Lobbyists justify licences by claiming consumers need protection from unqualified providers. In many cases this is obviously a charade. Forty-one states license makeup artists, as if wielding concealer requires government oversight. Thirteen license bartending; in nine, those who wish to pull pints must first pass an exam. Such examples are popular among critics of licensing, because the threat from unlicensed staff in low-skilled jobs seems paltry. Yet they are not representative of the broader harm done by licensing, which affects crowds of more highly educated workers like Ms Varnam. Among those with only a high-school education, 13% are licensed. The figure for those with postgraduate degrees is 45%.
[...] One way of telling that many licences are superfluous is the sheer variance in the law across states. About 1,100 occupations are regulated in at least one state, but fewer than 60 are regulated in all 50, according to a report from 2015 by Barack Obama's White House. Yet a handful of high-earning professions are regulated everywhere. In particular, licences are more common in legal and health-care occupations than in any other.