• State 'Barberism'

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    As readers of
    this site know all too well, government intrusions into our lives
    occur incalculable times over the course of a day. The state’s slimy
    tentacles creep unceasingly into every corner of our lives, coating
    all they touch with a patina of inefficiency, fraud and waste. What
    follows is but one small example.

    In my home state
    of Pennsylvania, the folks who cut your hair — barbers — must be
    licensed, and my guess is that every other state has the same requirement.
    In the old days, barbers performed more functions than
    they do now, including “surgery of wounds, blood-letting, cupping
    and leeching, enemas, and the extraction of teeth.”

    However, I seriously
    doubt that these functions were being performed in 1931, when the
    Keystone State’s barber law went into effect, so one wonders what
    motivated the beneficent masters of the day to enact it. The version
    available online, amended in 1984, defines “barbering” as what we
    know now — hair trimming and beard shaving, along with services
    like eyebrow-shaping and facial massaging. Curiously, no rationale
    for the law appears in its imperious text, other than “to promote
    the public health and safety.” Since, by 1984, barbers no longer
    performed surgery and the like, it forces one to ask exactly what
    the state means by “health and safety.”

    The mission statement
    of the State Board of Barber Examiners website
    goes a bit further than the law: “Through its agents, the Board
    inspects, approves and registers all barber shops and schools of
    barbering and prescribes the sanitary requirements for the individual
    establishment. By performing these functions, the Board protects
    the public from gross incompetence, unethical or dishonest practice
    or conduct, and the spread of contagious and infectious diseases.”
    So now we know Pennsylvania’s definition of “health and safety.”
    I’m sure I’ll sleep better tonight.

    Apparently the
    state is afraid modern barbers might still accidentally lop off
    an ear now and then. I suppose this is possible, so some training
    may indeed be desirable in order to prevent such accidents. More
    plausibly, since barbers use the same combs, razors and other equipment
    over and over again, the state is concerned that certain diseases,
    as well as head lice, could be spread if some care is not taken.
    (Other than a bad haircut, this would appear to be the extent of
    the damage a barber could do.) So, it might indeed be prudent for
    a budding barber to get some training before hanging out his shingle.
    But how long might this reasonably take? In the case of “safety”
    training — which arguably might be of “legitimate” interest to the
    nanny state — perhaps a few days to a week? And the “skills” training
    — I haven’t a clue — perhaps a month or two?

    Not in Pennsylvania.
    Before taking the licensing exam, an applicant must complete a barbering
    study and training period of 1250 hours (i.e., over seven months
    at 40 hours per week) including at least nine months under the tutelage
    of a licensed “barber-teacher” in a barber school or shop! To emphasize
    the absurdity
    of this, it is 15-20 times longer than it takes to be approved
    to pilot a small plane!

    If the purpose
    of the law (not that it’s the state’s business) were to ensure that
    barbers are supremely competent, become world-renowned masters of
    their craft, perhaps this length of time would make sense. But that
    is not the avowed purpose of the law, which is simply “to promote
    the public health and safety.”

    Obviously it
    can’t possibly take nine months to become a competent barber, and
    if the state had altruistic motives, wouldn’t it simply print up
    a pamphlet outlining the potential dangers, and hand them out to
    anyone who asked? Some might argue that it would be a good idea
    (and not too egregious an intrusion) to have barbers sign an affidavit
    swearing they read the pamphlet — perhaps mailing it to the state
    capitol or simply posting it in their shops. Since this is not what
    the state has enacted, what might be its true motives?

    One purpose might
    be simply to expand its power. If the state can intrude into the
    lives of its citizens in relatively small ways, it can continue
    to expand in this fashion and intrude in ever-increasing ways. It’s
    like a leech that gains a toehold, then sucks enough blood out of
    its host to fatten up and reproduce; soon its rasping teeth are
    attached to all ten toes, and then the next litter of bloodsuckers
    hatches and moves onward and upward.

    A second motive
    might have been to create a protective guild for the benefit of
    lobbying barbers in 1931. The more stringent its licensing requirements,
    the fewer number of members in the guild — and the higher the fees
    its cohorts could charge. If everyone were free to cut hair, competition
    would exert downward pressure on the cost of a haircut, and there
    would be countless barbers running wild in the state, many of them
    working part-time and freelance. With licensing, the number of people
    who are allowed to cut hair is kept small, and the incomes of guild
    members kept artificially high.

    Of course, hand
    in hand with licensing is blood money (“revenue”) for the coffers
    of the state. Pennsylvania has a complete
    of exam, licensure and renewal fees for barbers, barber-managers
    and barber-teachers. (You never outgrow your need to fork over money
    to the government. If you want to be a barber in Pennsylvania, you
    have to pay up every two years.)

    While all of
    the above are likely motives for the state’s “barberism,” finally
    we come to the granddaddy of all: patronage. In Pennsylvania, the
    State Board of Barbers Examiners consists of nine members, all appointed
    by — surprise! — the governor (with the “advice and consent” of
    the Senate, of course). The Big Dog thus gets to appoint nine lackeys,
    family members and stooges to cushy government jobs, where they
    can draw sweet salaries and goof off all day at taxpayer expense.

    In the midst
    of all this nonsense, this thievery, expense and bureaucracy, comes
    one of the greatest inventions and batons of freedom of the 20th
    century — the Flowbee! Yes,
    now you can be your own barber, and the state of Pennsylvania will
    graciously allow you to cut your own hair without a license. I can
    even cut the hair of family members of my own household, but not
    anyone else’s — if I dare turn the attention of my Flowbee onto
    the head of my visiting father, I’m subject to a fine of up to $300
    and/or 90 days in the clink if the “barber police” catch me!

    17, 2006

    S. Fischer has worked in various fields.

    S. Fischer

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