Arnold Kling  

Credential-Free Zones

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Let me offer a random idea for a political or real-estate entrepreneur. That is, carve out a community of at least 10,000 people in a larger metropolitan area and have it be credential free. In theory, the 10,000 people would not have to live contiguously, although my guess is that in practice it would be necessary in order to have a concentration of voting power in a local area.

In the credential-free zone, schools can be run by and employ people without any formal credentials. Other occupations also can operate without licensing restrictions (ideally, this deregulation would include medical services).

I imagine that many regions and states would be too hostile to this idea to allow you to pull it off. But if it could be accomplished somewhere, it would be a great start for libertarians. I think that getting "off the grid" of the credential system would really solve a lot of problems from a libertarian perspective. It would take away the power of teachers' unions. I think it would reverse the trends for ever-rising costs in the credentialized sector. It could demonstrate that education and health care do not require heavy-handed government.

This is sort of like the free state project, but on a smaller scale. The advantage of a smaller scale is that it would require fewer people. The disadvantage is that many states would be hostile to allowing a local community to be off the grid in terms of credentials.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (10 to date)
Stephen Dodson writes:

I'm skeptical that a credential-free zone would eliminate the power of teacher unions. Auto workers were able to self-organize decades ago without the benefit of a government-approved credential for bending metal in Michigan.

Government credentials certainly help workers create a cartel system, but is not a necessary element in labor self-organization.

(Overall, interesting idea. I'd like to get a haircut from someone without a certificate saying they can do so.)

NZ writes:

In the credential free zone, is the use of formal credentials actively discouraged, or is it simply not mandatory? If it is simply not mandatory, do you think people will eventually fall back into a formal credential system?

So far, your focus seems to be on how things would work inside the credential free zone. Another interesting aspect of the idea is how the non-credential zone would interact with the rest of the credential-requiring world. The smaller the zone, the more reliant its inhabitants would be upon this interaction, right?

fundamentalist writes:

It would be a nice experiment, but I think that would be all. Consider Houston. The city has never had zoning laws and has developed well. But few other cities have followed suit.

John Goodman writes:

This is similar to the original idea of an enterprise zone. At the National Center for Policy Analysis we have extended it to the idea of "enterprise programs". People would be able to supply any essential services to predominantly low-income families (they do not have to live contiguouly) without the normal cost-increasing regulations. Licensing (credentialing)is a big obstacle to be overcome, but not the only one.

We will have a full blown task report out on this next month. Watch for it.

Arthur_500 writes:

I like credentials. I want credentials. Credentials are a security blanket that lets me know that the individual has certain competence.

But I don't know that they are necessary and i don't often like them to be mandated.

If I want to purchase an electrical cord I look for the credential (UL) that says it is a good cord. Millions of owners of chinese electrical cords are safe and happy without that label but I am willing to pay extra for that security blanket.

The point is, it is self-regulating not mandated.

Mandated credentials are typically worthless. Look at FDA approval for drugs - when something goes wrong you sue the company, not the FDA. Why?

Tom West writes:

I predict that it would last until the first time a major crisis hits (an uncredentialed teacher molests a child, an uncredentialed doctor kills a patient, etc.)

At that point, the politician who advocates doing nothing, saying that sometimes bad things happen, and credentialed practitioners have also done bad things will lose his job might quick in favor of the politician who chooses to "save people's lives" by demanding credentials. After all, at least he's doing something...

Jacob Oost writes:

Once again the Klingster and me have the same idea. For years I've been wanting to be able to designate a county on the edge of a major metropolitan area as what you call "credential free." Like how certain countries have "free trade zones" or "special economic zones" where the normal oppressive economic policies are lifted.

It would be a great way to demonstrate the power of economic freedom, especially the abolition of occupational licensing.

It is a libertarian take on a real-world problem that can actually be implemented without a lot of fuss or cost (in theory, in reality the federal government wouldn't allow it).

Lori writes:

Sounds like something that could reasonably be called social engineering, or at least a social experiment. Nevertheless I'd wish you luck with it, as I have my own gripes with credentialing.

Kenny writes:

This made me think of the DIY food entrepreneurs in Brooklyn, many of whom have run into the 'credential' problem themselves in recent years.

Strong evidence that credentials are largely political extortion is that they are so hard for a consumer to verify and that they are largely ignored or never verified. There have been numerous recent examples of crackdowns on illegal residences in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. As a renter, *I* wouldn't likely know whether my residence is legal or not – nor would I personally care! I don't even know how I'd verify whether my current apartment is entirely legitimate.

Yehuda writes:

I think you'd run into strong self-selection problems. You'd get all the wannabe great architects, hairdressers, teachers etc. inside while most of those currently skilled and credentialed in those professions would stay outside, since their credential+skill combination garners them a premium there. Since at least some of the non-credentialed will be bad at their jobs and at least a few will be terrible(since some of these will almost certainly be entirely untrained), there will likely be a shift towards voluntary use of certification anyway.

I think that making certification regimes voluntary is a good idea. I also think that a sudden change in the status quo will bring about short term problems and that isolating the change to a small area has the potential of magnifying those problems and discreting the idea.

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