Fight Occupational Licensing If You Want To Fight Monopolies

Before going after Big Tech, legislators on a crusade against monopolies should focus on occupational licensing boards.

COVID-19 is still the most pressing issue affecting Americans, despite a string of school closures, supply chain concerns, and skyrocketing prices. Many of these concerns remain unresolved in Congress, but some politicians appear to be more concerned with America's purported "monopoly problem" with tech companies than with the pandemic's consequences. It is a mistake to focus on the areas of our economy that produce items that better our lives.

Interest in antitrust issues has grown as a result of Rep. David Cicilline (D–R.I.), Rep. Ken Buck (R–Colo.), and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.misguided )'s legislative war against America's IT sector—an industry that Americans trust more than the US government. Legislators should focus on adversarial, state-empowered monopolies like occupational licensing boards if they want to tackle antitrust in a way that benefits all Americans. These quasi-governmental boards that control how, when, and if someone can work do not face new rivals on a regular basis.

Approximately one-quarter of all Americans must first get occupational licensure before they may begin working. Licensing regulations for some occupations, such as physicians, attorneys, and teachers, may serve a legitimate governmental interest in ensuring health and safety. However, licensing boards stifle economic possibilities for interior designers, florists, and other creatives.

In most circumstances, a state's licensing board determines who is allowed to practice a profession. The time it takes to receive a license is inexcusably long and has nothing to do with the hazards a profession poses or how it affects the general population. Even if a candidate has completed the required training, licenses are refused for a variety of reasons. Decisions like threatening to suspend the licenses of key health care employees owing to outstanding student debts affect not just customers, but also companies that are short-staffed.

The situation is exacerbated by the fragmented state-level governance of quasi-governmental occupational licensing bodies. Because most occupational licenses are location based, working across state boundaries is almost difficult. Businesses that operate in numerous states must jump through a lot of hoops simply to stay viable. These prohibit Americans from pursuing jobs, starting new enterprises, locating qualified job applicants, or affording child care due to the high cost and time commitment of licensing requirements.

Consumers can benefit from antitrust reformers challenging the "state action doctrine," which shields licensing boards from antitrust enforcement. Though the concept was not abolished, the Supreme Court refused to provide immunity to North Carolina's dentistry board in a 2012 case because it lacked government oversight and was made up of self-interested market participants. Senators Mike Lee (R–Utah) and Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) have introduced the Tougher Action Against Monopolies (TEAM) Act, which would require occupational licensing boards to achieve particular conditions in order to win exemption from antitrust enforcement.

Occupational licensing boards would not go away, but they would be subjected to the same competitive pressures that help other businesses develop. They'll continue to fulfill genuine public safety needs while being barred from participating in anti-competitive practices that disproportionately punish newcomers to numerous businesses.

The goal of antitrust enforcement and competition policy is to protect consumers from the negative effects of anticompetitive conduct. Examining the monopolistic position of licensing boards is more impactful than imposing new impediments for creative enterprises if antitrust reformers truly want to create competition in a way that will have a major positive.

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