The WSJ has a good piece on licensing, with the usual amusing stories.
Texas, for instance, requires hair-salon "shampoo specialists" to take 150 hours of classes, 100 of them on the "theory and practice" of shampooing, before they can sit for a licensing exam…
A shampoo specialist in Texas, for instance, learns about neck anatomy and must practice skills such as regulating water temperature. "There's a lot of different things that go into it," says Elizabeth Perez, the state's cosmetology program manager.
Morris Kleiner offers the economist's interpretation:
Mr. Kleiner estimates that across the U.S. economy, occupational licensing adds at least $116 billion a year to the cost of services, which amounts to about 0.1% of total consumer spending. In a look at dentistry, Mr. Kleiner found that the average price of dental services rose 11% when a state made it more difficult to get a dental license.
Does licensing improve quality?
But whether licensing guarantees better-quality work is an open question. Several academic studies in the 1970s and '80s found that licensure boosted quality in professions such as dentistry, optometry, plumbing and real-estate sales. More recent studies have found no evidence that licensing improves the quality of teachers or mortgage brokers.
I love that last sentence. The WSJ does offer some interesting tests:
…a look at consumer complaints about manicurists suggests licensing doesn't necessarily correlate with quality.
Alabama has perhaps the strictest licensing requirements in the nation: 750 hours of schooling and a written and practical exam. The state gets, on average, four public complaints a year about poor service, according to the Alabama Board of Cosmetology.
Connecticut, which doesn't require manicurists to get licenses, has averaged just six complaints a year to the state over the past five years. Two-thirds of those complaints are about gift certificates that aren't honored, according to data from the consumer protection division of the state attorney general's office.
Addendum: Doug in the comments points us to this instant classic in the Palm Beach Post comparing unlicensed hair dressers, "garage cutters," to back-alley abortionists and quoting one salon owner:
"Even with the standards we have, you see a lot of dry hair and wrong color. Imagine what we'd have without these regulations."