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It is a well-known fact that union membership and coverage has declined substanially over the 20th century. For exampe, in 1973 nearly a quarter of all wage and salary workers were unioin members (it was far higher in earlier years – for example it seems to have hit 37 percent in 1960, but the data are not at my fingertips). Last year, that share fell to 12 percent.

The decline in unionization was not some vast right-wing conspiracy, but rather the result of economic factors, including the changing structure of the American economy. While classical liberals certainly support the rights of workers to associate and form unions, they take umbrage at the anti-competitive effects of unions – where unions by threat of violence or other means take actions that prevent non-unionized individuals from fairly competing in the labor and product market.

But don’t take the decline in unionization to mean that the desire for trade protection has fallen. It certainly has not. In this excellent article, Clark Neily, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, while writing about a seemingly unrelated issue, provides some very interesting data:

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, a state-sanctioned monopoly they use to jack up prices anywhere from 400% to 600%, a fact established in litigation by the Institute for Justice in Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Until it was struck down by the state supreme court last year, Alabama’s interior design law made it a crime to offer advice about throw pillows and paint colors without a license. To anyone who thinks that law — or others like it currently being pushed by interest groups like ASID in state capitols around the nation — was motivated by a genuine concern for public health and welfare, I can only say this: It’s going to be a rough day.

Basically, all of the decline in the level of unionization over the 21st century has been replaced by an increase in the number of workers covered by occupational licensing. This shouldn’t surpirse me. It is no different than seeing such popular political support for a Cap and Trade carbon reduction system over a tax – because no one wishes to say they advocated for a tax, even though the effects of each system are the same. It is the same as the feds claiming that employers pay half of the payroll taxes that fund our retirement and health care ponzi schemes. It is the same as the feds introducing all manner of direct regulation (e.g. installation of smokestack scrubbers) rather than allowing output standards to win the day. And so on.

One Response to “Peeling Back the Outer Layer of the Onion”

  1. Don says:

    On a completely unrelated note: you should check out this ad hominem attack on Hayek…it’s pretty bad. I couldn’t make it past about 1:30…



    P.S. Congrats on the new job!

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