Two Good Reasons to Stop Licensing

The Mackinac Center has been studying the number of people who move in and out of Michigan for a long time. But Center staffers have yet to observe an influx of refugees from the unregulated wildlands of Wisconsin, Indiana or Ohio, where governments have fewer restrictions on when people are legally allowed to perform certain jobs without licenses that Michigan requires. 

But don’t assume that our laws make Michiganders safer. Although our state requires practitioners of roughly 160 professions to get the government’s permission to work, there is no evidence that these occupational licenses bolster public safety. 

Under occupational licensing laws, certain professionals must get a government-issued license before working by undergoing a specific education or training and then paying a fee. Proponents of these laws argue that they protect consumers. The truth, though, is that these laws are typically enacted at the behest of special interest groups that want to protect existing practitioners from competition. 

Lawmakers rarely test the groups’ claims when passing new regulations. The result is that some people — especially those with low incomes and limited skills — are unnecessarily prevented from using their talents to make a living by barriers they can’t afford to overcome. 

And it’s not just the poor who are disproportionately affected. Ex-offenders attempting to reenter the workforce may be summarily denied a license because of a criminal conviction, even if they have done time and paid their debt to society. So-called “good character” provisions in many licensing statutes prevent those with a conviction from ever receiving a license to work. This can happen even if the crime was nonviolent and unrelated to the job. 

If policymakers want to do right by our most vulnerable populations and by businesses struggling to fill a talent gap, they should stop making it harder for people to work.