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The joke is florist licensing, the punchline is ...?

This is so perfect. I joke with my State and Local Politics and Louisiana Government classes as an example of how state regulation has run riot and how a small interest can protect and enrich itself at the expense of the state is Louisiana’s incredibly backwards florist licensing (both retail and wholesale!).

Unfortunately, taxpayers, consumers and those wishing to get into the business are the butts of the joke. Taxpayers are one, because they have to pay to support the activities of the Horticulture Commission in regards to setting up and administering the procedures. True, there’s a fee associated with taking the test which probably in the end generates more revenue than cost but just the bureaucracy and state control involved in an intangible sense probably outweighs any pecuniary benefit.

Consumers are another, because what this regime does is creates an artificial barrier to entry to the profession. By limiting supply, demand held constant, prices are pushed up with excess profits (which can be created only when governments permits or assists in creating monopsonistic conditions) going to the “licensed” florists. For the same reason, petitioners into the industry are discriminated against because they are not permitted to practice the profession (who entry would increase supply and would enable prices to come down).

If we allow government to regulate anything, there must be a high burden of proof. It should take place only when some unmistakable, nontrivial threat to public health or safety may occur as a result of negligent actions. If you want the definition of an absurd argument, check out the supporters’ view of the licensing requirement, that people might get stuck with inferior floral arrangements. Is this a matter of public health or safety? And who says the licensing would prevent that? Most tellingly, the marketplace is smart enough to drive inferior florists out of business in short order. Don’t these nannies think the public is smart enough to spot better and worse arrangement, and force their operators to price accordingly (actually, probably most of them benefit from the excess profits generated by the licensing).

While I sympathize with the Institute for Justice’s position on this issue (an organization, by the way, which often has performed invaluable service in the courts in safeguarding people’s liberties), unfortunately the courts in this country expanded government’s power to interfere in the economy ways beyond its moral boundaries back in the 1930s. It will take state legislative action to solve for this.

That was tried last year and, despite heavy House support, the Senate Agriculture Committee spiked the idea. Which is why I wrote at the beginning of this posting this was just so perfect, because in recent months this and all else that is wrong about Louisiana’s good-old-boy network, business-as-usual government have become symbolized in one person. His department technically oversees the Horticulture Commission, he sits on it, and he rides herd over the Agriculture Commission (that’s its short name). He’s the perfect punchline for this sorry escapade.

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