Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Libertarian Views of the Law: A response to the Hair Post

The Right to Earn A Living, by Timothy Sandefur, Released September 2010

This is a response to a comment on September 16th's Libertarian Views of Law, "Why You Can't Legally Braid Your Neighbor's Hair"

Someone left the following comment:

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.

What this person didn't say was whether businesses that don't comply with these regulations should be allowed to come into existence or not. I will assume they meant to disallow the business to come into existence without compliance to these regulations. Let me offer this scenario and show why the business owner's best interests will lend to self-regulation of the business:

The Story of Little Suzy Que

Little Suzy Que was down on her luck. One day, she decided she wanted to earn a living doing her friends hair. She was only in the 7th grade when she wanted to get started on her new hairstyling endeavors.

It is day one and she anticipates her first customer.

The first customer arrives at Suzy's home mid-afternoon. Suzy, being the great customer service provider she is, and wanting her customer to return for more business, greets her.

Lana, the first customer, looks around Suzy's home. It is clean, sanitary, and even has the smell of incense in the air. Suzy knew that Lana is a picky person and an uber-germophobe, so she kept the place clean in preparation for Lana. If she didn't Lana wouldn't have entered Suzy's home and Suzy would have lost a sale. Suzy's best interests to gain customers kept her workplace tidy and organized; and kept business conducted in a safe and sanitary manner.

The Moral of the Story

Because Suzy wanted customers, she had to have the type of place that attracted customers. She couldn't have a hell-hole for a salon.

This not only applies to hair salons, it applies to the food industry as well.

For instance, let's imagine how McDonald's would have had to have act in its earlier stages to develop its initial customer base. Well, since it was a new restaurant, it had to be clean. It couldn't not be clean--say have roaches and mice scurrying around--because that would be unattractive to customers (who are quite the clean freaks); they would lose sales every time from someone who would otherwise eat there if it were clean. In order to retain customers, Mickey D's had to be clean and it had to serve good food (in other words, food that people want).

A possible objection could be that customers can see the immediate dining area, but they can't see behind the counter, including all those areas where the food is being made. Well, once again, I think, the problem is solved by the manager's, workers', and cooks' self-interest.

If the place is unsanitary, workers may be fired for not following their own-internal regulations and keeping their stations clean and managers would lose business if people are sick. (If customers do become sick because of the food, then I would not discourage a lawsuit.) The ultimate price to pay for their unscrupulousness is business failure.

Another possible objection could be "what if they don't have any internal regulations?" Well, then surely a lawless business would not last long. It would possibly put itself out of business from all the nausea-heartburn-indigestion-upset-stomach-diarrhea-having-Pepto-Bismol-needing customers filing lawsuits.

The next objection I can think of, at this point, is that there needs to be a regulation pressing for them to prevent these people from becoming sick somehow, which is just a rehashing of both a) and b) above. All I can say to that is, what if the company is allowed to come into existence and one uneventful day they accidentally get someone sick? The company can investigate the causes and change their behavior (which would be pressing since things like this are easily leaked to local media outlets within hours). (In light of this, how would someone prevent a business from coming into existence anyway? Cooking tests? Licenses? The licenses question is answered by the word-of-mouth / competency answer that was whole point of the original hair post. We have made a complete circle.)

All of this is to say that people operating within their best interests are inclined to provide good quality services. No regulator needs to tell them that if they are serving out of a hell hole they need to fix the place up. No self-respecting customer would go there. If they go there, then they aren't really all that self-respecting.

"But shouldn't we protect people from their own stupidity if they decide to eat there?" Well, not exactly. We deprive them of the experience to learn from their mistakes - they aren't learning to be scrupulous, aware citizens when we prevent them from shopping at a certain establishment.


There a plenty of things that people do without licenses that can be done for money. If a college student wants to cut hair, or braid hair, or cook food, to maintain himself or herself during his or her college years, shouldn't he or she be able to do so? (To push this logic to the extreme, would we suggest putting hair salons out of business just because we decide to allow mothers to style their daughter's hair? Or would we not allow people to cook for their families if they didn't have a license?)

People who want licenses for everything really don't want to put people out of work, they just want confidence that a person can effectively do the work they were hired to do. But don't block a job from coming into existence simply because they don't have a license.

Find out how in the tentatively-titled (and yet to be published) "The Heart of the Matter: Why You Have a Problem with Human Nature (and not with Capitalism).

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