Killing the Foundation of America

Posted by Joe Zichelli.

The entrepreneurial spirit that was once a driving force in America is under attack due to egregious government overreach and licensing requirements that are putting hard-working and dynamic Americans out of work – even in some cases costing them their livelihood as well as thousands of dollars in fines. Occupational licensing – the need to secure a government permission slip to perform a specific job – is an oppressive force on small businesses and the backs of countless Americans trying to make an honest living. This unconstitutional overreach must be corrected and the government must once again recognize economic liberties as a substantive right and one that cannot changed.

Occupational licensing is a problem that is morally disturbing and a direct impediment to the success of various businesses throughout the United States. Occupational licensing can be summed up as “permission slips” from the government allowing one to work, as defined by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm concerned with defending civil rights from government infringement.[1]   In addition to this simply making it harder to succeed, more often than not, poorer people as well as minorities and immigrants are more adversely impacted as a result of these licensing requirements because they are the ones who are unable to pay for the required education or even the license in order to comply with the laws promulgated by various states. Since they cannot afford the license or education requirements, they are subjected to a fine, imposing another financial burden – and yet another road bump on the path to success.

The number of industries that require licensing is absurd and only growing. These industries include but are not limited to, florists, casket builders, hair braiders, barbers, and eyebrow threaders. In analyzing something like hair braiding or eyebrow threading, many times people emigrate from other countries and work doing the aforementioned tasks as a way to earn an honest living. Quite often the state in which they work requires them to obtain a cosmetology license, even though while attending beauty school the type of braiding or eyebrow threading is not taught. This is a process that can cost thousands of dollars and consume hundreds, if not thousands, of hours. There are countless examples of professions that require licenses as an arbitrary means to protect an industry; the funeral business and florists are two that are frequently impacted as well. [2]

One of the most upsetting cases of occupational licensing happened recently in the bustling city of Memphis, Tennessee. On January 18th, 2017, Elias Zarate was cutting hair in his barber shop when “the barber police” entered and found that the license he had on display was not authentic. Although Zarate believed the license was authentic, the barber police shut his operation down and began legal proceedings against him, simply because he did not possess a piece of paper to cut hair. Eric Boehm, who published the story in an online article, describes the situation that landed Zarate in the barber shop, writing:

Zarate had dropped out of high school. He’d made it to the 12th grade, but he had a failing GPA and spent most of the school day sleeping through classes because he was exhausted from working a series of after-school and weekend jobs. His mother had died when he was just 10 and his father had left the family soon after, leaving Elias and his two younger siblings in the care of relatives. [3]

Because Elias did not complete high school or obtain a GED, under an amended law in 2017, he would be unable to attempt to get a barbering license because he did not complete high school. As frustrating as this is to lovers of liberty and entrepreneurs, Elias was equally frustrated, noting that “I don’t feel like anything in my entire schooling from grade school through senior year had anything to do with my barbering skills”[4]. The truth of the matter is neither Elias nor any other student in any public high school learned the skills necessary to be barber. For Tennessee to require a high school degree in order to obtain a “certificate of registration as a master barber” is an example of the government prohibiting someone from earning an honest living. It is wrong, unjust, and must be changed.

In addition to being inundated with fear from the barber police, Elias was not afforded any legal representation in his hearing before the administrative law judge and was left to fend for himself – much like he was left to do when his mother passed away and his father abandoned the family, – except this time it was to defend his right to earn a living. In addition to the fines, Elias could face a Class A misdemeanor, which could impose a penalty of up to 11 months and 29 days in jail – all for working without a government permission slip.

The Declaration of Independence reminds us of our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These are rights that cannot be infringed upon – and this is exactly what is happening to Elias. His rights to ensure his own happiness and to secure his own liberty, as well as his right to earn an honest living and provide for his family, are being grossly trampled upon by an overreaching government that has no business or constitutional authority to do so. It is time for a change to licensing requirements and it is imperative for states to get out of the way of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Until these changes are enacted, thousands of people like Elias will face the burden of a government that is anti-business and in favor of arbitrary “protections” that effectively monopolize industries. This is not the American way…
Joe is a political science/pre-law major at the College of Arts and Sciences, Seton Hall University, Class of 2018.




[4] Ibid.