Thursday, September 16, 2010

Libertarian Views of Law: Why You Can't Legally Braid Your Neighbor's Hair

The Curious Case of Taalib-Din Abdul Uqdah v. District of Columbia

This week I decided to examine a case dealing with overregulation of the hair braiding industry in Washington, DC. The plaintiff, Taalib-Din Abdul Uqdah, and his wife Pamela Ferrell, owned and operated Cornrows & Co. This business was dedicated to braiding hair and creating hairstyles that traced back to African roots (no pun intended).

The business comprised of workers who were without cosmetology licenses and also of low economic class.

However, the workers were able to receive training to do complex African hairstyles without the financial burden of going to a cosmetology school that they may not have been able to afford—the Uqdah's trained their employees themselves. As Institute for Justice’s website states, this business was an excellent example of “bootstrap capitalism.” That is, a person or group of persons collaborated and started a business and within years it was successful. In fact, it was so successful that it generated over $10,000 in taxes.

However, the Board of Cosmetology of the District of Columbia sought to impose an antiquated 1938 regulation on the business, which would have stifled business, if not closed it completely.

The regulations imposed are also the antithesis of African hairstyling, as the workers would have had to take an examination on hairstyles that are irrelevant to the job and have been out of style for more than 40 years.

The regulations would have also have proved to be expensive, as they would also have to attend a certified cosmetology school for thousands of dollars. Even if all the employees could afford to attend the schools, the time the business didn’t have the employees working could have effectively shut it down due to the lack of revenues—or at least taken a hit in the wallet.

In December of 1992, the DC City Council repealed the cosmetology regulations.

This case was an example of regulations that has the potential to inadvertently (or maybe advertently) destroy employment, destroy low-cost training opportunities for low-skilled individuals, and kill business. The requirement to have the hair salon licensed, the training program licensed, and its braiders licensed would have proven costly as well as wasteful. In fact, they would have been required to take a practical (hands-on) and written test on things such as chemicals (which aren’t even used by African hairstylists).

In a subtle way it reminds me of the United States, et al. v City of New York case where potential firefighters had to take an examination that tested skills unrelated to the profession. These skills were lacked by many of the Latino and Black applicants, but not by the whites, thus the non-whites' failure to pass the test perpetuated the racial imbalances in the profession. In a similar way, the majority of the hairstyling profession would be comprised of stylists who only knew about styles acknowledged at one time in history, who prefer one type of look, worn mostly by one racial group, rather than those with more modern hair styling techniques, if the regulators got their way.


  1. I would take a middle of the road approach.
    The above example was definitely an example of "over regulation". That being said, I am not in favor of no regulation.

    In this case, I believe that if the business was
    a) conducted in a safe and sanitary manner
    b) incorporated or otherwise legally formed in that jurisdiction
    c) workers were legal citizens being paid employed legally and paid legally

    That where the regulation should stop.
    Technique, style, etc. do not need to be regulated.

  2. I always wonder where these regulations come from. Are people actually trying to be helpful but are just ignorant of what they are doing or are there ulterior motives. I am in the profession of coaching and I am pretty sure that there will soon be licensing required. My question is: why would I need licensing if I have proof I do a good job? In that case the market will kick me out if I suck.

    Josh Bulloc
    Kansas City, MO
    How can I help?

  3. I want to thank both of you for taking the time to read my blog. I hope you come back again. "Libertarian Views of the Law" is a weekly segment I just started and planned to have it continue for at least 6 weeks straight, with a new post every Wednesday or Thursday, but can continue indefinitely, as long as I keep coming up with fresh material.

    As for those pesky regulations, I think people are generally scared of competition and being put out of business. My next post (next Wed or Thurs) will deal with this fear and show the depths that people will go to put anyone out of business - even kids. I always thought to myself, if I were threatened to go out of business, why not learn from the do-gooders? Why try to legislate the people who can effectively manage resources and give people products they desire out of existence? Why not try to join the team? People don't want their products for a reason. Learn why.


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