Why It's No Problem That Joe the Plumber Lacks a License

Ohio man puts occupational licensing laws into the spotlight.


Some of the commenters on yesterday's post seem to think that we can ignore concerns about taxes on small businesses because Joe (Samuel?) Wurzelbacher is not a licensed plumber in the state of Ohio.

First, it's not clear to me how it's deceptive to call yourself a plumber when you do plumbing work for a licensed plumbing company, even if you are not the owner of said company. Maybe that's not good enough for the plumbers union to consider you a plumber, but for 95 percent of people, that job description sounds like "plumber."

But even if we do decide that you need a government license to call yourself a plumber, that begs the question—why are we putting so much value in rules that are generally harmful to working people and wannabe entrepreneurs?

You don't need to be a hardcore free-marketeer to believe that most occupational licensing laws are nonsense. Popular liberal blogger Matt Yglesias weighed in on the issue yesterday:

Like most people, if I needed to hire a plumber, I'd probably look for a recommendation. I don't have any real confidence that these licensing schemes are tracking quality in any meaningful way, just preventing a certain number of people from earning a living and raising the general cost of plumbing services for everyone else.

The case against occupational licensing is even stronger than that. By no means would licensing disappear in a world without licensing laws. Some plumbers would still bother to get a license to get that extra stamp of credibility that might allow him to charge higher rates. People who are willing to pay top dollar for what might be better service would hire those plumbers, while everyone else would still have access to cheaper services from the plumbers who don't get licenses.

Maybe Joe the Plumber could become the symbol of a different political message than he originally intended.

2008 presidential election
small business

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