“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Professional Protection!”

The issue of licensing of “professionals” has com has come up in the current Hawaii legislative session. The estimable blogger and activist Larry Geller is advocating for the defeat of proposed legislation that would do away with professional licensing for several professions. By extension, the respective state licensing boards would cease to exist — with the aim of consequently eliminating the budgeting for these publicly-funded boards (i.e. reduce state spending).

I have no doubt that Larry has good intentions in sounding a cautionary note as to why these licensing processes should continue. I can also empathize with Larry’s particular regard for marriage and family therapists losing professional certification — and with it the ability to bill “third party” (insurance companies and such) for their services — while counselors bearing the title “psychologist” retain the ability to be compensated by third parties.

Still, equating professional licensing — certification — of such professionals, with “consumer protection” takes on a certain mendacious odor that I think merits further scrutiny.

The standard line touting the supposed consumer protection of such licensing, and the dangers lurking in the removal of it, goes something like, “such laws reduce unethical behavior so that when a consumer complains, there is recourse such as license revocation.”

You screw up? Bam! You get your license yanked and another evil is put down by the state licensing board.

Are you reassured?

I’m not sure if I am.

Why not?

Well, I think that the state (or nation for that matter) “protecting” me has a little more to it than the rhetoric that is perpetuated. (Did you ever consider that in our consumer culture the primary goal of our education system just might be training for consumption? Do you think?)

The guy or gal flying airliners?

The folks removing faulty gall bladders?

I absolutely want them to have to qualify for a regulated license. Throw in drivers navigating 4-way stops on the roadways too! (Some are still gonna practice that friendly little Hawaiian driver predilection to politely wave you into oncoming traffic. Can you say deadly aloha?)

What I’m referring to are “professions” more like those singled out in said legislation: barbers, cosmetologists, hearing aid dealers and fitters, electrologists, and marriage and family therapists.

You know why?

Because this “consumer protection” has for some time now, overstepped itself to the extent that what has been given up is the freedom to practice community based competences. (Or substitute “national security” decimating community freedom and peaceful cooperation; something for another blog post however.)

“Ya. But what about when some freewheeling barber up and cuts off my ear?!”

“Or that unscrupulous therapist makes a pass at my estranged wife?!”

Well folks… what enters into the equation here is personal responsibility. You and your community must have it together enough to cultivate the sensibility to recognize competence, in doing or making things that people have traditionally done without licenses.

Some of our commodities and services are technical innovations — not as traditional as cutting hair or counseling troubled marriage partners. But whether traditional or of more recent technology, professional certification strikes me as mostly a racket for cartels that unfairly discriminate, frustrate, and disable us in providing for ourselves a sustainable (which means, among other things: austere) and healthy livelihood.

A case in point: Although I’ve worn the same nearsighted correction of eyeglasses for some twenty years, I can’t just go and get a replacement pair — not unless I fork over a hundred bucks or so to a professional who then issues me a prescription.

This is consumer protection? Protecting me from what?

Weak glasses?

Give me a friggen’ break! Am I really a danger to myself and others through an inability to see when my glasses don’t work right? Does it follow that if my car’s headlights are all screwy, that I must also pay a professional a hundred smackers to adjust my headlights? (As opticians are not in this legislation perhaps I’m slipping off topic.)

And yet, the observation — that we as a community need to recognize when consumer protection is more of a mask worn by those bent on expropriating our ability to satisfy our needs — through our competence, and in sustainable ways — seems clear enough.

Mahalo to Larry Geller for his vigilance in covering Hawaiian legislative issues so competently; and for shining a light on such a watershed issue. Larry seems an adherent to very worthwhile progressive causes. Nonetheless, some of us living rural subsistence lives perhaps have leanings of a more libertarian nature. And yet, finding common ground among the myriad of issues would seem to further truly community based participatory politics.


7 thoughts on ““Give Me Liberty or Give Me Professional Protection!”

  1. I don’t have to agree completely to see the strength of your argument. For one thing, I too am nearsighted and amazed at the cost of simply getting new glasses or contact lenses, which, when I was a kid, was a very affordable process.

    Still, a barber who doesn’t sterilize equipment and you catch something from it ought to be held responsible. Licensing boards don’t do “bam” as far as I know, in fact, maybe it varies according to the board, they may be very reluctant to pull a license, knowing that it will cost the accused their livelihoods. The system isn’t perfect one way or the other.

    Back to glasses, though… Of course, if we had universal health care, visits to a professional to care for our eyes would be covered. …

  2. Removing licensing is at least one step in the right direction. Then start allowing homegrown databases of practitioners’ track records. Right now you cannot know a doctor’s track record, outside of lawsuits or patients’ evaluations of a doctor’s ‘bedside manner’. Track record is crucial to selecting the right doctor, at the right price. And price is another issue. Remove licensing and allow some competition and supply and demand related pricing.

  3. “Still, a barber who doesn’t sterilize equipment and you catch something from it ought to be held responsible.”

    Then would it follow that babysitters ought to be licensed by the state as well? Lord knows they could potentially create evil nasty danger. And will licensing improve the overall competency of babysitters? It seems to me that the responsibility must be taken by both the babysitter and by the parent who employs the babysitter.

    Back to barbers.

    Wouldn’t a clear awareness of the barber’s experience and skills be the key to a high quality barber business? I also see that many states declare that a potential licensee must have a high school diploma or GED to obtain a license for barbering. I don’t know about you, but some of the most impressive and skilled folks I’ve known of have been “drop-outs” who early on recognized the absurdity of compulsory schooling. This is just one instance of a discrimination perpetuated by schools (high schools, cosmetology schools) largely intended to further their business model, and yet thwarting self-directed competence.

    Employers must take responsibility in their hiring — through knowing what really constitutes competence. I’d posit that many have come through the same system that confuses certification with actual skills.

    And let us not forget the U.S. Army psychologist what’s-his-name, who was made out to be a real expert social worker — he just happened to be afflicted with the desire to randomly kill people. I for one would not have been running to dodge his bullets screaming, “Someone call the licensing board!”

    Regarding the comments advocating for greater data bases:
    While in theory that might help, I’m a bit skeptical of the techno-fix. I see too much of it taking the place of good old human sensibility — and commanding great sums of money/energy to make various displays of this data. I wouldn’t mind be proved wrong if it actually worked.


  4. Darren mentions personal responsibility. as “you and your community must have it together enough to cultivate the sensibility to recognize competence — in doing or making things that people have traditionally done without licenses.”

    I agree but would go further with the proposed legislation and remove mandatory licensing requirements for all professions. We can choose to hire only those with appropriate licenses and/or track records and they can obtain their licenses voluntarily rather than because a big brother gov’t forces it on them. As it is now, doctors’ track records (other than lawsuits) are not even allowed to be known so how can we exercise personal responsiblity in choosing?

    One exercise of personal responsility is to maintain freedom by being vocal about it while we still can. When most shut up due to fear then the few that speak out can be targetted and that is how we could all lose free speech. So, let me say:

    1) obama has not done one good or positive thing since he was elected but he has done very many very bad or negative things such as generate more war, destroy economy with unrestrained spending/debt/bailout/stimulus, and appoint monsanto/gmo/goldman-sachs/wall-street minions throughout the gov’t,

    2) the federal gov’t is little more than a criminal enterprise and the sooner we can get along without it the less suffering will be imposed on ourselves and everyone else in the world before we finally learn to exercise personal responsibility.

    3) everyone, please feel free to chime in :)

  5. Well, a good case study case as to the value of professional licensing might start by analyzing the value of “licensed” financial advisers, with whatever title they might come with, who, in spite of their pedigree, have consistently underperformed compared to the predictive ability of a team of monkeys flicking shit at a chart.

  6. Aloha Hattie,

    This essay isn’t so much about professional services versus unprofessional services. Rather, it is about the conveyance of professional status to these occupations by institutions that have become corrupt in their drive to protect their exclusive right to grant legitimacy to themselves while unjustly profiting from this discriminatory behavior. This centralized certification from afar negatively impacts the rights of communities to efficiently use their competencies in sustainable and healthy ways.

    These observations come from my experience primarily as a teacher. You may have different experiences and I welcome any further comments you may have.



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