When I was a child there were only 3 channels on the television (and yet, folks found something to watch, go figure). One of the commercials that it turned out was foreshadowing for the loss of our textile industry to Chinese sweatshops was included a catchy song that went “Look to, the union label, when you are buying that coat, dress, or blouse.” We as kids would sing it as our mothers took us to the discount store to purchase knock-off tee-shirts for half the price of those high-falootin Jockey ones. Although they were clearly of poorer quality (and the tags itched) they did cost a lot less.
In America today, goods have become fungible. The source of origin is unclear, in part because Egyptian cotton might go to Bangladesh to create a tee that has an American rapper’s face on it. Since I work in a service industry with access limited by licensure, I don’t worry about outsourcing. Here in Alabama, though, there are a group of economists who want to change that.
Troy University’s Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy, which I have written about before, has decided to take on Alabama’s licensing laws. Daniel Smith, professor of Economics, has published a “study” where he determined that 25% of Alabama workforce being required to have an occupational license is too many. Health professionals are one of the groups he singles out for his bureaucratic reduction act. In doing so, he cites a position paper from the libertarian leaning Cato Institute that argues 1) Defensive medicine is what protects you from incompetent physicians, not licensing; 2) Defense lawyers are actually quality control monitors; 3) Specialty boards provide more quality control; and 4) People would pick quality over price if given enough information.
What bought the study to my attention was “Koch Brothers endowed professor” Scott Beaulier’s, editorial at al.com. It includes the circuitous argument that licensing limits the supply which limits access so more people get sick, and if only we could expand access by allowing unlicensed health workers there would be fewer sick people. Huh? He claims that once one person’s house wired by Bubba the shade tree electrician burns, others will shun Bubba and he’ll go out of business. Same thing for doctors, I guess.
In the 45 years since the commercial, unions have lost almost all of their sway. Americans demand clothes made so cheaply and with so little regard for those involved that when we find out 800 Bangladeshis are injured annually while making $7 tees we shrug and continue to seek out even cheaper options. I look forward to the Libertarian state of Alabama where we all get to be quality monitors. As they say on the Simpsons, “Hi Dr Nick…”