by Christina Sandefur

I joined the Armstrong & Getty Show yesterday morning to talk about a disturbing and growing trend toward prohibiting people from working or starting a business without first getting permission from government—even if they aren’t posing any health or safety threat to the public. Today, states require occupational licenses for just about everything: acting as a graphic designer, an audio engineer, a braille instructor, a travel agent, a florist, and…a hair stylist.

Yes, even a hair stylist. In California, Arizona, and states nationwide, you can be fined thousands of dollars and even sent to jail for doing nothing more than blow drying someone’s hair without government permission (getting that permission in Arizona, by the way, can cost $15,000 and take over a thousand hours of training).

These laws don’t protect the public’s health and safety. After all, people blow dry their hair at home all the time. Instead, they protect incumbent businesses by outlawing the competition. Instead, they keep people from earning a living by offering customers services they want at prices that are fair.

And of course, a government license is no guarantee that someone will be properly trained or provide quality services. General laws against fraud and abuse are already on the books. Licenses often add little or nothing to those protections but impose burdensome or nonsensical requirements. To go back to the blow dry example, Arizona requires stylists to spend thousands of hours training in cutting, dying, and permanently changing the structure of the hair—procedures blow-dry-only stylists don’t even perform.

Customers don’t need government to tell them where to go to get their hair styled. If a stylist provides poor quality service, they’ll lose business pretty quickly, thanks to the availability of online rating systems like Yelp and Google Reviews. Government bureaucrats, on the other hand, face no such consequences and have no incentive to get the regulations right.

In short, overregulation doesn’t protect consumers. It stifles innovation, deprives people of their right to earn a living, and punishes entrepreneurs who provide much-needed services to the public. Too often when approaching a new business, government asks, “how do we regulate?” without first considering “should we regulate?”

My colleagues at the Goldwater Institute are working to reverse this trend in court and with legislation that says the government can’t restrict a person’s right to work in the job of her choice absent a compelling health or safety concern.

You can listen to my full interview with Armstrong & Getty here.

Christina Sandefur is the executive vice president at the Goldwater Institute.