Licensing: when the government takes away your right to do something, and sells it back to you.

Last night I happened to catch a bit of Jon Stewart on Comedy Central. He was making fun of a congressman who claimed he didn’t want laws requiring employees of restaurants to wash their hands. Stewart criticized the free market, acting like people would be getting sick all the time if the government didn’t mandate that food workers must wash their hands.

This is already faulty reasoning: individual businesses are much more interested in displaying those “employees must wash hands signs,” not to remind their employees so much as to tell their customers they run a clean establishment. I bet essentially every restaurant would post those signs even if they were not required to.

But Jon missed an even bigger point: that law does nothing to insure food preparers wash their hands. Stewart acted like people would be getting cholera every time they went to Starbucks if it weren’t for that piece of paper that says employees must wash their hands. Does he realize that there is not a government regulator posted in every restaurant? There is a dangerous myth that once something is made law, it becomes reality.

He thinks a law requiring the washing of hands will mean all food workers hands are washed? Obviously, this is not true. Kind of like how there is heroin in every town in the USA, despite the harsh laws against it.


Permits and licensing are just what the above meme describes. “Oh you want to open a restaurant? I’m going to pretend that this permit will make your food safe for people to eat.” The point is to raise revenue; it is another tax. But it also creates a smoke screen between the public and the establishments they patronize. It is harder for us to know which restaurants are actually clean, and which aren’t, because they all have their little health permit… even though no one ever really checks up on them.

And I’m not saying anyone should forcibly check up on them. But the government is not looking over the chef’s shoulder to see if he washed the knife, or looking into the vendor’s cooler to see if his hotdogs are expired. I would even bet there are rules about who can enter a kitchen, meaning the public is not allowed to check up on the conditions of the kitchen, even if the establishment would let them.

Same goes with driver’s licenses for the most part. I just renewed my license online. I did not get an eye check, I did not get a new picture taken, I even filled out the information about how tall I am and my eye color myself! They just needed to steal more money from me. For all they know I could have lost both my arms in an unfortunate disco accident; but I am approved to drive on the roads according to the great state of Massachusetts.

How about a hair dressing license? What would we do without the government taking money from would-be hair dressers! Think of the rampant bad haircuts that would destabilize the nation. Because the government definitely cares more about your hair than you do…

This suggests that along with revenue generation through theft, licensing also serves as protection for already established trades-people against those who have not yet been approved by government. The idea is to create barriers for people who might not need or want the training.

I know lots of people who know how to do electrical work and plumbing. But without the “proper training” which costs crap loads of money, they cannot monetize these skills without risk of retaliation by government, working on behalf of this union or that union.

“We gotta protect our phony bologna jobs!” as Mel Brooks would say.

9 thoughts on “Licensing: when the government takes away your right to do something, and sells it back to you.

  1. Sure, it isn’t a perfect process, but the hand-washing thing IS important because it’s a super easy sanitary improvement that has a great effect on public health and safety. Improper food handling has contributed to serious situations in the past: (

    I work in health care, and we use those signs too. Every clinic and hospital has a designated safety officer (not their only job) with mandated reporting responsibility to monitor and document (among other things) whether employees who interact with patients are using proper hand washing technique. I’ve seen people fired over repeated infractions.

    The risk isn’t as great handling food as it is working around communicable diseases, but the principle still applies. State regulations vary, but most of them do require a day’s training to earn a food handling permit which includes a unit on how to wash hands, instruments and surfaces. Back when I lived in Los Angeles, every place serving food, even the 7-11s,. got a grade (A-F) they had to post in the window. I’ve never heard of a regulation barring customers from viewing a kitchen, but then again most of them wouldn’t know where to look to estimate cleanliness. It doesn’t help much if your oven looks clean but the fridge and cupboards aren’t.

    • Mikey, I agree that hand washing before handling food or after dealing with sick people is important and desirable. But I think Joe’s point is that requiring it by law doesn’t make it so. What should be even more of a motivator than a law about hand washing is the individual’s desire not to get sick or the establishment’s desire not to get its customers sick. Just one food poisoning outbreak at a restaurant could hurt business for months. But I am interested in the designated safety officer. Is that a position that health care centers are required by law to staff? If not, then I guess the health care centers are doing their best to keep customers and employees safe, regardless of the law. If it IS required by law, then I guess I’d say that’s more effective than a sign, but it seems pretty Big Brotherish.

      • It’s actually the malpractice insurers who drive the requirement for health care providers to have safety officers. Prevention costs less than dealing with nosocomial (acquired in the clinic) infections, and when immune-compromised patients get sicker or die from something they get while under care it opens up liability issues.

  2. Pingback: Vehicle Inspection State Racket | Joe Jarvis

  3. Just because there is a piece of paper hanging over the sink doesnt mean doodly-squat. Just like the Constitution hhanging up there. I agree lincesing is a way to get revenue. Does a milk farmer whos pulling at a cows teets have to wash his hands. Does the cat who gets a squirt die? We regulate way too much with everything. People cannot use their own rain water the way they want to. Take a guess what might be next. Lets see. Voting regs? Nope already done. Taxes? Nope…border control. Nope. everything is regulated already…even a baby, when it is born…before anything, it needs a liscense…we have gone way too far over the edge…and us lemmings let it keep happening…oh! Next. Liscenses to buy ammo—

    • Exactly, and now licensing to talk about guns online if Obama gets his way to regulate free speech. Very sad how people don’t see it. They are too fooled by the people keeping them in constant fear.

  4. Pingback: How Licensing Works Perfectly Summed Up in One Meme | The Federalist Papers

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