Why You Can't Braid Someone's Hair In Utah For Money Without First Paying $16k

from the regulatory-control dept

The common wisdom that you'll often hear is that industries hate regulations, and would prefer deregulation. And, in certain areas that's definitely true. But, in others, industries want regulation -- but not for a good reason. It's because legacy players realize two things: (1) they can often "control" the regulatory process (hello regulatory capture) to twist it to their own advantage and (2) it's a really handy way to limit competition. We just recently wrote about some of the more ridiculous factors concerning teaching certifications. Lots of people pushed back in the comments arguing -- correctly -- that just because someone knows something, it doesn't mean they're a good teacher. But... there's another point that we made in the post that many of those people ignored: just because you "certify" teachers, it doesn't mean they're any better at teaching. In fact, as our post noted, the research has shown no noticeable difference between certified and uncertified teachers. So you can make the argument all you want that certification is somehow "needed," but if that certification doesn't seem to help at all, it's wise to at least question the certification process.

The same Planet Money folks who brought us that story recently did a podcast and a NY Times article on another example of regulatory ridiculousness. This one involved a woman who had built a small business braiding the hair of African children in Utah. The woman, Jestina Clayton, grew up in Sierra Leone, where she learned to braid hair, and when she ended up in Centerville, Utah, she discovered there was demand there, due to a large number of adopted African children, whose parents had no idea what to do with their hair. Then, someone threatened to "report" her for practicing "cosmetology" without a license. She checked it out and discovered that bizarre (but all too common) regulation made that true -- but to get her license she'd have to go to school for two years at a cost of $16,000. All to braid hair. And, even more ridiculous, none of the schools taught anything having to do with braiding hair like Clayton did. It would be a pure waste.

If you can, you should listen to the Planet Money podcast on this, because they actually get a spokesperson from the "Professional Beauty Association" try to explain why the government must regulate "professional beauty" practitioners before they kill again (well, only slight exaggeration). She does go on and on about the "consumer safety issues" of the people she's supposedly representing. My favorite risk? "Open wounds." From hair braiding?

Either way, Clayton went before the (I'm not joking) Barber, Cosmetology/Barber, Esthetics, Electrology and Nail Technology Licensing Board of Utah, to try to convince them to let her braid without a license. Apparently this became a big issue and "licensed cosmetologists" came out of the woodwork to argue against her -- and her request was denied.

As the report notes: none of this is to necessarily say that all regulation is bad and that industries don't need some sort of regulation. But, at the very least, if there is going to be regulation, shouldn't there be some evidence that it's (a) needed and (b) effective? Because, somehow, I don't think that there's a big risk from a woman braiding some kids' hair in Utah.

Filed Under: cosmetology, jestina clayton, regulation, sierra leone, utah

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  1. icon
    W Klink (profile), 29 Jun 2012 @ 10:26am

    The Theory of Economic Regulation

    In 1971, long before Freakonomics, George Stigler published "The Theory of Economic Regulation" (http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/3003160). In the paper, he measures the level of regulation of competing industries: Rail roads (the large incumbent industry with huge barriers to entry) vs Trucking (an upstart industry in the 1930s with much lower start up costs and no significant barriers to entry). Trucking is mostly regulated by state, so he compares the level of regulation by state and considers other factors.

    Would it surprise you to know that weight limits on trucks were correlated with how much rail was already in the state? States with a lot of rail had tighter regulations on trucks. In two states, the weight limit on trucks between two rail stations was more strict than on routes that were not served by rail.

    There was also a statistically significant correlation between the level of trucking regulation and the size of the agricultural workforce. The larger the ag industry (which depend on cheap transportation) was, the less onerous the regulations on trucking were.

    It's undeniable that trucking must be regulated. Trucks can tear up roads and can be a danger to everyone else on the road. But should the level of regulation really be a function of how strong their competitors are?

    To all industries, regulation is an economic service. You may have to pay to avoid or, or you can pay to have it thrust upon your competitors. It's something that you "buy" from the government, and you "buy" it with votes, organization, and campaign contributions. And you can only buy it from a government (the only real natural monopoly).

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