In Arkansas, Dr. Ben Burris is suing members of the Board of
Dental Examiners in the state. He
is an orthodontist who is being prohibited from providing low-cost teeth
cleaning to the general public.
The Dental Board threatened to revoke Burris’ license after
he was offering his teeth cleaning services last year. The board does not allow dental
specialists to operate outside of their area of expertise.
While I’m not sure of his chances for success in the
lawsuit, it is an interesting example of government interference and government
This kind of protectionism happens at every level of
government. The government will
say that someone needs a particular license to perform a particular service
(such as teeth cleaning). The
politicians will do it in the name of public safety.
Some people who are skeptical of government will say that
licensing is an additional tax. And while I agree with this, I don’t think it is the main
motivation. The main reason is
This is the same old story of concentrated benefits and
dispersed costs. Usually we think
of government spending here. A
group of lobbyists will persuade politicians to spend money on a particular
group. Perhaps there will be big
political donations involved. The
government spends taxpayer money on a particular group, such as farmers. But it is hard to defeat this spending
when the costs are dispersed. If
it costs each taxpayer 20 dollars each across the country, then most people are
not going to fight it.
In the case of licensing, the same principles apply. In a way, it is even harder to fight
because the costs are often hidden.
For this example of teeth cleaning, the dentists in Arkansas who
specialize in teeth cleaning are getting the concentrated benefits. The protectionism from the Dental Board
keeps out competition. It means
more business for the dentists and means they can charge higher prices.
Aside from Dr. Burris not being able to clean teeth, the
dispersed costs are paid by the people of Arkansas. These are not costs paid directly to the government, but
they are still costs. It means
fewer options for teeth cleaning and it means overall higher prices.
Of course, government-mandated licensing occurs in a lot of
different industries, whether it is for doing plumbing, construction, or
cutting hair. One of the major
industries that requires licensing is in healthcare.
Most people will assume that we need government licensing in
healthcare to keep us safe, but this is a mistake. There can be licensing in healthcare, but it does not have
to be administered by the government or required by the government.
While there are nurse practitioners and physician
assistants, we don’t know what things would look like in a true free
market. But we know there is a
problem when you have to go see a doctor to get a throat culture or have him
look in your ear and then charge you over a hundred dollars.
I can envision a doctor’s office where people for minor
ailments see some kind of technician.
If there turns out to be a bigger problem, then the doctor can step in
at that point. I can envision
cheap clinics at Walmart where you walk in and get checked out quickly for
Actually, there are many possibilities of what could happen
in a free market for healthcare (or dental care). There would be far more competition and far more innovation.
Government licensing is protectionism. In the case of medicine, it allows
doctors to keep out competition that might be cheaper or more innovative.
While I wish Dr. Burris well in his lawsuit against the
Dental Board in Arkansas, I am not sure how successful he will be. A bigger success for liberty would be
if this story gets traction and people start to realize that government
protectionism is costing them in terms of money and quality care, along with