Last time I was in Time Square, I passed a couple people selling humorous Barack Obama condoms on a street corner. I was amused and proud of everything represented by this simple act of commerce: freedom, expression, and capitalism. I am sad to learn now that those same individuals might be the ones in this case, who have just been harassed by the government because they don’t have proper vendor licenses.
The defendants argued that their product was a form of speech, and therefore should be protected by the first amendment. This should have been a compelling argument, as I find it doubtful that most of their tourist customers purchased the condoms for actual use. The judge felt differently, “holding that the novelty prophylactics constituted commercial speech, not constitutionally protected persuasive speech.”
While hardly the most outrageous instance of license enforcement, this case is just another in a long line of examples showing how such laws are antithetical to a free society. They prevent people the right to pursue the occupation of their choice, place undue burdens on many entrepreneurs, and even serve as a basis to limit free speech.
Licensing laws are one of the many ways in which the nanny state purports to protect us from ourselves. What usually happens, however, is that such laws are used as a means to protect a cartel and drive up the price of labor (doctors, lawyers, etc.), or as an abusive revenue source for the government, like in the case of little Julie Murphy, the 7-year-old girl who was recently harassed because she didn’t have a license for her lemonade stand.
What’s worse is the number of completely harmless occupations which the government licenses, removing any doubt that their aim is not really to protect. The Institute for Justice, for instance, recently forced the Louisiana government to reconsider it’s outrageously arbitrary licensing regime for florists.
One man was thrown in jail simply for helping someone draft a letter in response to being fined. The cartel of lawyers doesn’t want people moving in on their turf who don’t charge $500 an hour.
Fully 30% of occupations require government licenses. Most of these professions provide no real risk to the consumer that due diligence could not protect them from. The U.S. Constitution protects the right of all to earn an honest living in the occupation of their choice, but these laws stand in the way of that fundamental right. It’s time for the government to get out of the business of licensing business.
Cross-posted at Conservative Compendium.