Horse Dentists Harassed by State Licensing Boards

In the spirit of tomorrow’s Kentucky Derby race, I thought an equestrian post would be appropriate.

A report called Bureaucratic Barbed Wire: How Occupational Licensing Fences Out Texas Entrepreneurs by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm, explains how government licensing fees and other requirements harm both entrepreneurs and consumers by raising the costs of doing business, thereby pricing some would-be businesspeople out of the market, reducing competition, and resulting in higher prices (and profits for the existing practitioners, who are the chief lobbyists and beneficiaries of such laws).

As the report’s author, Wesley Hottot, explains,

The trouble is occupational licensing—when entrepreneurs must secure the government’s permission before practicing a trade. This means Texans must often jump through a series of irrational, arbitrary and costly hoops merely to practice an innocuous trade, such as braiding hair or repairing a computer. The state now requires many entrepreneurs to obtain unnecessary and expensive education, wade through confusing and often conflicting administrative rules and pay harsh fees (and even face jail time) for the privilege of going into business. Occupational licensing is making it harder—much harder than it needs to be—for Texans to open a business, create well-paying jobs or switch careers.

The number of occupations licensed by the state of Texas has multiplied twelvefold in less than 65 years. There were only 43 non-alcohol-related trades that required licensure in 1945; today there are 514. These newly regulated industries include such diverse pursuits as athletic trainer, geoscientist, air conditioner technician, funeral director and mold assessor, among many others.

Now for the horse-related part. One of the occupations that requires a government license in the State of Texas concerns horse care. Horses’ teeth can grow into sharp points that can cut their cheeks or disrupt their chewing rhythms. To correct this, some have developed the skill, called teeth floating, for filing down the teeth. Veterinarians, who, no doubt, have lost business to these horse dentists, have complained to the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, which has ordered a couple of dozen floaters who advertise dental services in the state to cease and desist. (The practice has also raised the ire of veterinarians in other states, such as Oklahoma and New Mexico.)

One such horse dentist miscreant is Carl Mitz, who estimates that he has performed roughly 100,000 teeth-floating procedures in 30 states, charging about $50 for a standard, 3-minute procedure. In response to the state licensing board’s threats, Mr. Mitz and several other unlicensed practitioners have decided to fight back.

As described in a Wall Street Journal article about the dispute,

Mr. Mitz and three fellow floaters have responded with a suit accusing the board of violating the state constitution: specifically, Article 1, Section 19, which holds that “no citizen of this state shall be deprived of life, liberty, property, privileges or immunities, or in any manner disfranchised, except by the due course of the law of the land.”

Regulating teeth floating, they say, deprives them of their right to earn an honest living, which is what they believe this clause explicitly protects.

[. . . ]

Requiring floaters to get a veterinary degree “is like saying you need to become an architect in order to work as a carpenter,” says Tom Allen, a Missouri floater who also happens to be a licensed vet.

While veterinarians may make emotional appeals for mandatory government licensing for the sake of horses’ health, there is no evidence that procedures performed by licensed veterinarians are any better, or safer for the animals, than those by unlicensed teeth floaters. After all, any teeth floaters that provided shoddy service or harmed customers’ animals would soon find themselves out of business. No, as with all other licensing rackets, it’s all about the money. Veterinarians simply do not want to lose business to their unlicensed competitors. Those cease-and-desist threats have already succeeded in driving a number of floaters out of business. This just goes to show that occupational licensing laws are all about protecting special interests, not the public interest.

” For more on occupational licensing, including a ranking and analysis of licensing laws in all 50 states, see my study, Occupational Licensing: Ranking the States and Exploring Alternatives.