Continuing my mostly despised series on government intervention in the arts, I look at pernicious interior design licensing requirements today. This has been a cause célèbre for many libertarians, including Dr. Mark Perry of Carpe Diem and the Institute for Justice, for some years now. But with good reason: it is a terrific example of big government being run by special interests, and in so doing, working against the public interest. In short, almost half of the states in the US require interior designers to obtain licenses from the state before they can hold themselves out as an “interior designer” or work as one in residential and/or business areas. Reason TV gives us a must-see documentary on the situation, primarily in Florida, but also pointing out that President Obama hired an “unlicensed” interior designer.

The woman in Texas from the video couldn’t point to an example where unlicensed interior designers led to public health disasters. The reason is because they don’t exist, not because they’re unlicensed anyway. Other states don’t seem to be as bad, but even being better, are still awful. New York does not require all persons who work as interior designers to register with the state. However, if they desire calling themselves certified, then they must:

  • be at least 21 years of age
  • meet education and examination requirements
  • meet experience requirements
  • be of good moral character
  • pay $345

Are you kidding me? So in order to receive certification by the state, you have to be of good character? How does the state determine that? Mostly searches of your criminal history, driving record, and so on. In order to do that, the state must hire a bunch of employees. Yes, the ultimate reason you have to do this is likely that the state wants to establish a class of workers dependent on a powerful state. Why do you have to be 21? What if you’re extremely talented at 18? You can go fight a war for America, but there’s no way you can drink beer off your military base ( I guess you’re safer there?! ) or Heaven forbid, be a certified interior designer in New York.

Now, what is this about education requirements? Uh oh. The state regulations of the commissioner, section 52.18 states:

a. To be registered as a program creditable towards the education/experience requirement necessary for certification to use the title certified interior designer, as prescribed in section 79-3.2(b) of this Title, a baccalaureate degree curriculum shall contain at least 48 semester hours of course work in the following content areas:

1. drafting and presentation techniques;
2. fundamentals of space planning and design;
3. materials and methods of construction;
4. furniture, finishes, and equipment;
5. history of architecture and the decorative arts;
6. codes – construction, fire, safety, and accessibility;
7. environmental and building systems;
8. color theory and application;
9. business practices and ethics; and
10. construction documents.

b. To be registered as a program creditable towards the education/experience requirement necessary for certification to use the title certified interior designer, as prescribed in section 79-3.2(b) of this Title, an associate degree curriculum shall contain at least 30 semester hours of course work in the following content areas:
1. drafting and presentation techniques;
2. fundamentals of space planning and design;
3. materials and methods of construction;
4. furniture, finishes, and equipment;
5. history of architecture and the decorative arts; and
6. codes — construction, fire, safety, and accessibility.

Now there’s little doubt as to the value of a formal education in these subjects. Many know little of the profession before they enroll in these subjects. But there are also lots of people who learned from parents, books, television, or internships how to do much of this already. My high school, for example, offers a lot of training in drafting techniques. In any case, why does the state have to force “the history of architecture” on these students? Does the state really have an interest in telling students what kind of architecture they should be like, appreciate, or know about? You can get anything you want to know about “color theory” from COLOURlovers, textbooks, or otherwise. I should know, since I have been doing research on it for my economics project.

Usually, people who advocate licensing requirements do so for professions like law and medicine, where the quality of a practitioner, or lack thereof, may deleteriously affect clients and patients respectively. Sometimes this is true, though no known studies have shown the either the Bar exam or Boards for these professions actually raise the quality of the practice. Even licensing requirements for teachers have come under severe attack by outstanding researchers in the economics profession. Milton Friedman, the revolutionary thinker who through his arguments raised living standards all over the world from Chile to the US to Hong Kong, had this to say:

Friedman wrote in that book, Capitalism and Freedom, excerpted from a post at Carpe Diem lamenting the foolhardy regulation of florists (!!):

Licensure therefore frequently establishes essentially the medieval guild kind of regulation in which the state assigns power to the members of the profession. In practice, the considerations taken into account in determining who shall get a license often involve matters that, so far as a layman can see, have no relation whatsoever to professional competence.

Conclusion? Friends don’t let friends mix government and the arts.

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