Joe the Illegal Plumber

by on October 16, 2008 at 10:53 pm in Law | Permalink

I do not think that either candidate will come out against the mandatory licensing of plumbers, but here is the real scoop on Joe:

Thomas Joseph, the business manager of Local 50 of the United
Association of Plumbers, Steamfitters and Service Mechanics, based in
Toledo, said Thursday that Mr. Wurzelbacher had never held a plumber’s
license, which is required in Toledo and several surrounding
municipalities. He also never completed an apprenticeship and does not
belong to the plumber’s union, which has endorsed Mr. Obama. On
Thursday, he acknowledged that he does plumbing work even though he
does not have a license.

Not only that, he calls himself Joe but his real name is Samuel.  He also owes back taxes.  I wonder if he has ever hired illegal immigrants to help him out.  Yes the Republican Party is ******* and I will not vote for them, but how many Democratic politicians will speak out against the coercive restraints placed on Joe (Samuel)?  That’s a serious question.

Addendum: As is often the case, those few of you who are mad at me simply haven’t
read the post carefully enough.  Just for a start, I’m not at all
criticizing the guy for calling himself Joe rather than Samuel.  I was
making fun of those people who are upset by this. Some of you are
committing other misunderstandings as well.  By the way, here are details on Toledo and licensing.

1 RW Rogers October 16, 2008 at 11:06 pm

I think you overlook the real lesson here: ordinary Americans must not ask Barack Obama any questions. The power of the press and state will be used to crush you if your question proves inconvenient. I understand that Obama himself also publicly ridiculed the man while speaking to supporters today. You get a temporary pass for now, Tyler, but your day will probably come as well.

2 glory October 16, 2008 at 11:08 pm

could it be? – “Joe the Plumber”: Dad is son-in-law of Charles Keating!

3 Greg October 16, 2008 at 11:10 pm

Few to none would be my guess. Unions aren’t what they used to be, but no Democrat is going to antagonize them like that for what must seem like reasons of pure principle. The licensing thing really gets me. For plumbers, there is some kind of argument that you want someone qualified. But what about things like licenses for taxi drivers, beauticians, and interior designers? The barriers for getting into those areas are completely ridiculous. No one needs to protect me from bad interior design.

For that matter, I also think it’s extremely silly that you need to go to law school to be a lawyer.

4 Allan October 16, 2008 at 11:21 pm


You are right. And, indeed, I have had general handymen repair toilets in my house and to rotoroot out a clogged drain. Nothing wrong with that. And I think what they did was legal.

A plumber, however, installed the pipes for my new bathroom. And when I had a gas leak (very small), I would only have a plumber repair it.

5 Thomas October 16, 2008 at 11:22 pm

Unfortunately I think RW has it right. We’re going to move from a president who doesn’t like to hear criticism to a president who doesn’t like people to criticize him, and whose friends won’t allow it. Not an improvement.

6 pants October 16, 2008 at 11:35 pm

Well, it says a plumber’s license is required in Toledo and surrounding counties. This makes me think licensing is done locality-by-locality, and there are not federal standards. I would think this would be an issued addressed at the level of state or local politics, rather than national.

I am definitely all for requiring licenses for plumbers. This reminds me of that interior design discussion a few months back. A plumber who doesn’t know what he’s doing can do some serious damage!

I love that the UA endorsed Obama.

7 Joe the Economist October 16, 2008 at 11:58 pm

So applicants for openings in your department won’t need a Ph.D.?

8 mravery October 17, 2008 at 12:03 am

But Bruno, what do you say to the person who just wants his burst pipes fixed and doesn’t want to have to look at certifications and tell whether they’re from reputable plumbing organizations or not and check 5 references?

I agree that there’s a loss of utility from some people not being able to make the utility-maximizing choice for themselves, but there are also gains from decreased transaction costs: if every plumber has to be certified, then you don’t have to spend time looking over credentials.

(Naturally, this presupposes that whatever government licensing program is instituted is effective. I’m not claiming that licensing is always optimal; I’m just saying cases exist where it may be.)

9 Tom October 17, 2008 at 12:06 am

The New York Times spends more time discussing Joe the Plumber or Trig the Child than it does elucidating Louis the Antisemit or Bill the Terrorist. Or BAIPA.

10 apostate October 17, 2008 at 12:06 am

Wow, this is really petty Tyler. I would have thought you were above this kind of nonsense.

11 Sonic Charmer October 17, 2008 at 12:10 am

The bottom line is that if this guy Joe the plumber isn’t a licensed plumber, it follows logically that Obama’s tax proposals are excellent. That’s why it is so important for the press to expend effort to pin down the biographical details of Joe the plumber: because it is germane in a substantive way to the debate over taxes. If Joe were a licensed plumber, McCain’s tax proposals might be preferable; but since he’s not, they’re not.

I mean, I can’t think of any other reason why the press would investigate and write stories about Joe the plumber to this extent. I really can’t. Can you?

12 Charlie October 17, 2008 at 12:28 am

@MikeDC: I broadly agree with your sentiment. It seems Tyler engages in a highly sophisticated version of “Chicken”, in a multi-round Bayesian signaling game, I suppose. In my view this is not a wise strategy: The way signals in politics are processed is very deficient; there is simply too much noise. If the less libertarian of the two candidates wins (Obama), that will be interpreted by politicians (especially the GOP after a defeat) as a stance against libertarianism. That’s why I, like yourself and most other libertarians, will vote GOP.

McCain’s positions towards “climate change”, campaign finance, or the bailout are highly questionable, but he is way superior in free trade, restraint on spending, leveling the playing field between health insurance and personal health savings account by eliminating the anachronistic tax exemption for employer-provided coverage, allowing patients to purchase health insurance across state lines, strict constructionist judges, school choice, and so forth. It’s a no-brainer indeed.

13 BoscoH October 17, 2008 at 12:49 am

Allan, if you can’t handle your own plumbing in your own house, you’re a liability to your family and an embarrassment to your community. Even if you drive a desk, you can learn to sweat a new sink valve onto a copper pipe without burning the house down. No license required.

As for his “real name” being Samuel. Maybe the “J” which is his middle initial stands for “Joe”?!? Some of us go by our middle names. Like me. I don’t go by my first name (“Richard”) because that’s also my Dad’s name and my Mom didn’t want two Dicks in the family. (cymbal crash!) Or, when people ask me why I don’t go by Dick, I tell them I prefer to drive my truck. (double cymbal crash) I’l be here all week, be sure to get my CD at the tables outside.

14 guy in the veal calf office October 17, 2008 at 1:20 am


Before posting that Joe does not have a license, did you investigate whether he needs one for the residential (as opposed to commercial) jobs he works on under local law? Did you consider whether a person should have the autonomy to go by their middle name? Or did you blindly put these seemingly damning tidbits out there as indictments?

You really need to take one of those nature trips and ruminate on what you are currently, because non-partisan, non-interventionist leaning no longer seems to apply. These past 2 weeks have not been your finest hours.

A non-GOP, consistently principled, currently disappointed, long time reader.

15 indiana jim October 17, 2008 at 1:28 am

Sonic charmer wrote “I can’t think of any other reason why the press would investigate and write stories about Joe the plumber to this extent. I really can’t. Can you?”

Sonic, looking at Joe I would have to guess that his demographics are politically correct for attack by the MSM (mainstream media); although I have to admit that I don’t know his religious leanings. John Murtha, a darling of the MSM, would probably say that Joe the plumber is just another racist like so many rubes who do actual labor in Western Pennsylvania (and by extention in neighboring Ohio). Shouldn’t everyone with the kind of demographics that Joe has feel guilty if he/she even thinks about voting for any one else other than Obama? Remember what Biden said, its patriotic to pay more taxes; Biden, another darling of the MSM, would probably say Joe is unpatriotic.

Sonic the writing is on the wall: this is just everyday, ordinary, garden variety MSM schtick. Just business as usual for the MSM and their darlings in office.

16 Constant October 17, 2008 at 2:12 am

I mean, I can’t think of any other reason why the press would investigate and write stories about Joe the plumber to this extent. I really can’t. Can you?

They want to destroy him because he is the enemy. For them, it’s not a debate. It’s not about proving that the enemy’s position is erroneous. It’s a war, and they want to crush the enemy, to annihilate the enemy.

17 Nayagan October 17, 2008 at 2:36 am


i think it might have been of greater utility to report that his business isn’t really on track to make $250K this year.

as someone who underwrites insurance for these mom n’ pop outfits, the certification process also serves as a way to verify uninterrupted holding of workers-comp coverage (information offered by the state varies but this is fairly standard) more than it does competency, morale hazard or skill (which can be verified, mostly, by looking at the loss history, safety controls, etc.) On bigger deals, forms that exclude the employer’s liability portion of occupational disease exposure, typically come off the quote and this requires knowing that the insured is following the law.

what is of tangential relevance is the fact that this fellow’s father was buddies with the great patriot, Charles Keating

and that, according to polling, Joe Da Plumber isn’t pulling a great deal of weight.

as for your question, no democrat is likely to question the wisdom of the licensing regime. Perhaps they will mandate licensing for yoga instructors (in which the non-profits have been miles ahead of any public sector official).

18 xiat October 17, 2008 at 2:47 am

That remains me about another fellow who went by name of Abe and practiced law without a license….or even formal education. I guess, you want Emancipation Proclamation to be drafted by someone with a certificate.

I have dealt with people in construction business . The key is that you have to find people who know what they are doing ; you would be surprised how many certified and licensed craftsmen are making basic mistakes, not to mention legendary inability to co-operate between plumbers and electricians on a project.

19 sigman62 October 17, 2008 at 3:31 am

“Joe the Plumber” turns into “Joe the Blunder” of the McCain Campaign that didn’t do its homework.

20 thehova October 17, 2008 at 3:51 am

“”Joe the Plumber” turns into “Joe the Blunder” of the McCain Campaign that didn’t do its homework.”


wow. what an idiot. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be so combative. but god.

21 BoscoH October 17, 2008 at 4:08 am

I think what mac is saying is that anyone who would vote for McCain/Palin is evil. It goes without saying that anyone who would vote for Obama/Biden is stupid. Now that we have that out of the way, does anyone else think that Joe the Plumber would be the perfect name for a porn star?

22 community of cells October 17, 2008 at 5:36 am

mac – “extraordinary international cache”, the best reason not to vote for Obama. If there’s any lesson to be drawn from history, it is to do the opposite of what the world wants from America. Since politicians have been inviting the world here for the past decades and as we have been actively shedding our own culture under a relentless orchestrated assault by the socialist cathedral, opposing “the world” includes opposing the subversive globalist and cloaked-racist property-rights undermining elements within the last stronghold of western liberty on earth.

Steer clear from anyone using the words “global”, “fairness”, “justice”, “equality” and other words masking state-coerced waste.

It’s not the “republican party” that is *****, but the west. As if the peaceful 20th century wasn’t enough yet, let’s use majority votes to dismantle and distribute its remnants. A fitting end to “democracy”. We ain’t seen nothing yet.

23 Tyler Cowen October 17, 2008 at 6:25 am

As is often the case, those few of you who are mad at me simply haven’t read the post carefully enough. Just for a start, I’m not at all criticizing the guy for calling himself Joe rather than Samuel. I was making fun of those people who are upset by this. Some of you are committing other misunderstandings as well.

24 denise October 17, 2008 at 7:04 am

The issue here to me is not what Joe/Sam said,or what he does.
The issue for me is what Obama said and what he plans to do. Obama is the one running for office = not Joe.
The other concern I have is the savage attack on a man who asked a question of Obama. Wish the MSM would vet Obama’s buddies half as well. Dig as deep in his background.

25 mc October 17, 2008 at 7:57 am

Moving the the higher pay grades, I think it’s true that:

–you don’t have to be a lawyer to be on the US Supreme Court
–you don’t have to be a priest to be elected pope

26 J Thomas October 17, 2008 at 8:30 am

Ogmb, your three points are important. I wonder how we could get around those.

My first thought would be to forbid most houses from having gas lines. Natural gas is dangerous. Usually water lines are not nearly so dangerous. If we didn’t have gas lines then plumbing would not be nearly so risky for the plumbed.

Where I am plumbing is not dominated by small firms. Last time I needed a plumber I found mostly large firms in the yellow pages. It was a fairly simple task I needed, just to replace the kitchen faucette and also one of the shutoff valves, which had developed a leak. I figured I ought to replace the other valve too since it would probably have trouble soon.

Every place I called wanted a $90 fee to come look at the problem and give me an estimate. Sometimes $95, one was as low as $70. They’d subtract part of the fee from the job if I accepted the estimate. I didn’t trust the $70 one so I went with one of the others. He came and looked at it and quoted $680. Outrageous! I paid him $90 to go away. Then I looked for another plumber. It turned out that RotoRooter would give an estimate for free. Their cheerful friendly plumber showed up and estimated $460. When I complained he pointed out that the work didn’t need a license where I was. Also I could knock $150 off the price if I supplied the parts. I thanked him. I went to Home Depot and bought the needed parts and one needed tool for $65 and did it myself. It took me two hours because I’d never done it before and I didn’t completely know how. Some of the joints were corroded together and I had to carefully cut part of the old faucette off with a hacksaw. It turned out the valve were OK after I replaced a couple of O-rings. Valuing my time at $50/hour I didn’t save a lot of money but it was kind of fun.

Back to your point, we could get rid of the small plumbing companies and have just big companies like where I live, and they could hire unlicensed plumbers.

For your second point, that laypeople can’t tell quality work — this itself is the problem that needs to be solved. The Bush administration, and Palin on a local level, have shown that sometimes government is utterly corrupt. Can we trust government to competently license professionals? Obviously we cannot. In the worst case the result is to drive up prices so that licensed toadies have the exclusive right to do the work at high prices and pass kickbacks to the corrupt politicians. And that worst case may be more common than we notice.

Would it help if we turned plumbing into a government job? When the government does the work and guarantees it, you at least know they aren’t going to go out of business before they can pay off after you win in court. (I assume the courts are honest and competent because if they aren’t, we’re just completely screwed.) Of course then when things go wrong it’s the taxpayers who pay.

No, the better solution is to change the technology around to something that people can understand easily. Set it up to be dead-simple and not very dangerous. Make it obvious whether it’s right or not. I’ve been noticing that in the things I buy at Home Depot. They still sell the thin-walled tubes that are so easy to kink or break. But they also sell alternatives with flexible wire-mesh-reinforced plastic and threaded joints, that are much harder to do wrong. Most things that can be done with sweated-solder joints can be replaced with threaded joints which are hard to install wrong and which anybody can replace.

The more of your plumbing needs you can handle *without* licensed professionals, the better. Detour around the whole dilemma.

When you have a problem that can only be solved by competent government, you have traded your original problem for a *much bigger* problem.

27 Gary October 17, 2008 at 8:46 am

I also want to know what ******* stands for.

28 bob October 17, 2008 at 8:58 am

Re: A libertarian who votes Democrat because the Republicans are not libertarian enough is like a communist who votes Republican because the Democrats are not communist enough.

There is an alternative to voting either Democrat or Republican. His name is Bob Barr.

29 odograph October 17, 2008 at 9:36 am

FWIW, two units were damaged in my condo complex, in a fire started by a non-licensed and non-bonded plumber with a welding torch. My libertarian spirit says everybody should be what they wish … but my wallet and my neighbors did not appreciate eating the cost of reconstruction, nor the forward-going hit to the association’s insurance. YMMV.

30 ScentOfViolets October 17, 2008 at 10:01 am

The point, for those who don’t get it (and there seem to be quite a few of you) is misrepresentation. Especially deliberate misrepresentation to score political points. Remember all the howling and gnashing of teeth at Graeme Frost’s family not really needing any help with medical bills, that their house was worth $200,000, that their children attended an ‘elite’ private school, that they had ‘granite’ (actually concrete) countertops in their kitchen?

Not getting what seem to me to be a rather obvious and elementary fact does not pass the smell test.

31 Blackadder October 17, 2008 at 10:21 am

Perhaps people should have to be licensed to ask presidential candidates questions. Otherwise, who knows what damage they could do to the candidates’ campaigns.

32 odograph October 17, 2008 at 10:29 am

Constant, I think my anecdote says more about bonding really, rather than licensing. Our association would have been better off if the homeowner had hired a bonded/insured plumber rather than a “handyman.” But, I suspect that cities have licensing requirements as the result of such situations. I mean, somebody can get killed by a bad electrician, or a plumber who lets his water get on their electricity.

33 odograph October 17, 2008 at 10:50 am

Aren’t we getting pretty far from the median U.S. position, if we start to reject building codes, contractor licensing, and bonding requirements?

I mean, in a true libertarian world my next door neighbor could tear down his house and put up a leather tannery, if that was in his financial interest. He could hire handymen to do that work.

34 Tim October 17, 2008 at 11:04 am

Oh god, he’s never held a license. No doubt he’s broken countless sinks and caused the public health of his city to deteriorate into a stink hole of festering, non-potable water.

Has anyone ever been to Toledo? I’m actually quite interested to learn whether Joe’s unlicensed plumbing has had the negative “public health” effects which I’m sure justifies the goofy law.

I would also like to add that if Joe ever broke your sink and destroyed half your house, I hope you didn’t sign anything saying he was not liable. Otherwise I’m sure you could sue him. So really there’s no necessity for this “public health” law.

I would also like to post this: Perhaps I’m just easily humored, but I chuckled at the sight of this organization. Just the name makes me laugh. Also, now it makes perfect sense why there is a license requirement for plumbing. Really sucks for Joe. Good for my uncle who’s a plumber, though.

35 meter October 17, 2008 at 11:22 am

“And for your information, I would never hire a “dude” to set my broken bones. No, no. That would require a doctor.”

Not sure what defines a doctor in your opinion. Eliminate the requirements of medical training, certification, licensing, interning, and the word means very little. To me (and most rational people), anyway.

36 ArtLover October 17, 2008 at 11:34 am

In NYC being an unlicensed plumber is an honorable and well-thought of choice for painters and composers. For example, Philip Glass supported himself for many years as an unlicensed plumber. One of my ex-boyfriends to this day remains quite proud of a lovely shower Glass rebuilt and tiled for him. It’s a key point in his apartment, the “Glass shower.”

37 indiana jim October 17, 2008 at 11:49 am

Constant wrote in response to the question of why Joe the plumber was being investigate so extensively:

“They want to destroy him because he is the enemy. For them, it’s not a debate. It’s not about proving that the enemy’s position is erroneous. It’s a war, and they want to crush the enemy, to annihilate the enemy.”

Yes Constant I think it is simply that old, primal “us vs. them” urge being indulged in by people who have become intoxicated by their power to impale those not holding the microphone.

38 guy in the veal calf office October 17, 2008 at 12:32 pm

Re: Addendum.

I’m very Sorry, I was a blockhead in my initial post and wish I could delte it.

But I still think you’ve strayed from what I took to be your libertarian principles during this financial crisis.

39 ScentOfViolets October 17, 2008 at 12:53 pm

Well, no one ever said the right in general were particularly sharp. Misrepresentation goes to what Joe Plumber made himself out to be when having a dialogue with Obama. Misrepresentation would be claiming you’re just an everyday working dude who’s undecided about who to vote for, and who is concerned about ‘Obama raising his taxes’, but willing to listen to him. When in reality you’re anything but, in fact, a dude who is a registered Republican. A registered Republican who thinks that Obama ‘tap dances like Sammy Davis Jr.’

This isn’t rocket science, guys.

40 BoscoH October 17, 2008 at 1:31 pm

Tyler, I am very good at subtle, and the middle name slap didn’t come off that way. It came off as brainless as everyone else who is jumping on Joe’s back for having the audacity to be called by his middle name, and more importantly, stand up to The One. If you’re going to do subtle, you have to give people in the know a branch to hang on. Example:

Not only that, he calls himself Joe but his real name is Samuel (like Boone Pickens, who should properly called himself “T.”).

41 mattw October 17, 2008 at 2:45 pm

@Libertarian – you have your facts wrong.

Obama does not support the fairness doctrine.

McCain came out against torture, but he voted for Bush’s version, because he has an ambition to be President.

Obama did vote for FISA, flipping from being vocally against it and threatening to filibuster a version with immunity. But McCain and all the Republicans were for it all along. The netroots Democrat community was vehemently against it, both warrantless wiretapping and the immunity.

As for BAIPA, Obama has stated he would like to restrict late-term and partial birth abortions, but wants the legislation drafted in a way that does not erode the right to privacy codified in the Roe v Wade decision.

If you want to criticize judge selection, look at the conservative wing of the court. They legalized demanding “papers” in Hiibel v SIXTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT OF
NEVADA, HUMBOLDT COUNTY; Roberts dissented in Georgia vs Randolph, which nearly made illegal search and seizure admissable if you had a roommate or spouse who would “admit” police; etc. The Roberts court, and the Bush nominees Alito and Roberts in particular, do not have a particular disdain for overturning laws and precedents; they simply have a different viewpoint, and a predilection for playing fast and loose with the fourth and fifth Amendments.

Despite your assertion that Obama is a gun-banner, Obama has publicly stated that the Second Amendment guarantee of arms is to individuals.

Obama has never supported a “border fence”. A quote: “The key is to consult with local communities, whether it’s on the commercial interests or the environmental stakes of creating any kind of barrier. The Bush administration is not real good at listening. I will reverse that policy. There may be areas where it makes sense to have some fencing. Having border patrolled, surveillance, deploying effective technology, that’s going to be the better approach.”

McCain criticized the Supreme Court for ruling Guantanamo detainees had the right of Habeas Corpus:

And while McCain has said we should close Guantanamo: “[McCain] insisted that the inmates should not have access to civilian courts, regardless of where they are detained”

And a voucher system isn’t particularly compatible with a Libertarian viewpoint; Obama may oppose vouchers, McCain may support them, but they’re just debating over how to distribute the money after the educational system is socialized. (Also “school choice” is a poor euphemism for “voucher system”, since Obama does support choosing a public school and the use of charter schools you can opt into, etc.). (And I’ll add that as a parent who is sending his daughter to an extremely expensive private school on top of paying my property taxes, I have no inherent objections to vouchers.)

McCain opposes the legalization of marijuana, even medical marijuana. He supported an amendment to ban flag burning.

I voted for Browne in 2000, and I’m voting for Obama in 2008. Fiscally speaking, there is no party and no candidate that will be Libertarian in a government-size/fiscal sense. But the Democrats have at least had some sense when opposing the egregious problems in the PATRIOT Act; were it not intensely politicized and the electorate driven by fear, and the Republicans striving to exploit the Democrats as “weak on security”, they would have killed the bad FISA bill and probably neutered the worst parts of PATRIOT too.

42 J Thomas October 17, 2008 at 2:48 pm

You’re unlikely to sustain serious physical or economic injury from bad cooking.

Not so. While regular food poisoning is likely to give you just a day or two of symptoms, there are various clostridia that can kill you from botulism etc.

The rules for avoiding botulism are not real complicated. Don’t store food with a layer of grease on top that cuts off exposure to air is the biggest thing. But still the food safety rules have to be followed or a bad restaurant can kill you.

43 apostate October 17, 2008 at 2:53 pm

Having such a system (much like the antiquated(?) guild system) makes my life easier as a consumer.

Well as long as it makes your life easier.

It never ceases to amaze me when people decry libertarians as “selfish” but have no problem demanding others do things for them at their own expense.

Of course what many don’t seem to understand is that any governmental license is either a waste of money, because the license is so simple anyone with some cash can get it. Or it is difficult and expensive to get thereby insuring a possible cartel-like hold on the profession in question.

My apologies. You might want to work on the internet sarcasm though. Your post really doesn’t read that way.

44 indiana jim October 17, 2008 at 3:03 pm

I’m sure Tyler has probably already researched the view from The View on Joe, but just in case he has been negligent:

45 J Thomas October 17, 2008 at 3:26 pm

Good plumbing has saved more lives than doctors.

This is true, when the alternatives to good plumbing are bad plumbing or no plumbing.

If we could handle other pollution problems that well our general health would be much improved.

46 JR Junky October 17, 2008 at 3:45 pm

Having worked as a helper for a real plumbing company installing boilers in downtown Newark NJ, I know one mistake can cause people to die from improper flue installations or improper high pressure steam pipe hookups or cutting the wrong supporting beams to install plumbing or hooking up safety controls wrong, just because some local jerk knows how to hook up a toilet does not make him able to do things a real plumber can and is expected to do.

47 Christina October 17, 2008 at 4:17 pm

So applicants for openings in your department won’t need a Ph.D.?

Well considering the most popular professor in the department (who is probably responsible for attracting the majority of the undergrads majoring in Econ), Thomas Rustici, merely holds an M.A., I’d say that Ph.D.s are not in fact required for GMU Economics Department positions.

My apologies to the wonderful professors Cowen, Tabarrok, Kling, Caplan, Roberts, and Boudreax. They might be the famous econ bloggers of GMU, but Rustici is the prof who claims the most fame throughout the general student body. I think that should be a good indication that credentials are not as important as some would have us believe.

48 J Thomas October 17, 2008 at 4:24 pm

A residential plumber in Toledo is NOT required to have a license.

So Joe Plumber can hire people who don’t have licenses. He isn’t actually still doing hands-on plumbing himself, is he?

49 YBarzel October 17, 2008 at 5:16 pm

Tyler — is this really you or did you get Andrew Sullivan to guest blog for you?

50 J Thomas October 17, 2008 at 5:35 pm

The point is there are ways to select the good and avoid the bad that do not rely on government regulation – this is true however seriously bad the bad is.

This is not in general true for restaurants.

If a restaurant keeps their special spicy goulash in a glass carboy at room temperature, if they fill it up to the neck and a thick grease seal happens, you won’t know it until you get symptoms. Maybe the public health people can get you an antidote in time.

In the long run, each individual restaurant that poisons its customers will fail. But you still take that risk every time you eat out. The safe thing is to do your own cooking all the time, and track what happens to food you carry with you. No comparative advantage for *you*, Bucko!

It doesn’t necessarily take government to arrange ways to make restaurants relatively safe. Government is one way to do it, and if you want a different way you have to build it.

51 BoscoH October 17, 2008 at 5:57 pm

You want a licensed plumber FOR EVERY JOB because a licensed and reputable plumber will not allow sewer gas to escape into your home or have contaminated water siphon into the clean water supply.

Horse feathers. Our condo association had licensed plumbers work on the mains a couple years ago, and ended up with irrigation and sewage water cross-connected to the fresh water lines. Licensed plumbers make mistakes. You can reasonably argue that there is better recourse when they make mistakes or that give statistics that show their mistake rates are lower, but you cannot say that licensed plumbers do not make these errors.

52 Constant October 17, 2008 at 10:10 pm

Things like traffic signals, speed limits, and other government imposed driving regulations, things of that nature?

You are assuming that orderly conduct can only be imposed by a government and will not arise and be respected otherwise. Another myth. Suggested reading: David Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom. Case study of this in practice: Order without Law, by Robert C. Ellickson.

Speaking of time, how much of it would you like to spend personally verifying the quality of your meat, dairy, etc.?

One word: specialization. You don’t have to milk your own cow. You don’t have to grow your own wheat. But government doesn’t milk your cow or grow your wheat: other private individuals do this and you pay them to do that. Mean inspection can also be specialized. An example of privatized product testing: Underwriters Laboratories, the ubiquitous UL.

Maybe you also like conducting your own drug trials. [Hey, it looks good on TV…why not try it. What’s the worst that could happen?]

Now you’re assuming people are morons. You’re portraying people as Darwin Award candidates. Some people, of course, are, but the vast majority are not.

53 Constant October 18, 2008 at 12:18 am

I am lost:(

It’s quite simple. Whatever definition of “plumber” best serves Obama’s interests, is the true definition of “plumber”. Anyone who uses a different definition is a liar.

54 Superheater October 18, 2008 at 12:44 am

Another thing on licenses, last time I checked, there were three licenses that made one qualified to offer federal tax advice, pursuant to “Circular 230”.

1.) Certified Public Accountants
2.) Attorneys
3.) Enrolled Agents.

As a CPA, I resent the constant intrusion of unqualified economists offering advice on taxes.

55 odograph October 18, 2008 at 2:39 am

I think I, and a few others above, took this in the direction Tyler led .. to a discussion of licensing and its value (or not) in a semi-regulated market economy. That question is interesting because, as I said, our libertarian leanings might come up against some practical concerns.

I didn’t see this about Joe, personally at all here. Other places might be trying to demonize Joe, or elevate him to Sainthood … I agree that is pointless and an invasion of Joe’s life.

BUT … as a moderate Republican with liberal sympathies in this election cycle, I think the conservative talking point to immediately pillory the press is anti-intellectual and brutish. If you want to talk rationally, stay on topic with tax policies and licensing requirements.

(I just listened to a particularly bankrupt argument by Amanda Carpenter at that Obama wants to redistribute wealth and McCain doesn’t … pfft, unless McCain is willing to run on a campaign to abandon welfare completely, and food stamps completely, get off that!)

56 Andrew October 18, 2008 at 9:59 am

Breaking news! The media is a joke.

Licensing makes sure that the government-mandated toilets that take 3 flushes to get the job done are all installed to the minimum standards.

57 indiana jim October 18, 2008 at 6:40 pm

Not only is Obama’s “spreading the wealth around” answer to Joe revealing, but so
is Obama’s recent stump statements about Joe the plumber. Obama sneered:

“Do you know who he [McCain] is fighting for? Do you know who he is fighting for? A plumber!”

To which the crowd laughed heartily.

Yes, McCain has fought and will fight for a man who is a plumber, yes one who aspires to someday have a license, to own his own business, and to earn a large amount of money. Obama’s sneer suggests that he would not fight for Joe. Who is Obama fighting for? Obama is fighting against Joe’s ability to realize the American dream of financial success via individual effort so that Obama can “spread the wealth around” (taking it many people who have worked long and hard to achieve for themselves and families financial success to give it to many others who currently pay no income taxes). The reason Joe the plumber matters is because he is a great poster boy for why Obama’s tax policy is economically inefficient. The more heavily success is taxed, the fewer people will aspire to, and achieve success.

58 Anonymous October 18, 2008 at 9:04 pm

@meter: //But still the food safety rules have to be followed or a bad restaurant can kill you.”//
Clearly you have never worked in a good local restaurant.

And common Indiana Jim. I agree, Tyler needs to make an apology ASAP, so that the people he’s mimicking/mocking will know they screwed up.

Finally, I’m really quite surprised that all of you who agree with plumbers licenses have had such great success with licensed plumbers. I must call the wrong man every time, cuz it seems like I get an awful lot of bad ones…

59 J Thomas October 19, 2008 at 10:19 am

Ah, Indiana Jim. You have been taken in by a Republican myth.

Let me ask you this: Why shouldn’t rich people pay as much tax as you do?

Think about it.

The hindus have a religion/society where the Brahmins get the best of everything. And if you aren’t a Brahmin and you wonder why it ought to be that way, they’ll tell you that if you work hard and cheerfully and support the Brahmins well enough, after you die you might get reborn as a Brahmin yourself and then you’ll have the best of everything too. Brahmins deserve to live well because of all the hard work they did in past lives.

The GOP peddles a variation on that story. They say if you work hard and cheerfully and pay your taxes someday you might get rich in this life. It’s mostly a lie. Joe the Plumber has money problems, he’s never going to get the money together to buy a company that has $250,000 profit a year. If he started his own plumbing company and did all the right things while his competitors did all the wrong things he might eventually grow it into that kind of business, provided he could get enough favorable loans. Unlikely.

I took Joe at his word, I thought he was rich enough to buy the business. He was kind of lying, he said he was “thinking about it”. Joe has a better chance playing the lottery. Better than that, he might cut back his expenses as low as he can as a single father and put money into a no-load mutual fund. Or something like that.

So Joe wants to pay high taxes so his boss doesn’t have to pay his own share? That’s easy to arrange. If Obama wins Joe can take his tax cut and give it to his boss. He can take up a collection among the employees. Problem solved. And they can all dream about how wonderful it is they live in a nation where if they just work hard enough someday they can be the boss themselves.

60 J Thomas October 19, 2008 at 12:51 pm

Hi, Paul!

I personally haven’t been much interested in Joe the Plumber’s plumbing license. Whether to have licensing or what kind of licensing to have is an interesting question but it doesn’t have much to do with Joe’s right to spread the myth.

So let’s see — Joe is an apprentice plumber just getting trained, and he wants his taxes to be high and his boss’s taxes to be low, because someday Joe wants to buy out the business and enjoy those low, low taxes.

And you call *me* the idiot!

61 J Thomas October 19, 2008 at 5:11 pm

IJ, you have misinterpreted it. Both McCain and Obama are going to collect taxes to pay for government. McCain is going to collect them mostly from you. Obama is going to collect them partly from rich people too.

Over the last 8 years the rich people are the only ones who’ve been getting richer. Why shouldn’t they pay more of the taxes than they have been?

62 J Thomas October 19, 2008 at 6:34 pm

“Over the last 8 years the rich people are the only ones who’ve been getting richer.”

Factually, this is false.

Do you have some kind of link for that claim? This is the first time I’ve seen anybody make it.

…if the Congress stays Democratic (likely) then Obama will spend even more freely than Bush did the past 8 yrs.

That would be hard to manage. Reagan, Bush Senior, Bush, you figure McCain would at last start reducing spending, in a recession? Do you really think that? With our increasing military obligations? There isn’t much Welfare left to cut, and he’s going to have a lot of new prisons to build. He could cut Medicare, and Social Security. I guess he could save some money by eliminating the EPA, and further deregulating the banks and the stock markets.

I know, McCain says he’s going to provide more tax cuts for the rich without increasing the deficit. That’s like, a campaign promise. You believe him?

With McCain in there, we would be a counterweight to the Dem. Congress.

Well, that might work. If we get gridlock in government, if the government gets stuck not doing anything much, they can reduce costs. I was kind of hoping we could do something to encourage alternate energy but maybe we should put that off for another 8 years or so.

63 Tom October 20, 2008 at 11:13 am

“I think it would be interesting to find out who Joe the Plumber is.

Is he really an amateur, or is he a plant? If he’s a GOP houseplant that makes him much less interesting. Less effective, too.”

Yeah, Rove planted him in that house, just KNOWING Obama would walk up to his house, knocking on his door.

64 J Thomas October 20, 2008 at 1:23 pm

IJ, I asked for evidence that it isn’t rich people who’ve been getting richer over the last 8 years. You gave me a paper dated 2000 about minimum wage, and you talked about your own experience, where you climbed out of poverty by becoming a university professor. This was really not what I was looking for.

Here’s a claim for 2000 to 2005, based on IRS data. Average income was down. Rich people’s income was up.

However, it’s too early to know whether our rich people will keep their gains after this latest bubble. Maybe it will turn out that 2000 to 2008 they will lose out like the rest of us.

65 J Thomas October 20, 2008 at 2:01 pm

Yeah, Rove planted him in that house, just KNOWING Obama would walk up to his house, knocking on his door.

“Mr. Obama first noticed him when Mr. Wurzelbacher was shouting from afar, ?Do you believe in the American dream??

“Mr. Obama walked over and engaged in conversation.”

Obama didn’t knock on his door. The guy showed up in a crowd. But he did live in that city and he is a plumber’s helper. I think he probably was not a Rove plant. It was reasonable to suppose he might have been until the evidence came in.

“Joe wants to buy the business that he has been in for all of these years, worked 10, 12 hours a day. And he wanted to buy the business but he looked at your tax plan and he saw that he was going to pay much higher taxes,” McCain challenged Obama.

“Gale said commercial business databases suggest Newell Plumbing and Heating apparently has annual sales of about $100,000. “This guy’s not in any danger from Obama’s tax hikes,” he said.”

“Wurzelbacher also told The (Toledo) Blade newspaper that he has no specific plan to buy the two-man plumbing business where he works but has talked generally with owner Al Newell about someday taking it over.”

So Joe fibbed about himself a little to make a political point. No big deal, I might do the same thing in similar circumstances. But McCain was entirely talking through his … hat.

66 indiana jim October 20, 2008 at 2:13 pm

J Thomas

McCain is correctly capitalizing on this because as he says, Joe caught Obama in an unscripted moment and from this moment we learn Obama’s socialistic heart to “spread the wealth around”; here is the link to the Toledo Blade:

McCain is rolling and the issue of Obama’s socialistic heart (raised by Joe the plumber)is rightfully resonating in Middletown, USA.

67 J Thomas October 20, 2008 at 3:33 pm

Joe caught Obama in an unscripted moment and from this moment we learn Obama’s socialistic heart to “spread the wealth around”

Tax policy is about who to take the wealth from. McCain wants to take it from you, and let the super-rich people keep it. If Obama is doing socialism, so is McCain but different, kind of an anti-Robin-Hood, take from the poor and give to the rich.

Let’s put aside the unquantified arguments about who’s morally right about taxes. I say we ought to give tax cuts to the people who’ll do the most to rebuild the US economy. Until we rebuild the economy we’ll be hurting no matter who pays the taxes. We don’t export as much as we import and we depend on foreign lending to make up the difference, and we’re heading for trouble.

So, 8 years ago Bush gave our rich people giant tax cuts on the assumption they’d help the economy. What happened? A lot of the money went to build up the chinese economy and various foreign economies. (I can’t fault them for that, it’s what I would have done myself if I had investment money I wanted to profit from. The dollar got devalued about 70% relative to the euro since then, foreign investments didn’t have to do all that great to do better than us.) A lot of it went into the real estate bubble. And a lot of it got put directly into T-bonds. We give them a tax cut and they loan the money to the government? What good did that do the economy? It just means instead of collecting taxes we owe them interest on the money!

Our giant investment in rich people did not pay off. Time to do something different.

But I don’t think changing the taxes will do what we need, it’s a side issue. We need to rebuild the economy before we’re stuck without the capital to do it. If we transfer taxes from the middle class to the rich and tax the same amount, that won’t make much real difference, it just changes who spends the money that isn’t taxed. Nothing wrong with that, but it isn’t a solution.

Obama’s reduction in capital gains tax, and tax deduction for R&D look like obvious steps in vaguely the right direction, but they don’t look like solutions either. I don’t see anything like a solution from either one of them. Both of them want to build up the military and fight foreign wars just when we can’t afford it.

I’m for Obama in the hope that he’ll do something good that he isn’t telling us about. That doesn’t look like a great hope but McCain is the alternative and he looks utterly clueless.

I can understand if you figure that the government will inevitably be a problem and the best we can hope for is a president who cluelessly vetoes everything the Democrats try to do for the next 4 years. Maybe the best we can hope for is a government that tries in vain to maintain the status quo and takes no initiative or response to crises. But if you think that, shouldn’t you get your family out of the USA?

68 indiana jim October 21, 2008 at 10:27 am

To J Thomas and all other “true believers” in Obama, the link below is to a Thomas Sowell piece which, of course, explains the key problem with being a “true believer” much better than probably anyone:

69 DOuglas2 October 21, 2008 at 1:00 pm

The Ohio code does not require licenses for residential work but allows communities to require their own license for any work. The state places a restriction on the communities that if they require a fee, registration or license, they must also require the state license.

In order to get the state license, you must among other things have 5-years experience or things they consider equivalent to that experience.

Toledo requires licenses even of journeymen and trainee plumbers.

I’m trying to work out if there is any possible way to become a licensed plumber in Toledo whilst being within the letter of local law.

70 J Thomas October 21, 2008 at 3:52 pm

IJ, you seem to have the illusion that nothing happens unless the US government makes it happen.

But no, when we keep facing crises, gridlock just means the US government tries to deal with the crises with its figurative shoelaces tied together.

So the emergency comes that we did nothing about earlier, and maybe all of a sudden McCain says he needs a trillion dollars to do something about it and Congress gives it to him, and we lurch around like that.

Gridlock doesn’t mean nothing happens, it means that nothing happens until there’s a big scare that causes the government to fall onto its metaphorical face. Again.

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