Designing Monopoly

by on August 15, 2008 at 7:46 am in Economics, Law | Permalink

In Alabama it is illegal to recommend shades of paint without a license.  In Nevada it is illegal to move any large piece of furniture for purposes of design without a license.  In fact, hundreds of people have been prosecuted in Alabama and Nevada for practicing "interior design" without a license.  Getting a license is no easy task, typically requiring at least 4 years of education and 2 years of apprenticeship. Why do we need licenses laws for interior designers?  According to the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) because,

Every decision an interior designer makes in one way or another affects the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

This hardly passes the laugh test.  Moreover as Carpenter and Ross point out in an excellent article in Regulation from which I have drawn:

In more than 30 years of advocating for regulation, the ASID and its ilk have yet to identify a single documented incident resulting in harm to anyone from the unlicensed practice of interior design…These laws simply have nothing to do with protecting the public.

Most states do not have license laws for interior designers but the unceasing lobbying efforts of the ASID have expanded such licenses.  Fortunately, unlicensed interior designers are fighting back!  I love that unlicensed designers in New Hampshire have formed a anti-license league, Live Free and DesignTuttle Lives!

brian August 15, 2008 at 8:54 am

Some months ago there was an article about this in the Economist. The very next week in the letters section, someone from ASID (or a similar organization) wrote in defending licensing. I don’t remember what he said, but I remember that I found his argument was more convincing than you might expect.

ZBicyclist August 15, 2008 at 9:14 am

ASID: “Every decision an interior designer makes in one way or another affects the health, safety, and welfare of the public.”

Sure, that doesn’t pass the laugh test, but the real question is whether there is a substantial group of decisions which affect health and safety.

I can imagine some basic electrical and engineering questions: is the wiring sufficient for that lighting? How can the wires be routed so they don’t form a trip hazard? Can the floor handle that many loaded bookcases? What should we avoid if there are small children? I can’t think of enough to get to licensing, but I can entertain the possibility that there are.

Matt August 15, 2008 at 9:17 am

I believe the argument is that an interior decorator should be allowed to do any basic decorating options without a license. An interior designer can redesign building floor plans, like moving non-load bearing walls, suggest where to install an electric outlet, etc. The interior designer is certified to know what he’s doing: he knows building codes and knows enough not to remove load bearing walls.

In that sense, having a specific certification for interior designer seems like a good idea. You don’t want the county inspector to come in and tell you that all of the work needs to get redone since it isn’t up to code. Restricting it so that only interior designers can recommend paint colors, well, that’s just silly. I’m not familiar enough with individual state regulations to know which ones have which types of restrictions.

your mom August 15, 2008 at 9:41 am

I think the problem is that people confuse designers and decorators. The decorators pick out the furniture, etc., while the designers do have to know the building codes, have to take a lot of architecture/drafting coursework, etc.

Agreed with everything Matt said.

My friends are in grad school for interior design, and I never took the profession seriously until I saw the stuff they have to do! I thought it was about picking out pretty curtains and carpets and the only skill necessary was ability to match colors.

I would agree that the Alabama and Nevada laws about picking out paint and moving furniture are stupid. Does that mean Sherwin Williams employees can’t make a recommendation if they’re not certified designers? Yikes.

show me August 15, 2008 at 10:03 am

A friend of mine joked that interior design programs were for spouses of wealthy professionals. I said I didn’t know about that, but I thought that strict licensing of that did seem a bit like other issues I’ve read about that usually related to professions such as medicine:

http://www.columbiamissourian.com/stories/2008/06/24/mo-supreme-court-upholds-midwifery-law/

save_the_rustbelt August 15, 2008 at 10:22 am

Hire a licensed designer to do the layout and then hire cheap illegal aliens to build it.

Priceless.

o August 15, 2008 at 10:28 am

I like the idea, but I found the “Live Free and Design” site scarily ill-designed, which actually increased my fear of unlicensed designers.

liberty August 15, 2008 at 11:51 am

“I believe the argument is that an interior decorator should be allowed to do any basic decorating options without a license. ”

It is worth reading the article. Some states actually forbid moving a chair on contract without a license.

Matt Silb August 15, 2008 at 12:13 pm

Why didn’t you mention that the restriction is only for those doing business as an Interior Designer? Nor did you mention the difference between Interior Design and Interior Decoration.

Philo August 15, 2008 at 12:19 pm

I’m not buying the argument.

>They design spaces in a manner that can, among other things, reduce the likelihood of the spread of germs and disease in hospitals; increase productivity in commercial offices; and encourage learning in schools. Most important, they understand buildings from the users’ perspective.

Let’s say you’re building a hospital in Backwater, Arkansas. Who would you rather do the interior design: the best licensed designer in the state (who has never designed anything bigger than a clinic) or a company from a major urban area (NYC, DC, LA) that has designed and built several metropolitan hospitals, but isn’t licensed in Arkansas?

There exists a system for policing against harm to the public – it’s called the lawsuit. If an unlicensed interior designer puts a chair in the wrong place and someone trips over it, the customer can sue them. Problem solved.

efp August 15, 2008 at 1:06 pm

“Most important, [interior designers] understand buildings from the users’ perspective.”

Wow–they know what it’s like to be in a building. That is indeed a special skill.

liberty August 15, 2008 at 1:25 pm

Matt Silb,

Once again: Read the article! In some states they make that distinction and it only applies to “interior designers” and not decorators, in others, the actual actions are forbidden without a license, regardless of what you call yourself, and those actions don’t only include “hazardous” ones like determining where an outlet can go. They include things like moving furniture.

Ben M August 15, 2008 at 2:46 pm

Matt’s comments about load-bearing walls/wiring/etc. are completely beside the point. The interior designer, unless I’m badly mistaken, gives the client a PLAN for the new interior. The client then hires a contractor (licensed, bonded, regulated) who files for a building permit (regulated), subcontracts safety-relevant work to electricians and plumbers (regulated), and when the job is done gets inspected for code compliance (more regulation).

tom August 15, 2008 at 3:28 pm

I propose that the US Congress strike down the first amendment to the Constitution and propose a law that in order to write on a blog, newspaper, book, or electronic media that one must obtain a license to do so. Which of course will require 4 years of undergraduate work followed by two years to obtain the license, because every written word in one way or another affects the health, safety, and welfare of the public. The pen is mightier than the sword as we all know. Written words can surely be more dangerous than interior design. Any objections?

Mark August 15, 2008 at 5:34 pm

And of course, the most dangerous monopoly of them all….

public schools

Mike Huben August 16, 2008 at 8:02 am

The anti-licensure argument rests on the libertarian know-nothing attitude of “Anybody can make as good a judgement on the first try as a licensed professional with a degree and a decade of experience.”

Moving the couch in an office? You’d be amazed how many people would block the fire exit. Wikipedia has an index of them: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Fire_disasters_involving_barricaded_escape_routes

Read the reports about what happens when unlicensed decoration occurs: for example the Station Nightclub Fire where flammable soundproofing foam was used. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Station_nightclub_fire

I’ve personally experienced the benefits of licensure and the harms of unlicensed construction.

When I changed from 30 years of programming to teaching HS math, I had to go through the licensure process which requires an education degree. I needed some of those courses to be well-rounded in the profession and thus avoid many common blunders. Most of my fellow students needed them much more.

When I bought my house, it had an unlicensed, uninspected 3rd floor screen porch. This atrocity was supported by stilts nailed to a plank that was nailed to a first floor roof. It was an accident waiting to happen, so I held a demolition party to get rid of it. It was thoroughly rotted, came down practically of its own accord, and had seriously damaged the roof underneath.

Scott P. August 16, 2008 at 4:04 pm

The anti-licensure argument rests on the libertarian know-nothing attitude of “Anybody can make as good a judgement on the first try as a licensed professional with a degree and a decade of experience.”

That’s not the argument at all. If the professional has a degree and a decade of experience, and does a better job, they can advertise that. They can charge a higher price if they want. That doesn’t mean it should be illegal to hire an unlicensed person to pick out your drapes.

I’m sure a professional lawn mowing company can do a better job than the teenager next door, but that’s not an argument for requiring a lawn mowing license to do business.

conradg August 16, 2008 at 8:23 pm

How exactly are public schools a monopoly?

johnrobert August 19, 2008 at 2:09 pm

Thanks for the post. I needed a good, fun, illustration of public choice theory about special interests using licensing to exploit the public.

The arguments about the technical requirements of safe, workable interior design (wall load limits, etc.) miss the point. Whether or not there are some aspects of interior design where regulation might benefit the public, the scope of the regulation has clearly creeped beyond any legitimate concern to things like color recommendations and furniture positioning.

Patti Morrow August 23, 2008 at 11:51 am

Wow. This blog is filled with lots of opinions (many of them good), but a bit sparse on facts. Let’s change that. . .

First, let me introduce you to the Interior Design Protection Council (“IDPC,† http://www.IDPCinfo.org), a national nonprofit association of INTERIOR DESIGNERS who have said “enough is enough† and have refused to sit by idly and let ASID monopolize their profession. IDPC tracks interior design legislation in all 50 states, and trains interior designers to form grassroots opposition groups to participate in the process and protect their livelihoods and rights to practice. This year, IDPC has helped to defeat 30 interior design bills (no bills were passed); last year IDPC members assisted in the defeat of 24 regulation attempts, again, no legislation was enacted. Four Governors have vetoed interior design legislation in the last two years. The momentum is clearly with the resistance movement and it’s growing stronger every day.

Next, let’s dispel some of the myths, shall we?

1. Interior design regulation has NOTHING to do with protecting the health, safety or welfare of the public. In ASID’s 30-year push for regulation, not a shred of evidence has been presented that would warrant a conclusion that the unregulated practice of interior design places the public in any form of jeopardy. In fact, since 1907, only 52 lawsuits have been filed against interior designers in the ENTIRE COUNTRY, and nearly all involved contract disputes, not safety issues. There have been at least six formal state studies and all concluded that licensing interior designers would add absolutely nothing to the protection of the public beyond that which is already in place.

2. Given the absence of any harm to the public, the only fair conclusion that can be reached is that a small group of industry insiders are pushing for regulation in order to ELIMINATE their competition and ENHANCE their businesses. The legislature should not regulate occupations for the sole purpose of providing state-sanctioned marketing advantages for some in a profession while placing the rest at an unfair competitive disadvantage. They should consider adoption of a new law only if the public health, safety of welfare compels it, which in this case, it clearly does not.

3. Absent any threat to public health, safety and welfare, and absent any possibility of validation or dignity, the only reason for ASID to seek government licensing is for them to have an exclusive right to the term “interior designer† and an exclusive right to practice what interior designers do. Such a monopoly is antithetical to a free market, and it would be as disadvantageous to consumers as it would be to the overwhelming number of practitioners who do not meet their capricious and arbitrary standards of “minimal competency.† ASID is trying to disguise this economic liberty issue as an issue about safety and validity. They want you to believe that it’s not about the money. Believe me, it’s ALL about the money!

4. If an interior designer wishes to be distinguished from his or her peers there is already has an established method to do so; they may take the NCIDQ, and assuming the exam is passed, are then free to publicize that distinction. That distinction is notable, well-recognized and does not require that others be deprived of their right to earn a living as interior designers or that they be placed at an unfair competitive disadvantage.

5. There has been no public outcry from consumers that they have been unfairly treated, physically harmed or that they are confused about interior design services. The public does not lack the ability to make informed choices about who they retain for design services. They are quite capable of reviewing portfolios and websites, interviewing potential designers, checking references and checking private certification credentials to determine what level of designer meets their needs; they do not require a nanny state to assist them with that decision.

6. The Federal Trade Commission concluded that interior design regulation would result in higher costs and fewer choices for the consumer.

7. Currently, 22 states have government-imposed regulation. 3 have practice acts and 19 have title acts. Frankly, the only reason any states have passed registration laws is because it was done quietly, under the radar. Designers were either unaware of legislation, or told it wouldn’t hurt them. Just ask hundreds, if not thousands of practicing designers in Florida who have been issued Cease and Desist orders whether regulation “hurt† them. Interior design regulation hurts all but a small handful of industry insiders who benefit by these cartelization efforts.

8. In reference to one comment about the 2003 fire at “The Station† in West Warwick, Rhode Island, this fire, while tragic, had NOTHING to do with unlicensed interior design. Forensic evidence showed that the causes were (1) the performing band did not have the required city permit for a pyrotechnics display inside the enclosed nightclub; (2) installation of the club’s flammable soundproofing foam by the club owner, NOT by any interior designer caused the blaze to spread; (3) a door near the stage swung inward in violation of the fire code; lack of a sprinkler system; (4) the three exits and front doors had battery-powered exit lights, but people couldn’t see them. Similar facts for the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel fire.

For more information on interior design regulation, please visit the IDPC website at http://www.IDPCinfo.org. Please encourage any interior designers you know to join IDPC and help stop the cartelization of their profession.

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