Libertarian policy helps working-class people

Nebraska’s Libertarian state Sen. Laura Ebke sponsored L.B. 299, which reforms the state’s occupational licensing laws. The bill passed 45-1-3 before being sent to the governor to sign.
Nebraska’s Libertarian state Sen. Laura Ebke sponsored L.B. 299, which reforms the state’s occupational licensing laws. The bill passed 45-1-3 before being sent to the governor to sign.

“In the last analysis, every profession is a conspiracy against the laity,” playwright George Bernard Shaw once wrote. This is especially true when those professions push to restrict competition through occupational licensing laws, which require jumping through an array of often arbitrary government-mandated hoops in order to practice a new profession. Libertarian Nebraska state Sen. Laura Ebke recently wrote a bill, L.B. 299, that comprehensively reforms Nebraska’s occupational licensing laws, and it won near-unanimous support in April. The vote, on the last day of the legislative session, was an overwhelming 45-1-3 in favor. The governor signed it on April 23, ending artificial political barriers to entry for nearly 200 state-licensed occupations in Nebraska.

The occupation of massaging a horse without a license will no longer punish hard-working horse-rubbing scofflaws with four years in jail and $35,000 in fines. The veterinary guild, which previously exploited a state-mandated monopoly on the occupation, loses — but horse masseuses win. Similar things will happen for countless other trades in Nebraska, 63 of which are entry-level jobs that are perfect for low-skilled workers seeking new opportunities.

Ebke’s bill methodically lays out a five-year process in which all occupational licensing laws must be reviewed by legislative committees. The reviews will be conducted when the legislature is not in session, lessening the opportunity for lobbyists who represent professional guilds to protect their monopolies on jobs. First, the committees will need to determine if there are ”present, significant, and substantiated harms” warranting any government intervention. If so, the committees will be required to favor the least restrictive means of regulation to achieve public safety. That could include private certification, registration, insurance, bonding requirements, and inspections, as well as simple open-market competition.

According to the libertarian public-interest law firm the Institute for Justice, it takes an average of 118 days of education and experience, followed by passing an exam, to get a license in many lower-paying occupations. In Nebraska, one out of three occupations require licensing or certification. Modern-day guilds that artificially limit membership and set monopoly wages will lose from Ebke’s bill. People who just want to earn an honest living, though, will gain — and so will their customers. Society at large wins because fewer people will be excluded from the labor market. Working people will have more options to become self-reliant rather than dependent on the government.

Ebke’s bill also requires informing those who have criminal records about whether they are eligible to hold a job before they spend time and money on costly training. This forbids Nebraska from using vague and arbitrarily interpreted standards like “good character” or “moral turpitude” in order to ban those with criminal histories from an occupation unrelated to their past crimes. This means that the 2,400 prisoners released annually in Nebraska have a much better chance of gaining productive employment. Arizona State University economist Stephen Slivinski’s research has shown that states with stricter licensing laws have more recidivism than other states. The public wins again, because former criminals can more easily become productive members of society rather than an expense to the state and a danger to everyone.

“As a Libertarian, Sen. Ebke was able to attract the support of both Republicans and Democrats,” said Libertarian National Committee Chair Nicholas Sarwark. “It’s noteworthy that her bill won support from the free-market Platte Institute and the Wall Street Journal as well as the liberal American Civil Liberties Union. And it was signed into law by Nebraska’s Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts even though Ricketts is backing an election opponent of Ebke’s in her 2018 reelection campaign.”