Government Licensing is Protectionism

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 protectionism.

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 protectionism.

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 something minor.

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 their liberty.