Silly Consensus

A new 8min video echos this year old WSJ article:

Imagine you were a state legislator and some folks asked you to pass a law making it a crime to give advice about paint colors and throw pillows without a license. And imagine they told you that the only people qualified to place large pieces of furniture in a room are those who have gotten a college degree in interior design, completed a two-year apprenticeship, and passed a national licensing exam. …

The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) … have waged a 30-year, multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign to legislate their competitors out of business. And those absurd restrictions on advice about paint selection, throw pillows and furniture placement represent the actual fruits of lobbying in places like Alabama, Nevada and Illinois  …

Fifty years ago, only 5% of the American workforce was licensed; today it is nearly 30%. We’re not talking about brain surgeons or airline pilots, either. Louisiana requires florists to be licensed (yes, florists), and in several states — including Louisiana, Oklahoma and Virginia — only licensed funeral directors may sell caskets.

The only supporting argument I could find at the ASID website says:

Every decision an interior designer makes in one way or another affects the health, safety and welfare of the public.  Those decisions include specifying furniture, fabrics and carpeting that comply with fire codes and space planning that provides proper means of egress.  Additionally, interior designers deal with accessibility issues, ergonomics, lighting, acoustics and design solutions for those with special needs.

This is completely inadequate as an economic argument, and I expect economists would pretty strongly agree that neither economic theory nor data on net supports such regulations.  But economists almost never actually speak up about them, and they continue to grow.  Why?

My colleagues tell me that it would just seem silly to make a fuss over this; it is just not a serious topic.  Yes we can’t take seriously the idea of legally requiring a college degree to suggest where pillows go, but we also can’t take seriously an economist who would focus on such a trivial and obvious point.  Economists are supposed to talk about serious, important, difficult topics, you see. 

Which saddens me more than I can say.  Yes focusing on areas where answers are not obvious, where we disagree, better adds to our body of knowledge.  But if we cannot actually apply that knowledge effectively to obvious cases, what is the point exactly?  

I know, academic economics isn’t about good policy; academia mostly sells affiliation with credentialed impressiveness.  But I think of all those students suffering needlessly through useless classes, and their customers later paying needlessly extra for it, and it still makes me sad.

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