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Little attention has been paid to licenses; yet they constitute one of the most important (and steadily growing) monopolistic impositions in the current American economy. Licenses deliberately restrict the supply of labor and of firms in the licensed occupations. Various rules and requirements are imposed for work in the occupation or for entry into a certain line of business. Those who cannot qualify under the rules are prevented from entry. Further, those who cannot meet the price of the license are barred from entry. Heavy license fees place great obstacles in the way of competitors with little initial capital. Some licenses such as those required in the liquor and taxicab businesses in some states impose an absolute limit on the number of firms in the business. These licenses are negotiable, so that any new firm must buy from an older firm that wants to go out of business. Rigidity, inefficiency, and lack of adaptability to changing consumer desires are all evident in this arrangement. The market in license rights also demonstrates the burden that licenses place upon new entrants. Professor Machlup points out that the governmental administration of licensing is almost invariably in the hands of members of the trade, and he cogently likens the arrangements to the “self-governing” guilds of the Middle Ages.14
Certificates of convenience and necessity are required of firms in industries—such as railroads, airlines, etc.—regulated by governmental commissions. These act as licenses but are generally far more difficult to obtain. This system excludes would-be entrants from a field, granting a monopolistic privilege to the firms remaining; furthermore, it subjects them to the detailed orders of the commission. Since these orders countermand those of the free market, they invariably result in imposed inefficiency and injury to the consumers.15
Licenses to workers, as distinct from businesses, differ from most other monopolistic grants, which may confer a monopoly price. For the former license always confers a restrictionist price. Unions gain restrictionist wage rates by restricting the labor supply in an occupation. Here, once again, the same conditions prevail: other factors are forcibly excluded, and, since the monopolist does not own these excluded factors, he is not losing any revenue. Since a license always restricts entry into a field, it thereby always lowers supply and raises prices, or wage rates. The reason that a monopolistic grant to a business does not always raise prices, is that businesses can always expand or contract their production at will. Licensing of grocers does not necessarily reduce total supply, because it does not preclude the indefinite enlargement of the licensed grocery firms, which can take up the slack created by the exclusion of would-be competitors. But, aside from hours worked, restriction of entry into a labor market must always reduce the total supply of that labor. Hence, licenses or other monopolistic grants to businesses may or may not confer a monopoly price—depending on the elasticity of the demand curve; whereas licenses to laborers always confer a higher, restrictionist price on the licensees.
- 14. Ibid. On licenses, see also Thomas H. Barber, Where We Are At (New York: Charles Scribners’ Sons, 1950), pp. 89–93; George J. Stigler, The Theory of Price (New York: Macmillan & Co., 1946), p. 212; and Walter Gellhorn, Individual Freedom and Governmental Restraints (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1956), pp. 105–51, 194–210.
- 15. A glaring example of a Commission's role in banning efficient competitors from an industry is the Civil Aeronautics Board decision to close up Trans-American Airlines, despite a perfect safety record. Trans-American had pioneered in rate reductions for airline service. On the CAB, see, Sam Peltzman, “CAB: Freedom from Competition,” New Individualist Review, Spring, 1963, pp. 16–23.