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Professional licensure is a too-often ignored way for government to protect private monopolies, squash, competition, keep prices high, and reduce consumer choice. I’ve written extensively about the issue before, because the practice of licensure can be very harmful to honest citizens seeking to better themselves through gainful employment, and like all government regulations, it hits the poorest and least educated citizens hardest.
About a third of all professionals in the United States now need a government license in order to do their jobs. Thankfully, some people are starting to recognize this problem and push back against the misguided policy, but in other areas, licensing continues to expand to the detriment of us all.
The latest instance is a plan to require licenses for personal trainers. New regulations from Washington, DC will reportedly create a registry of trainers that will serve as a model for the whole nation, a rule that grows out of wellness program requirements written into ObamaCare. Apart from having to be listed on a registry like some sort of deviant, new licensing requirements would increase the cost, both in time and money, of entering the profession.
The effect of this will be twofold: first, since becoming a trainer will be more costly, prices for consumers will rise to reflect that. Second, with less incentive to enter the industry, fewer trainers will be available, reducing consumer choices and again raising costs. In short, people will soon be paying more for fewer trainers, and industrious fitness professionals will be looking for work in other sectors of the economy to which their talents are less well adapted.
The tragedy of all this is that the majority of employers of personal trainers already require a program of certification. The nation’s most successful gyms don’t just let anybody walk in off the street and start training people with no education on how to do their job. But a government mandated license takes away the gym’s authority to set the level of appropriate training, instead substituting a uniform set of standards that may not be appropriate, and will surely be more costly and difficult for trainers to complete. The hardest hit will be the self-employed trainers, who will now face new requirements to do their jobs.
The advantage of certification, as opposed to licensure, is that consumers can choose from a wide variety of professionals with different levels of qualifications, and different price structures. If you can’t afford the top-of-the-line gym, you can hire a trainer with a lesser degree of training for a lower price. Mandatory licensing removes these options from consumers by enforcing a single, uniform standard.
Several states, including Georgia and Texas, have tried to advance legislation to require licenses for trainers, but so far without success. But these new rules have the potential to spread nationwide, severely restricting an industry that has been extremely successful in its unregulated form.