As of yesterday, residents of the state of Utah will be allowed to perform African hair braiding services without obtaining a license and the mandated 2,000 hours of cosmetology training. The only guarantee you’ll have against a disastrously bad hair-braiding service will be that you might go someplace that’s been recommended by a friend or that has good reviews or simply a place that looks like it has a lot of customers so you figure they must be pretty happy.
Except the funny thing—when you get right down to it—is that these are the mechanisms everyone uses all the time to try to obtain reasonable quality personal services. Nobody who wants to find a good hairstylist or barber of any kind just says “all I care about is whether he’s passed the state-mandated licensing scheme.” People ask for recommendations. They search the Web. Or (like me) they figure they just don’t care that much and just want a cheap haircut and if it sucks they won’t go back.
The Utah case is particularly interesting because Utah obviously doesn’t have a long tradition of African hair braiding as a local industry. Consequently, the cosmetology courses available don’t even provide any training that’s relevant to the practice. That’s what made this an appealing test case for the Institute of Justice, which won the ruling that will let Jestina Clayton keep plying her trade. But the economic logic is much more broadly applicable. There’s no real public health, safety, or environmental issue here. It’s not like banking, where you could make a fortune by taking hidden risks that threaten the broader economy. The only way to make money in the business of messing around with people’s hair is for your customers to walk away happy with your product and saying good things about you.