DEP mandated that Middletown ban all burning. We could gather up our bundles of debris (they can't be over a certain lenght or weight and can only be picked up on certain dates, or we can drop them off at a certain locale, but they will only take them a certain way and on specific dates) How accomodating! I am furious! This past fall and winter we had extreme storms that as i pen this comment we are still trying to clean up. I feel as a homeowner Pennsylvania took away my right to maintain my property. I watched your show about silly licensing and the gentleman stated that we have the right to own property, well don't we have the right to maintain it? I mean seriously now we only burned 2 or 3 times a year and we would make a family day of it cooking hotdogs, sharing the day. Your right the government is getting absurd with these stupid regulations, thank you.
Comment: #11
Posted by: linda cosgrove
Sat Mar 13, 2010 5:26 PM
JOhn, have you looked into HR875? Like so many laws there is vagueness and much left up to the interpretation of the administrator. Depending upon such interpretation could mean the difference of growing one's own food an illlegal matteror not. Under the guise of protecting the food of the country, the fedral Government gets their foot in the door then just take over as though they have rights or something. If this passes it will be desasterous, as each year these laws get worse and worse.
Comment: #12
Posted by: tim brigham
Sun Mar 28, 2010 5:11 PM
send me emails on any thing i can do to defeat our current government at the ballot box.
Comment: #13
Posted by: edward stroble
Mon Apr 5, 2010 7:16 AM
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