My colleague at the John Locke Foundation, Jon Sanders, has an excellent article in his current “Rights & Regulation” newsletter titled “Guild By Association.”

He quotes the inimitable Milton Friedman on how the overthrow of the medieval guild system facilitated liberal democracy, and warns that the notion that the state should determine who should be able to pursue their happiness is making a dangerous resurgence:

North Carolina now licenses well over 60 occupations. CareerOneStop, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, lists 172 licensed occupations for North Carolina. Using those data but attempting to eliminate duplication for comparison across the states (some states, for example, list subcategories of occupations as separate occupations; e.g., apprentice plumber, journeyman plumber, and master plumber — and of course apprentice, journeyman, and master are classifications lifted straight from the guilds), Goldwater Institute’s Byron Schlomach listed North Carolina with 154 licensed job categories, tied for 15th highest in the nation. Adam B. Summer’s Reason Foundation study of August 2007 had North Carolina tied for the 12th most licensed job categories at 107.

This is not a healthy thing, for individuals or society. As Jon points out, the ongoing saga of diet blogger Steve Cooksey‘s legal troubles with the state’s Board of Dietetics/Nutrition shows just how far down the “guild” path we have traveled.

If, as Friedman posits, “the overthrow of the medieval guild system was an indispensable early step in the rise of freedom in the Western world,” does it not follow that the opposite is also true?