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Fighting the Competition, One Legislature at a Time

Thanks to an email from a reader, comes this bizarre but all-too-common tale of an industry group supporting licensing to protect itself from competition:

Imagine you were a state legislator and some folks asked you to pass a law making it a crime to give advice about paint colors and throw pillows without a license. And imagine they told you that the only people qualified to place large pieces of furniture in a room are those who have gotten a college degree in interior design, completed a two-year apprenticeship, and passed a national licensing exam. And by the way, it is criminally misleading for people who practice interior design to use that term without government permission.

You might stare at them incredulously for a moment, then look down at your calendar and say, "Oh, I get it -- April Fool!" Right? Wrong.

These folks represent the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), an industry group whose members have waged a 30-year, multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign to legislate their competitors out of business. And those absurd restrictions on advice about paint selection, throw pillows and furniture placement represent the actual fruits of lobbying in places like Alabama, Nevada and Illinois, where ASID and its local affiliates have peddled their snake-oil mantra that "Every decision an interior designer makes affects life safety and quality of life."

Legislative analysis by a half-dozen states that rebuffed ASID's attempts to cartelize interior design -- including Colorado, Washington and South Carolina -- has failed to support ASID's claim that the location of your couch or the color of your bedroom walls is literally a matter of life and death. As the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies put it, there is "no evidence of physical or financial harm being caused to . . . consumers by the unregulated practice of interior designers."

I am not sure this even needs comment.  I traditionally end my posts on licensing with this Milton Friedman quote:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

Many other posts in the same vein here

Posted on April 1, 2008 at 02:38 PM | Permalink

Comments

Radley Balko had a Fox News column about this last week, which garnered a response from ASID, as well as another one in the comments on his blog. They just make themselves look puffed up and uselessly self-important.

http://www.theagitator.com/2008/03/25/asid-responds/

Posted by: Highway | Apr 1, 2008 3:38:48 PM

Since the First Amendment protects strippers advising each other on exotic dance moves, (not to mention demonstrating them), I'm hard pressed to see why it wouldn't protect the advice of decorators on furniture moves.

Of course,I could be wrong.

But I don't think so.

Posted by: JohnF | Apr 1, 2008 6:44:43 PM

John,

That stripper better make sure she has a valid permit before working in Houston, TX. Yes, we make "entertainers" in adult oriented businesses pay $60, provide proof of age, home address, and complete criminal background before they are allowed to take their clothes off.

http://library4.municode.com:80/default/template.htm?view=browse&doc_action=setdoc&doc_keytype=tocid&doc_key=63ffcf7655a64d48880700904c0fdb66&infobase=10123

Jeff

Posted by: Jeff | Apr 2, 2008 6:01:07 AM

Why couldn't a plumber have altruistic motives? That's one problem with the Libertarian viewpoint; i.e. they have difficulty in admitting to human motives that aren't completely self-centered or defined by some economic self-interest. I suppose at the bottom of it all we are all 'self-centered' or 'self-interested'. But I would assert that it is not in one's self-interest to allow others to assume an unnecessary risk or hazard especially if one has the means to limit or reduce the hazard. Of course, the case of ASID is certainly in line with self-interested, self-serving, self-aggrandizement!

Posted by: Rocky Mountain | Apr 2, 2008 11:32:23 AM

Why couldn't a plumber have altruistic motives? That's one problem with the Libertarian viewpoint; i.e. they have difficulty in admitting to human motives that aren't completely self-centered or defined by some economic self-interest. I suppose at the bottom of it all we are all 'self-centered' or 'self-interested'. But I would assert that it is not in one's self-interest to allow others to assume an unnecessary risk or hazard especially if one has the means to limit or reduce the hazard. Of course, the case of ASID is certainly in line with self-interested, self-serving, self-aggrandizement!

Posted by: Rocky Mountain | Apr 2, 2008 11:33:40 AM

@Rocky Mountain -- If the plumber is feeling altruistic, he should start a rating service of plumbers. Anybody that is concerned about assuming an unnecessary plumbing risk or hazard can consult with him to make sure the plumber they want to hire has the appropriate qualifications. Why exactly does the government have to get involved here? Especially in this day and age when your altruistic plumber can put up a Web site with a checklist of qualifications for about $10/month.

Heck, if it's really an important source of safety, UL will certify plumbers.

Posted by: Kevin Dick | Apr 2, 2008 1:07:12 PM

There's a world of difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator. Problem is, from the designers' perspective, that most people only need a decorator.

If I'm looking to figure out how to move 10,000 people an hour through an airport, or how to lay out an ofice to maximize efficiency, I'll higher a designer. If I want to make sure the curtains don't clash with the sofa, a decorator will do just fine.

The designers should take a page out of another book and come up wtih the equivilent of "Realtor", then promote the heck out of it if they truly want to differentiate themselves in the market.

Posted by: Another guy named Dan | Apr 2, 2008 2:00:21 PM

Actually, it is a profoundly selfLESS person who feels that he would not succeed without forcing his customers or employer to hire him!

But that's not the point. The issue isn't whether ASID is "selfish" or "selfless". The issue is not whether interior design is "important". It is a flawed argument to say: "XYZ is important, and therefore it should be regulated by the government."

Regulation is when the government takes control by force. Yes, force as in gunpoint. If you refuse to comply, say for example, if you dispense health care advice without a license, you can be arrested.

So this is always pushed in the name of the "public interest" or the "consumer" or "public safety." Things that are *important* are to be regulated. It is frustrating to watch the debate:
1) XYZ is important and should be regulated
2) XYZ is *not* important and therefore should not be regulated
3) goto 1

What about the argument that XYZ is far too important to take away the individual's free judgement and replace it with the arbitrary and capricious edicts of bureaucrats backed by federal marshalls??

Posted by: Bearster | Apr 2, 2008 2:13:42 PM

In Alabama, one has to have a license for everything now. What usually happens is new business owner ether just works illegally or gives up.

Posted by: shunha7878 | Apr 3, 2008 7:03:58 AM

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