THE FRONT DOOR – “Hi, I’m Leon, here to fix your garbage disposal. I was told some idiot put a beer can down it.” Leon comes in with his tool chest, then puts on big socks over his shoes. He has a name badge on his pocket, first name sewn into his shirt, plastic clip on his belt showing his plumber’s license, and his truck out front sports all sorts of official-looking numbers and letters on the sides. Have you noticed that people we deal with these days are different? Everyone is tightly licensed and regulated.
Maybe we are too regulated. Then again, when you’re waiting in your neurosurgeon’s office, don’t you take a sneak peek at his license on the wall? Of course you do, that’s why he hung it there. If the license is written in English or Latin, OK. In Swahili, get a second opinion. In Texas we even have a state agency that regulates the regulators: The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. Like most governmental programs, the TDLR started out small and grew. It began in 1909 as the Bureau of Labor. Today its 180 employees with a budget of more than $5.4 million oversee other regulatory agencies that keep an eye on auctioneers, manufactured housing, professional boxing and wrestling, tow trucks, vehicle storage facilities, industrialized housing and buildings, electricians and boilers, including those used in nuclear plants. Hopefully they specialize. I don’t want boxing referees checking out a glowing nuke reactor.
Air conditioning contractors, private personnel agencies, career counseling and talent agencies are also under the agency’s regulations. It even includes – hang on — supervision of the elimination of architectural barriers to handicapped persons. All told there are 34 professions handled by this state agency. Did I mention used automotive parts recyclers, dog and cat breeders (dogs must be walked daily) and water well drillers? Next time you take a polygraph test, ask to see the operator’s license, then ask her a few questions and notice if the needle jerks. According to the Handbook of Texas, during the old days, prostitutes were not exactly licensed, just were expected to work within vice districts. Waco, El Paso, Dallas, and Houston experimented with legal vice zones. Waco enacted ordinances by1889 that not only provided for licensing of prostitutes and bawdy houses and required medical examinations, but also explicitly legalized prostitution within a precisely defined district. Today the world’s oldest profession is nonexistent in Texas, according to vice officers and most husbands.
Doctors have regulated themselves in Texas, ever since the Congress of the Republic of Texas founded the Board of Medical Censors to weed out the quacks. At least one doctor has been found unworthy to practice medicine in every decade since. That first board was scheduled to meet once each year, but difficulty of transportation over long distances and Indian attacks frequently prevented annual meetings. Lawyers are regulated by the State Bar of Texas, but the board doesn’t meet often because, its members said, of the difficulty of transportation over long distances and Indian attacks. Speaking of bars, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (known and feared by Texas college students as the TABC) issues 51 different liquor permits, and another 20 for beer. Barbers, beauticians and cosmetologists are heavily regulated and licensed. Remember that in the old days barbers pulled teeth and performed appendectomies and amputations. That’s why a barber’s pole is red and white. But even today be careful of a barbershop which advertises, “Trims and Limbs.”
All of this Big Brother oversight might be considered overkill, especially if you are, say, an electrician with singed hair or a life guard wearing an inner tube. But I’ll bet most of these regulations and licenses were the result of some really bad screw-ups. So we lock the barn door after the horse is stolen, abused or gave a lousy haircut. There are abuses in over-regulating, but those who complain are probably the violators. I, personally, don’t like bugs in my soup kitchen soup or semi-literate teachers in our classrooms. Bugs in the classrooms are another matter.
Chances are your professional pursuit is somehow licensed or regulated. A recent story in The New York Times reported a study commissioned by the Brookings Institution found that almost three out of 10 workers in the U.S. need a license from state governments to do their jobs, up from one in 20 in the 1950s. The study estimated professional licensing by state governments ultimately reduces employment by up to 2.8 million jobs. States have their own rules for licensing. Locksmiths must be licensed in only 13 states, upholsterers, dental assistants in seven and shampooers in only five. Iowa requires 490 days of education and training to become a licensed cosmetologist; New York requires 233. An athletic trainer must put in 1,460 days of training to get a license in Michigan, but an emergency medical technician needs only 26. It depends on how powerful the lobby is for those who already have a job and don’t want competition. Workers in licensed occupations can make up to 15 percent more than unlicensed workers with similar skills.
Actually it’s hard to find someone with a job who is not registered, licensed or branded. Even 007 has to show his license to kill. Poets have poetic license. Journalists are not licensed, although some should be walked daily. Can you imagine our legislature appointing a panel of commissioners to license the media, deciding who can and cannot twist the truth? Or maybe, like most state agencies, our governor would appoint its members. Under former Gov. Rick Perry’s appointees, our state’s licensed journalists would consist of Aggies who tweet while driving over pregnant teenagers. OK, that’s a bit harsh. They’d send e-mails.
Here comes Leon, badges and all. “Fixed your garbage disposal. Like I said, some idiot tossed a beer can in it.” I nod sheepishly. Leon pulls out a clipboard. “Did you have a permit for that?”
Ashby is unlicensed at email@example.com