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Why is There a Black Market for Haircuts at Grove City College?
by J. H. Huebert

The Collegian 
January 28, 2000

Late last semester, I overheard a fellow Grove City College student lamenting the fact that he has been prohibited from advertising his service of cutting men's hair at a low price.

The school may not really care if he gives haircuts, but the state government does, so he's been ordered to stop. For in Pennsylvania, as in most states, one must be registered and have a license to cut hair for money.

We're so used to seeing licenses on display in barbershops that it may seem only natural to think that one should have to be licensed to be a cut hair.

But when you think about it, doesn't such a requirement seem sort of silly?

What's the worst thing a barber could do to you if he weren't properly trained? Leave you goofy-looking? I suppose he could cut your ear off, or poke you in the eye, but you're not going to trust your hair to a maniac, anyway, are you?

Talk about over-protective! It seems like whoever came up with that licensing requirement must have been either a lobbying group of concerned mothers, or a bleeding-heart politician who wanted to look like he really cared.

But it wasn't.

The requirement wasn't the product of anyone's caring. It was the product of the worst kind of greed. It wasn't "Concerned Mothers for Safer Haircuts," or even a vote-hungry politician who asked for it. It was the barbers' associations, and groups like the National Hairdressers Association, who demanded it.

Why the barbers? Why would they want a law that would require members of their own profession to go through costly schooling and waste time with licenses? At first glance at the issue, you might expect them to strongly oppose any such attempt.

But when you think about it, the barbers have the most to gain--now they don't have to compete with some college boy who wants to make a few extra dollars.

Now, fewer people are going to become barbers. That means fewer competitors, and higher prices.

Undoubtedly, they said  (and continue to say) that they wanted to protect consumers with the licensing requirement... but what else would they say? "We want more money"?

Not only does licensing hurt anyone who goes to a barber or hairstylist in the pocketbook, it is especially oppressive to the poor and to minorities, and not just because they have to pay more for haircuts than they otherwise would.

Consider the case of Cheryl Hosey.

Miss Hosey is an enterprising young black woman in nearby Youngstown, Ohio, who went into business, braiding other black women's hair in an African style most hairstylists are unable to do. Not long after opening, her business was booming.

It's difficult to conceive of any good reason why one would need a license to do this, because it poses no potential danger to anyone. But you do, because of the greedy hairstylists, and the Ohio Board of Cosmetology prosecuted her on criminal charges. Fortunately, the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm, rushed to her defense. After battling the matter out in a California court, on behalf of another black woman in the same situation, they won their case, and Miss Hosey, and the many others like her, might now be free to practice their trade.

Sadly, many still are not. Although you may now be allowed to braid it, you can't do much of anything else to anyone's hair without a license.

Similar ridiculous situations exist in all fields that require licensure. It's always the same story-it's never necessary and it always hurts consumers and the poor. That may even be true in the case of doctors-but that issue will have to wait for another column. Meanwhile, the next time you wince at how much your barber or hairstylist charges you, you'll know how he gets away with it.

Maybe I'll just seek out that guy I overheard the other day.


2000 J. H. Huebert