Thursday, April 2, 2009

mandatory licensing and tourism

Licensing is one thing; mandatory licensing is another-- ethically and practically.

Groups of workers often use the former to signal quality; political interest groups of workers often use the latter to restrict competition-- from plumbing and to hair and nails, from doctors to lawyers and dentists.

Here's Barry Newman in the WSJ with a surprising example from Philly's tourism industry...

When in the course of human events, some tour guides are caught saying things like "Ben Franklin had 80 illegitimate children," the City Council shall force every tour guide in town to take a history test. Whereupon, some of the guides will pursue the blessings of free speech. In court....

Case in point: Ann Boulais, tour guide and plaintiff.

"Who can tell me why they decided to write the Constitution?" Ms. Boulais asked a trolley-load of tourists near Independence Hall one afternoon. "What's it there to protect us from?" When no one spoke, Ms. Boulais offered an answer of her own: "How about ourselves?"

The "ourselves" Ms. Boulais has had uppermost in her mind of late are her city's own elected leaders. A year ago, they made it illegal to talk about history for money in the city center without a license.

Feeling tyrannized, Ms. Boulais and two fellow guides summoned the constitution's protections by suing the city in Philadelphia Federal court. The history test, they claimed, breached the Bill of Rights -- a set of rules, as any good guide should know, that took effect while Congress sat here at 6th and Chestnut streets, on Dec. 15, 1791.

A guide who wanted a license would have to know the answers to 65% of 150 questions about the city's historic sites....

The city, in its court filings, calls its law "an economic regulation" that has only an "incidental effect on speech."...

He proposed an optional test, but city officials (who declined to comment on the litigation) said no....


At April 7, 2009 at 7:27 AM , Blogger Johnathan Gay said...

Interesting. I actually think this reg makes a bit of sense given the city's overriding interest in tourism, but it does seem the voluntary licensing or just some sort of city sponsored certification process could have the same affect.

I feel that many of the licensing regulations left over from the 20th century are outdated. Our market has progressed so much today that we should depend more on consumers and their power to vet good opportunities and bad opportunities than government to use the power of the law to do so for them.

Obviously, with some areas, such as medicine, I see a state need to protect the public. But what about plumbing services? Or barbers? Shouldn't we also look at freeing up people to open their homes for lodging?

My point is that the regulatory regime isn't keeping up with our economic system.

BTW, a related issue: the Wall Street Journal had a neat article a few weeks back about flesh eating fish, pedicures and unimaginative licensing boards.

Here's a related link:

At April 7, 2009 at 7:46 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Good stuff...thanks!


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