Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Tyranny of Licensing

If the Chinese Virus--and the ensuing overreaction to it by many of our elected "leaders"--has taught us anything, it has demonstrated for us how truly dangerous and destructive that governments can be when they endeavor to curtail our rights in the name of some sort of "public good".  For decades, many of us on the political Right have cautioned our fellow citizens of the dystopian existence that would result if a large and active government were ever to take root.  But over the last couple of months, this discussion has ceased to be a theoretical one...instead, we have all been forced to live this nightmare of economic collapse, interference with our ability to make a living or even make basic decisions about how to live our lives, and restrictions on if our how we can even leave our homes.  The nightmare of government micro-management is being lived out, at long last...and it has turned out to be every bit as awful as we predicted it would be.

For those of us who have advocated for the "Limited Government" cause over the years, most of our focus has been on the Federal level of government.  We were focused on restricting--or even taking away--power from the Federal level because we knew that an assertive, out-of-control Federal Government would destroy our nation and would do it quickly.  However, in having this focus on the Federal level, many of us who are in the "Conservative" or "Limited Government" camps may have made a miscalculation.  You see, nearly all of the government overreach and micro-management that has occurred during the pandemic hasn't come from the Federal level.  Indeed, President Trump deserves praise for the restraint he has shown during this pandemic--refusing to use such a time of panic as an excuse to expand the powers of the Federal Government, and instead deferring to the individual states as much as possible (you know...just the way our Founding Fathers intended!) it turned was the State, Local, and Municipal levels of government that took it upon themselves to ruin our lives in the name of some mythical "greater good".

Among the many offenses by these "lower" levels of government, some of the most unthinkable and egregious have been the efforts to prevent businesses from being open, and to prevent individuals from engaging in the trade which puts food on their table.  When individuals and businesses have tried to push back against this oppression, they have often been threatened with having their business licenses or professional licenses revoked.  This has happened in Illinois....  And it has also happened in Michigan, as well. And these are only two examples of many around the nation.

It's one thing to say that local and state governments are being overly aggressive and negatively impacting the lives of the people they purport to represent (and that would be true, of course).  But in doing so, the next step is to understand the mechanisms by which these governments are enforcing these unconstitutional and dangerous edicts.  If you can understand the mechanisms these governments are working with, then one can begin working to eliminate and destroy those mechanisms, so that governments will not have the power to take such actions in the future.

In the cases of these businesses, the governments are using the power of licensing as a large stick with which to keep businesses "in line".  And this puts those of us on the side of Liberty and Individual Rights in a conundrum...because no matter how absurd, unconstitutional, or illegal any of these demands at the state or local level might be, a business license (or liquor license, if you operate a bar or restaurant) is a necessity in order to operate your business.  You're business simply cannot exist without such licensing.  So you either have to go along with these unconscionable demands, or be put out of business.

But what if there were another way?

We, as Americans, take the idea of licensing for granted.  We don't often give a second thought to the concept of businesses being licensed, or even to we as individuals being licensed or granted permits in order to do basic things like operate a motor vehicle, engage in a particular profession, or make improvements to our property.  But are such efforts by government actually beneficial to us?  Do we really gain more than we lose by allowing various levels of government to license and permit many of our activities?

The common retort to such an idea is that government is needed in order to regulate businesses, industries, and individual behaviors.  "If the government didn't license doctors, then anyone could operate on people!  You don't want that, do you?" is typical of the response I get when raising this idea among mixed company.  But does the licensing of Doctors really protect us from harm?  No--there are many doctors who have been properly licensed, and yet who have engaged in malpractice.  After all, there is nothing "special" about government that gives it's officials any sort of added intelligence, skills of judgement, or wisdom beyond what the general public has available to them.  A government is in no better position to judge whether someone is fit to be a doctor (or a plumber...or a barber...or a driver...or really, anything else) than the general public is.  A government employee has no special skill, knowledge, or background that would make them better suited to make these judgements than any of us have.

Individuals are fully capable of sharing information among each other with regards to which businesses and tradesmen are good at their jobs, and which ones are not.  And human beings will naturally seek out and share this information.  When you consider that we live in an era where "crowdsourcing" information on the internet is practically second nature to us all...we are able to more quickly, effectively, and precisely glean information about who we should (or shouldn't) do business with than a government ever could.  What do you do when you need a plumber, or an auto mechanic, or a handyman?  You likely go onto the internet and find reviews of the various businesses and people in your area who engage in these industries.  And it doesn't take you long to find plenty of reviews from those who do their jobs poorly, and good reviews for those who do their jobs effectively and affordably.  You never engage with government at any point in this process...nor do you need to.  You are fully capable of making these judgements on your own, and your fellow citizens are fully capable (and willing) to share this information among each other.

So if governments really aren't needed in order to prevent us from engaging with unskilled or unscrupulous businesses, then what's the point of licensing and permits?  From where I sit, it seems to boil down to two things--money and control.  With every license that is granted, government collects money (for nothing) from the business or person being licensed.  And down the road, when that government decides they want to micro-manage that business or person--they must either comply, or have that license revoked.

It's a shakedown scam the likes of which the old-school Mafia would have been proud.

We, as citizens, gain very little from government licensing...but we lose much in the way of autonomy and revenue.  If we take away the power of state and local governments to license, then we also take away the primary mechanism they have with which to enforce unconstitutional actions.  At the end of the day, why should we be giving up our autonomy, and getting little of value in return?

I realize that licensing isn't a "move the needle" topic of discussion in the manner that Illegal Immigration, creeping Socialism, or other hot button issues are...but if we want to truly take power away from all levels of government (and what we've seen during the Chinese Virus panic demonstrates that we must focus on this, at all levels of government), then focusing on taking away these mechanisms--mundane though it might seem--is critical.

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