How requiring too much training hurts workers and consumers alike
Lowering standards could be good for society.
Overly strict laws require fully-licensed professionals for mundane tasks.
In a world where doctors proudly hang their diplomas on the wall, lower standards hardly sound like a desirable goal. No one wants to return to the days when barbers doubled as surgeons. But across occupational fields in America, a significant movement is being built on the notion that a deliberate lowering of standards—what advocates refer to as “right-sizing” licensure regulation—can actually be good for society.
WHEN PEOPLE need something done that they can’t do themselves—a haircut, an oil change, an eye exam—their instinct is usually to seek out the most highly qualified professional possible. Imagine for a second that you are being forced into bankruptcy, for instance. Or that your house is being foreclosed on, or that you are trying to collect child support payments from an uncooperative former spouse.
What you need in those situations is a lawyer, right? Ideally a really good one, who has earned a law degree from some prestigious institution and passed the bar exam with flying colors.
Don’t be so sure. Though an expensively trained lawyer certified in your state is the only kind of person legally allowed to help you, many ordinary legal problems could actually be resolved by a more affordable professional with narrower experience filling out forms, interpreting formal documents, and identifying legal options. “We could be providing good service to a much wider share of the population,” said Gillian Hadfield, a professor of law and of economics at the University of Southern California. Under the current system, she added, around 85 to 90 percent of Americans who need legal help can’t afford it.