I used to be a licensed lawyer, so I have strong feelings about occupational licensing. The doctors, lawyers, barbers and other practitioners (as well as the legislators who enact their wishes into law) argue that occupational licensing is needed to protect the safety and welfare of the people. They ignore the broad evidence the contradicts these claims. They refuse to consider less intrusive means for protecting the public. Ultimately, mandatory licensing is mainly a racket operated by its own beneficiaries, at the expense of the consumer, and enforced by the state.

One might guess that enforcement of the hair-cutting laws would just be some bureaucrat showing up at a barber shop like the health inspector checking out the local McDonald’s, perhaps writing up a citation if there was a problem. To the contrary, an internet search for the phrase “barbershop raided,” is more likely lead one to believe that barbering without a license is a serious threat to the health and social fabric of the nation. Food poisoning seems relatively trivial compared to the mischief that results from unlicensed barbering. Unfortunately, the mischief reported is more likely to come from the authorities than from the barbers.

Barbershop raids go big-time

Sometimes a dozen deputies will sweep through a shop filled with barbers and customers. Last month, ten unlicensed barbers in one barbershop were arrested for criminal barbering, here. Last May, another raid netted eight unlicensed barbers, here. One such raid is described in this opinion from the United States 11th Circuit Court of Appeals:

“It was a scene right out of a Hollywood movie. On August 21, 2010, after more than a month of planning, teams from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office descended on multiple target locations. They blocked the entrances and exits to the parking lots so no one could leave and no one could enter. With some team members dressed in ballistic vests and masks, and with guns drawn, the deputies rushed into their target destinations, handcuffed the stunned occupants—and demanded to see their barbers’ licenses.Berry v. Leslie

The ugly face of unlicensed barbering

This craziness calls to mind the childhood experience of my brothers and me being hauled to the private home of a middle-aged lady named Mrs. McAfee. To see her on the street, you would never imagine that she was a career criminal, a black-market barber. She was the Al Capone of bootleg haircuts in the river town of Alton, Illinois.

You see, she was not licensed by the state. The kids loved that she was fast. Our mothers loved the low cost. The haircuts were not bad, either. Mrs. McAfee could knock out a crew cut, duck-tail, trim round the ears or even a Mohawk (if Mom would agree) in five minutes. Summertime was often inaugurated with a close buzz cut, which—in the sixties—was called a “burr” haircut.

On one Saturday every month, the mothers in our neighborhood would pack up their sons to drive over to Mrs. McAfee’s house. Each of us was frequently warned: “Remember never to tell anyone that she cuts your hair. She can get into trouble.” We never told.

So every Saturday, Mrs. McAfee would cut 10 heads an hour, all day long, at 50 cents a head. Great money and no overhead. I doubt that any father in my neighborhood was earning $5 an hour in 1964. Barbering without a license has long been a crime. Today it carries a jail sentence.

Such criminals as Mrs McAfee still walk among us. I also suspect their customers are still happy for the service. For me, I want to say thanks to Mrs. McAfee for her good, fast, cheap haircuts. You were a criminal and my mother was your accomplice, but the statute of limitations has run out by now.


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