State Licensing Boards, Antitrust, and Innovation
Regulatory Transparency Project (2017), forthcoming The Journal of Law, Economics & Policy
17 Pages Posted: 16 May 2018 Last revised: 9 Aug 2019
Date Written: November 13, 2017
Every state has occupational licensing laws or regulations, which require individuals seeking to offer a certain service to the public first to obtain approval from the state. Occupational licensing requirements historically derive from a desire to protect unwitting consumers from bad actors. In recent years, however, the number of licensed professions in the United States has skyrocketed and licensing requirements have become increasingly onerous. When incumbents wield licensing requirements not as a defensive shield to protect consumers but as an offensive sword to exclude new entrants, serious concerns regarding the competitive implications of the licensing schemes arise. Self-interested incumbents have incentives that may differ from consumers, and these self-interested incumbents can—and sometimes do—impose requirements that do not enhance quality, but rather restrict output, increase prices, and hamper innovation. This Paper explores the competitive implications of state occupational licensing regimes. Part I analyzes the historical development and justification for occupational licensing. Part II reviews the empirical evidence regarding the effects of occupational licensing on factors such as quality, price, innovation, and availability. Part III summarizes how antitrust law, and particularly the state action doctrine, treats state board-enacted occupational licensing. Part IV explores the interplay of occupational licensing and antitrust laws in the United States, delving into a particularly striking case at the intersection of occupational licensing and innovation: Teladoc, Inc. v. Texas Medical Board. Part V provides some suggestions for agency engagement in monitoring the effective use of occupational licensing.
Keywords: antitrust, state licensing boards, occupational licensing, state action doctrine, Teladoc, innovation
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