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Reblogged: Licensing vs. Freedom of Speech

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Licensing vs. Freedom of Speech: In North Carolina, a man is facing jail time (HT: Dismuke) for offering nutritional advice without a license.

Chapter 90, Article 25 of the North Carolina General Statutes makes it a misdemeanor to "practice dietetics or nutrition" without a license. According to the law, "practicing" nutrition includes "assessing the nutritional needs of individuals and groups" and "providing nutrition counseling."

Steve Cooksey has learned that the definition, at least in the eyes of the state board, is expansive.

When he was hospitalized with diabetes in February 2009, he decided to avoid the fate of his grandmother, who eventually died of the disease. He embraced the low-carb, high-protein Paleo diet, also known as the "caveman" or "hunter-gatherer" diet. The diet, he said, made him drug- and insulin-free within 30 days. By May of that year, he had lost 45 pounds and decided to start a blog about his success.

The story sees the obvious problem with freedom of speech in this case, but misses the more insidious problem with licensing in general:

"If people are writing you with diabetic specific questions and you are responding, you are no longer just providing information -- you are counseling," [Charla Burill, Director of the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition] wrote. "You need a license to provide this service."

The board also found fault with a page titled "My Meal Plan," where Cooksey details what he eats daily.

In red, Burril writes, "It is acceptable to provide just this information [his meal plan], but when you start recommending it directly to people you speak to or who write you, you are now providing diabetic counseling, which requires a license."

There is no reason consonant with the government's proper function of protecting individual rights for the government to restrict what individual citizens say or to whom they say it. That is, barring instances in which what someone says violates the rights of others (e.g., slander or fraud), it shouldn't be against the law, period, for anyone to say anything, including offering advice of any kind. People who hear advice have free will and minds of their own: They can accept or reject what they hear, and simply offering advice, good or bad, doesn't pick their pockets or break their legs.

On top of this, as John Stossel recently pointed out, the whole idea of the government relieving consumers of the need to think for themselves is bunk for several reasons. (Regarding the Stossel piece, I noted, too, that such "protection" does far more harm than any charlatan can by paving the road for them -- by putting people to sleep.)

It is also worth noting something that Brian Phillips, author of Individual Rights and Government Wrongs, has pointed out about licensing:

n Texas a licensing law was passed that requires computer-repair technicians to obtain a criminal justice degree or serve a three-year apprenticeship under a licensed private investigator...

Consider what this might mean in your life if you live in Texas. Suppose that your teenage neighbor offers to repair your computer. You know he is competent because he has built several computers for himself. You agree to hire him on terms that are mutually acceptable. The state of Texas however, would consider your neighbor a criminal because he has not obtained the required criminal justice degree. Who would be harmed by such a transaction? Not you. Not your neighbor. Not most of the other twenty-five million people who live in Texas and know nothing of your transaction. The only people "harmed" would be those computer technicians who do not want to compete in a free market. Restricting entry into a profession, and the higher incomes that result for those who are licensed, is the real motivation behind occupational licensing.

I do not follow the "Paleo" diet (and, like science blogger John Cook, object to the nonsense often used to advocate it), but I do agree with many of its advocates that the government actively encourages unhealthy eating habits with its various guidelines and regulations. Not only does North Carolina's licensing law bar entry of would-be nutritionists into professional practice, it does so at the cost of harming the consumers it is supposed to be protecting: probably by institutionalizing bad advice, and certainly by lulling people into not thinking about nutrition, eliminating choice from the market, and, worst of all, by violating freedom of speech.

Licensing laws are an evil, freedom-violating cancer that must be abolished.

-- CAV


Original entry: See link at top of this post

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Wow! If a law like this is enforced routinely, and across the country a lot of Objectivist bloggers could be in legal trouble for advising people on what they should eat.

The Institute for Justice (IJ) has been fighting against some licencing laws. On its own, each case is fairly narrow, but I guess the idea is to start somewhere, and then try to use that as a broader principle. So, kudos to them.

Thinking about the taxi-licence laws being fought by IJ, I wonder if "slugging" is illegal too.

*** Disclaimer: I am not a licenced commentator, nor do I have any degrees in commentary. My opinions are not to be taken as advice of any type. Everything I write is a joke, for entertainment only. ***

Edited by softwareNerd
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Timothy Sandefur (Pacific Legal Foundation) is fighting another licencing case. Here's a snippet from the article:

... ...the state law says that when you apply for a license to operate, the state notifies all the existing moving companies and gives them the chance to file objections. When they object—and since 2005, every person asking for a state-wide permit has suffered an objection—you have to go to a hearing and prove that there’s a “public need” for a new moving company.
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Thanks for the article, Gus.

softwareNerd, at least there is always a "public need" for a new moving company offering a lower price. Unless the moving company offers its services for too low a price, which would be anti-trust. Unless it is an advertiser-supported moving company, which offers its services for "free"; which would be "unfair competition" (a la Google offering its map service for free in France). You can't win for losing.


Edited by softwareNerd
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  • 2 months later...
  • 2 months later...
  • 1 month later...

One more victory for IJ, this time in Louisiana: challenging restrictions on who can sell caskets.

The scope of each IJ case is typically minuscule: affecting only one state and one type of licence in one industry. In today's concrete-bound world, judges will not always derive a principle from one decision and apply it to the next... but, sometimes, they will... and that's the hope. It seems as if IJ chooses its cases by looking for easy wins rather than big wins. They seem to choose cases where a "common sense layman" would be shaking his head at government overreach and supporting the defendant.

Such narrow cases can seem to be not worth the effort, but it does not preclude broader activism elsewhere and by others. perhaps a decade will go by and there will be some states where IJ has won multiple such small decisions which some plaintiff can then rely upon to fight a case that has broader scope.

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