Art Carden  

Occupational Licensing: Rocky Balboa Fights the Rent-Seeking Society

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Occupational licensing is an issue that has come to the fore in recent weeks. Matt Yglesias has written extensively against occupational licensing, and James Bessen offers a card stack on licensing for Vox.com. Daniel J. Smith of Troy University's Johnson Center offers a study of licensing in Alabama for their project Improving Lives in Alabama. I weighed in on the debate for AL.com here.

Here's one of the best arguments against licensing I've seen, and it comes from Sylvester Stallone playing Rocky Balboa. I'll let Rocky speak for himself.


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CATEGORIES: Regulation



COMMENTS (7 to date)
Steve Sailer writes:

I've always found Stallone to be a quite interesting screenwriter in terms of engaging with social issues usually not covered in movies. The original "Rocky" was instantly recognized in Hollywood as one of the great scripts ever. Obviously, like many successful first-time writers, Stallone used up his best autobiographical material on that one, but many of his subsequent movies are at worst hackwork of an intelligent and interesting mind.

Capt. J Parker writes:

May I ask if you, Dr. Carden, or the other great folks that contribute to Econlog if you vigorously lobby your institutions to not require a Ph. D. for a professorship?

Art Carden writes:

@Capt: I think you're confusing licensing with certification. Certification--like a degree--says "this person has met these standards." Licensing says "the government will put you in jail if you don't have this license and try to do whatever it is you're doing." Certification answers "do you know what you're talking about?" while licensing answers "will you be jailed if you try to do this?" Academia works on a certification standard, but there is no legal barrier to anyone who wants to print up business cards calling himself or herself an economist.

There's an interesting and somewhat muddy middle ground, though, when we're talking about accreditation in higher education, and I think accreditation is tied to subsidies. A lot of accrediting bodies require a certain percentage of the faculty have PhDs or comparable degrees and a certain percentage of the faculty be full-time.

That's worth looking into, but certification and licensing aren't the same thing.

Art Carden writes:

@Steve: "at worst hackwork of an intelligent and interesting mind" is a very interesting way to put it. Rocky II was interesting because Rocky kind of became Apollo Creed's white whale. There's a great scene where he tells Louis Gossett, Jr. something like "I won, but I didn't beat him." Rocky III was more cartoonish and carried an interesting subtext as Rocky had to overcome a lot of self-doubt. Rocky IV (which my Dad calls "Rocky Ends the Cold War") was ridiculous, but it was amazing fun when I was little. Rocky V was just awful.

Rocky Balboa was, in my humble opinion, a great movie. From what I've read, people said it's what Rocky V was supposed to be. It had an added layer of complexity because the Rocky wasn't fighting a villain, and his opponent really grew a lot by having to overcome adversity of his own with [SPOILER ALERT] the broken hand he suffered near the beginning of the fight.

Art Carden writes:

A further comment: one thing that makes this scene so powerful is that Rocky isn't fighting EVIL PEOPLE or obvious buffoons. The guys on the licensing board give the impression that they're decent, upstanding people who are honestly trying to do the right thing. I like that they get a bit of redemption themselves at the end.

Capt. J Parker writes:

@Art Carden,
Thank you for the kind reply. You are right, my gripe was sloppy and unfocused and I apologize for not making a better argument. I’ll try harder here: Occupational licensing is really a two step process. Step one is credentialing (or certification) step two is government prohibitions on those who are not credentialed. Now, when I try to see government as it is instead of how I want it to be I'm forced to conclude that it is an inevitability that the credentialed elite will lobby for and receive the barriers to market entry provided by occupational licensing. So, it is the credentialing that is the root cause and of course, academia is about nothing if it is not about credentialing. Lawyers and Doctors are the Kings and Queens of the licensing racket and their main method of keeping their compensation up is by restricting the supply of the credentials not the supply of licenses. In academia the same processes apply. Higher Ed is run by the credentialed for the benefit of the credentialed and government as it is is all too happy to oblige academic rent seeking. Just one of many indications of this is the fact that guaranteed student loans require recipients to attend an accredited institution and as you point out accreditation requires credentialed faculty.

The above isn’t intended as a damnation of academics or academia. It’s simply my view of Higher Ed in a world with government as it is. Since I assign primary balme for the market distortions of barriers to entry to credentialing I believe that if you really see government as it is and you are against licensing's distortions you would be against a defacto licensing reqirement masquarading

Capt. J Parker writes:

... de facto licensing requirement masquerading as a mere requirement for credentials.

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