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Posted at 10:26 AM ET, 02/ 9/2011

Do Hoosiers have worse dentists than Californians?

By Ezra Klein

I doubt it. And so does Adam Ozimek:

State by state variation also provides a useful rebuttal to occupational licensing defenses that appeal to our desire to have quality services. Do you really think of Indiana as a laissez-faire, low quality free-for-all where you can’t tell whether your dentist is illiterate and your heart surgeon is a legally blind imbecile who works a night shift at White Castle? No, you don’t, and it’s likely that if California adopted the much lower licensing regulations of Indiana they wouldn’t become one either.

In some cases, we even have a bit of a data on how the highly regulated states compare to the loosely regulated states:

Alabama has perhaps the strictest licensing requirements in the nation: 750 hours of schooling and a written and practical exam. The state gets, on average, four public complaints a year about poor service, according to the Alabama Board of Cosmetology.

Connecticut, which doesn't require manicurists to get licenses, has averaged just six complaints a year to the state over the past five years. Two-thirds of those complaints are about gift certificates that aren't honored, according to data from the consumer protection division of the state attorney general's office.

And the case for the defense?

In Kentucky, the Board of Hairdressers and Cosmetologists has eight full-time inspectors who spend much of their time responding to anonymous tips about unlicensed manicurists. The inspectors rarely catch the alleged offenders, says Charles Lykins, the board's administrator, because "they take off running."

Mr. Lykins says it's in the public's interest to insist manicurists are well-trained. "Have you ever had a nail fungus? It's terrible," he says. "That's why we're there."

This sort of thing should particularly offend liberals, I think, as bad regulations undermine good regulations.

By Ezra Klein  | February 9, 2011; 10:26 AM ET
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thanks for this post.
it may seem like a small thing....but in california, there are nail spas on every corner, and they do somewhat invasive work with delicate instruments, that really require careful hygiene.
i often wonder how the young women can breathe in some of these places. the acetone is so could feel lightheaded.
they offer other services too, and i wonder sometimes about the safety and hygiene for customers and workers.

Posted by: jkaren | February 9, 2011 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Actually, when I read that I suddenly remembered that when I lived in Indiana I started getting maintenance appointments (hair, dentist, chiropractor, medical, etc) when I visited DC because I did seem to find a lot of people claiming to be in a proffession and yet...

a) at the salon they wanted to do highlights with a cap on my long thick hair.

b) at the chiropractors the dude wanted me to not eat veggies and meat at the same time. When I asked him what this had to do with back pain he just said, "it is good."

I could go on, but now I'm thinking I now know why this happened. Anyone else with Indiana stories?

Posted by: ideallydc | February 9, 2011 10:41 AM | Report abuse

I do think there are excellent professionals in Indiana, it's just that they are more difficult to find than in places with higher requirements.

Posted by: ideallydc | February 9, 2011 10:52 AM | Report abuse

"This sort of thing should particularly offend liberals, I think, as bad regulations undermine good regulations."

Never underestimate the ability of incumbent interests to disguise rent seeking as regulation. See taxi medallions.

Posted by: jnc4p | February 9, 2011 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Actually, now that I think more about it, I'm having a hard time distinguishing occupational licensing laws with lemon laws. The problem with buying a used car is that someone can sell you one that doesn't work but you don't know it till after you've bought it. This is the same problem with getting a spa treatment, a manicure, visiting a dentist, or other medical professional. Occupational requirements make it easier to trust the product.

Posted by: ideallydc | February 9, 2011 11:09 AM | Report abuse

One of the essential reasons for licensing is the ability to respond to consumer complaints. If a particular contractor or therapist generates a lot of consumer complaints and doesn't resolve them, that license can be revoked. A landscape contractor in California once showed me a six page listing of contractors who had lost their licenses that year. Licensing gives consumers some recourse when they've been cheated. When people can't get a solid referral for a particular profession (because they're new to the area or have never needed that service). at least a license provides a bare minimum of a referral. There's more to professional regulation than just limiting the supply of people in that job.

Posted by: marvyT | February 9, 2011 11:11 AM | Report abuse

--*This sort of thing should particularly offend liberals, I think [...]*--

Except that liberals are so sanctimonious as to think *they* should be "particularly" offended by something or other that is offensive to all.

Do you see it, Klein? Your sanctimony is the very thing that institutes what your sanctimony says is offensive. You repulse yourself and you don't even know why.

The very reason that Kentucky should not be regulating manicurists is the very reason that the EPA, FCC, FTC, and the whole stinking garbage barge of the rest should not exist.

Posted by: msoja | February 9, 2011 11:12 AM | Report abuse

--*One of the essential reasons for licensing is the ability to respond to consumer complaints.*--

In a choice between trusting the government licensing regime and Angie's List, I'll go with the latter, thanks. Now, can I opt out of being forced to pay for the government joke?

Posted by: msoja | February 9, 2011 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Oh, no, licensing isn't about creating a barrier to entry in order to keep fees higher than the required skill would otherwise require. Nope. Not at all. Never.

Posted by: tl_houston | February 9, 2011 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Thank's for telling me about Angie's List. I had never heard of it before. How do I get myself listed on it? I'm new to the area and recently graduated, but I'd like to advertise myself as a carpenter and want to let people know they can trust skills.

Posted by: ideallydc | February 9, 2011 11:32 AM | Report abuse

--*How do I get myself listed on it?*--

By having satisfied customers recommend you to the list.

--*I'd like to advertise myself as a carpenter and want to let people know they can trust skills.*--

Angie's List is just one potential prong of a business marketing plan. Separately, building trust is something that has to be accomplished over time.

Posted by: msoja | February 9, 2011 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Is there a way to turn off the msoja bot?

We could actually look up whether the dentists are worse in Indiana than in CA. Why don't you let us know?

Posted by: constans | February 9, 2011 11:50 AM | Report abuse

--*Is there a way to turn off the msoja bot?*--

Oh, that hurts.

Yeah, trusting state licensing of dentists is like trusting Pennsylvania inspections of abortion clinics, or USDA inspections of Peanut Corp., or trusting that the folks at the FDA know what they're doing, or that the people at the SEC actually police the markets, etc., etc.

Posted by: msoja | February 9, 2011 12:30 PM | Report abuse

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