America's guild culture

One of the odder things about class stratification in the U.S. is that, on the one hand, you have an enormous number of people hollering to keep the government out of the economy, bemoaning statist health care and just aching and shaking for that moment when government finally becomes small enough that we are all as free as butterflies - and on the other hand, when one looks at how these people make money, a majority of them, one can reliably hypothesize, rely on Government poking its nose into our business and licencing and regulating. The doctor who, on the one hand, bitches about socialized health care is, on the other hand, apt at the drop of a hat to argue that doctors must be licenced, because, uh, the state, uh, has an interest in the healthcare, uh, of its citizens. Of course, the mind in contradiction to itself is has long been noted as one of the banal wonders of modern politics; but it still provides chuckles for the off line critic, watching the train wreck of the plutocracy whilst gobbling popcorn.

In fact, the State has been so successfully lobbied by professions to raise bars to entry by the encouragement of guilds has now become a much bigger phenomenon in the U.S. than unions. Doctors, dentists and lawyers owe much of their fortune to their guild privileges. But the bar to entry extends from HVAC work to accounting to nursing, etc., and always not, not and never, never and not, like the bad old unions, to raise the perks and plump up the wallets of the privileged professional, but for the public good.
Now myself I do think the public good is served when the state interferes with our healthcare. I am, here, a consistent statist. But the class nature of the libertarian act in America is such that few anti-unionists have ever considered the guild system at all. They aren’t alone. The literature on America’s Zunft-kultur is very very small. The classic paper is by Kleiner and Krueger, "Analyzing the Extent and Influence of Occupational Licensing on the Labor Market". Here’s a graf:

"The toughest form of regulation is licensure; this form of regulation is often referred to as “the right to practice.” Under licensure laws, working in an occupation for compensation without first meeting government standards is illegal. In 2003 the Council of State Governments estimated that more than 800 occupations were licensed in at least one state, and more than 1,100 occupations were licensed, certified or registered (CLEAR, 2004)." The authors also estimate that 30 percent of the American work force falls into this category.

In Indiana, Mitch Daniels, the governor, has just signed right to work legislation to put as large a hole as he can in the unions. In private, of course, Mitch Daniels has a law degree, which means he belongs to the lawyer’s guild. Somehow, he has not passed legislation eliminating that guild, and allowing anybody who wants to set him or herself up as a lawyer. Nor has he, to my knowledge, abolished the state boards that licence doctors and dentists and nurses and such.

Huh. It is as if the state can, well, interfere in the commerce between private citizens. This is so sad I would cry crocodile libertarian tears about it. But I wouldn’t cry to many, because the right will move against the successful progressive program of licencing professionals only when hell freezes over.

Because freedom ain’t free.


Brian M said…
Perhaps. But if the Lawyers' guild begins to agitate against the (increasign) reliance on off-shore basic legal work, I can easily see The Owners moving to scale those priveleges back as well.

There is already agitation to cut meidcal costs by moving basci care "down market" to nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants and the like.