by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
In Carolina Journal today, I discuss the annual procession of “legislation to make tweaks to different professions’ licensing requirements or scope of practice.” I explain that any bill to remove or lower hurdles to someone seeking a license would be welcome, because it would move the needle a bit toward freedom. Some bills are harder to forecast whether they would make people a little freer and better off, or whether they would pose net negative unintended consequences. Bills to raise hurdles or worse, enact new licenses, aren’t welcome, of course.
But given that so many other states are making systemic reforms, I’d like to see North Carolina go bold, too:
North Carolina has a bewildering “319 occupational licenses, 498 business licenses, and 80 business/occupational licenses,” and that’s not counting local licenses. The enormity of the problem reminds me of the ancient challenge of the Gordian knot:
As the story goes, in 333 B.C. the Macedonian conqueror marched his army into the Phrygian capital of Gordium in modern day Turkey. Upon arriving in the city, he encountered an ancient wagon, its yoke tied with what one Roman historian later described as “several knots all so tightly entangled that it was impossible to see how they were fastened.”
Phrygian tradition held that the wagon had once belonged to Gordius, the father of the celebrated King Midas. An oracle had declared that any man who could unravel its elaborate knots was destined to become ruler of all of Asia.
The conqueror was Alexander the Great, and he was “seized with an ardent desire” to untie the Gordian knot. It wasn’t going to be done by tugging and pulling at various threads. Unable to find either end to the knot, Alexander was stuck “wrestling with it for a time and finding no success.”
With occupational licensing, the North Carolinian knot, legislators over time chose to bind up this profession or that with excessive government regulation, and too often the question for policymaking becomes which loop do we tug on to loosen the binding a little.
How did Alexander solve the problem? In some versions of the story, he pulled the linchpin from the yoke. I prefer this version because it seems befitting the brash conqueror:
After wrestling with it for a time and finding no success, he stepped back from the mass of gnarled ropes and proclaimed, “It makes no difference how they are loosed.” He then drew his sword and sliced the knot in half with a single stroke. … True to the prophecy, he went on to conquer Egypt and large swaths of Asia before his death at age 32.
What would be the “Great” solution to the North Carolinian knot of occupational licensing? It’s to go straight at it with a package of reforms in our Carolina Rebound report:
Click the links for more details.