Monday, September 29, 2003

Rights and Reason: Barriers to Entry

Thomas Sowell attacks one of the major reasons for the shortage of qualified teachers in government schools:
You may have heard how hard it is to find enough teachers -- and therefore how necessary it is to raise salaries, in order to attract more people into this field. One example can demonstrate what is wrong with this picture, though there are innumerable other examples.

A young man who graduated summa cum laude from elite Williams College decided that he wanted to be a teacher. He sent letters and resumes to eight different school districts. Not one gave him even the courtesy of a reply.

Does that sound like there is a teacher's shortage? Moreover, any number of other highly qualified people have had the same experience.

The joker in the deal is that, no matter how highly qualified you are, your desire to become a teacher is not likely to get off the ground unless you have jumped through the bureaucratic hoops that keep people out of this field -- thereby protecting the jobs of unionized incompetents who are already in our schools.

The most important of these hoops is taking unbelievably dreary and stupid courses in education. Using these costly and time-consuming courses as a barrier, those in the education establishment "maintain low standards and high barriers at the same time," as Secretary of Education Rod Paige has aptly put it.

Factual studies show no correlation between taking these courses and successful teaching. Private schools are able to get good teachers by hiring people who never took any such courses. That is where our Williams graduate finally found a job.

The very people in the education establishment who maintain barriers to keep out teachers are the ones constantly telling us what a shortage of teachers there is -- and how more money is needed. This is a scam that has worked for years and will probably work for more years to come.
State licensing of professionals constitutes a major barrier to entry, yet you rarely hear much about this from antitrust regulators. Instead, the Federal Trade Commission has spent its resources attacking voluntary professional societies that try to maintain ethical standards without resorting to government coercion. The FTC, of course, sees voluntary action as illegal, but not state-imposed licensing regimes, which like antitrust are designed to, cough, "protect the public interest".

In the past year, the FTC prosecuted three groups for minor provisions in their ethical codes that did not meet the standards set by Commission lawyers. In all three cases, the FTC explicitly banned the groups from expressing any opinion about ethics that conflicted with the views of the Commission. To give you an example of what we're talking about, one group--the Institute of Store Planners--had an ethical rule that said members should avoid participating in certain types of bid competitions. Store planners, who design retail interiors, had been screwed in the past by unethical customers who solicited designs from multiple store planners, then after picking one designer, the winning bidder would steal design elements from his competitors. The losing bidders, meanwhile, received little to no compensation for their work. ISP's rule was thus designed to prevent store planners from hurting themselves. ISP never enforced the rule, since it was understood to be an ethical opinion. But the FTC spent thousands of dollars to force ISP to drop the opinion from their ethics code on grounds that consumers were being harmed.

The FTC then misled Congress about the ISP and other voluntary ethics code cases. In a formal report to Congress, the FTC said their actions in these cases broke-up "smoke-filled room conspiracies"--their words, not mine--and that consumers significantly benefitted. In fact, there was no evidence of consumer benefit, and these "conspiracies" all involved ethics codes that had been public knowledge for years--in ISP's case, for more than three decades.

If the FTC put half the energy it spends violating the First Amendment into fighting the teacher unions, then we might see some "consumer benefit". But attacking large, well-financed targets is not the FTC's preferred method of operation.

No comments: