This bill pending in the Maine Legislature would prompt a review and recommendations regarding the removal of licensing, permitting and certification requirements for various occupations. It’s a good development. According to the Institute for Justice, “Maine licenses 39 of the 102 low- and middle-income occupations studied. Residents seeking to enter these occupations can anticipate, on average, paying $206 in fees, losing 226 days to training requirements and taking one exam, making Maine’s the 30th most burdensome licensing laws.” Paring the list of occupations requiring licensure thus stands to remove barriers currently restraining residents from entering the job market in Maine. Occupations which currently require residents to be licensed and slated for review include animal breeders, debt collectors, veterinary technologists, security guards and massage therapists.
According to this article, “members of the public who came to testify on the bill were all either neutral or in total opposition to the bill. It is not unusual for licensing reform bills to be met with strong opposition by bottleneckers. The book Bottleneckers: Gaming the Government for Power and Private Profit defines a bottlenecker as a person who advocates for the creation or perpetuation of government regulation—particularly through occupational licensing—to restrict entry into his or her occupation.”
The lack of any public testimony in favor of this bill illustrates an important point about liberty – liberty requires vigilance. If there does not exist a sufficient number of people to guard against it, coercion and restraint will inevitably seep into the legislative process. Coercion and restraint go by many names and forms. Whether patronage, favoritism, cronyism, or outright graft, they are an ever present danger waiting for any opportunity to affect the legislative process. Human nature being what it is, they will inevitably prevail unless liberty’s guardians are sufficiently vigilant.
Though there are certainly legislators and other government officials who are committed to the cause of liberty and understand its societal benefits, we see that their efforts too often fall flat for lack of support from the populace. The public response to the Maine law is illustrative of the point. Because its benefits are immediate and focused, there is no lack of support for the licensing law which restrains others from entering protected occupations. Those who benefit from the restraint see that those benefits are tangible and immediate and are thus willing to spend time and resources advocating it. Accordingly, “members of the public who came to testify on the bill were all either neutral or in total opposition to the bill.”
Because liberty’s benefits are often indirect and dispersed, good public policy based in individual freedom too often finds itself without a champion to argue on its behalf. An individual who might consider seeking employment as a security guard if he became aware of the opportunity might not even know that a law exists requiring security guards to be licensed. That individual would also not likely be aware of legislation pending which might relieve him of the obligation to become licensed in order to qualify for a position as a security guard. And even if he had all the knowledge of the underlying circumstances, as a single individual he’d be less likely to make the necessary effort in order to speak out regarding the bill than would existing security guards who may well be organized and represented by formal organizations or unions.
So it is that bad public policy based in coercion or restraint often succeeds where good public policy based in individual liberty flounders. This paradigm can change only when a sufficient percentage of the populace is both persuaded to the societal benefits of individual liberty and committed to outspoken and active citizenship. Legislators who espouse constitutionalism and first principles require the outspoken support of the citizenry in order to combat coercion and restraint in the legislative process. Likewise, candidates who demonstrate a commitment to those principles require the active and financial support of the citizenry in conducting their election campaigns.