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Licensing: Ombudsman needed to guarantee competition

West Virginia is positively polluted with boards, commissions, licensing bodies and other similar groups that allegedly serve as oversight for various utilities and professions. But it begs the question, “Who watches the Watchmen?”

According to free-market think tank The Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy of that title, no one.

Approximately one-fifth of West Virginians work in a field that requires a license — everyone from hair stylists to accountants to foresters. Many of the licensing boards for those professions are made up of people who work in those fields.

“Existing practitioners have their own interests in mind as well — not just the interests of the citizens of West Virginia,” the Cardinal Institute paper says, “When licensing board members are involved in deciding how difficult it is for new practitioners to enter, existing practitioners have very clear economic incentives to prevent new competition.”

We already know a wide range of fields that require licenses, and prohibitively strict requirements for obtaining those licenses can lead to reduced employment. Couple that with the knowledge that the folks controlling who gets licensed might have an interest in squashing competition and the whole system is problematic.

Among the paper’s suggestions is the creation of a licensing ombudsman in the Mountain State — a person who could independently determine whether competition is being derailed by corrupt licensing boards. It’s a good idea, and one that should be welcomed by everyone except those who have an interested in remaining in the shadows.

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