House Democrats insisted on incorporating a mandatory paid leave program — and its $168 million wage tax — into the state budget, knowing that this could trigger a veto by Gov. Chris Sununu. It’s a strange hill upon which to die, considering that there’s no evidence Granite Staters are demanding this specific workplace perk. 

This month the UNH Carsey Center for Public Policy released a report asserting that Granite Staters support guaranteed job protection for paid family and medical leave programs and a 60 percent wage rate while on leave. 

This is about as useful to lawmakers as a ping pong table is to the Night’s Watch. It’s nice to have, but when the real work starts its minimal utility quickly becomes apparent.  

Nowhere did the survey ask whether respondents would prefer paid leave to other benefits such as flexible schedules, more health coverage or higher pay. Nowhere did it ask whether employees would prefer paid leave if it led to lower pay raises or reduced benefits in the future. Nowhere did it ask how much employees would be willing to pay for such a benefit. 

The 2016 UNH poll that purported to show broad support for paid family leave in New Hampshire also left out crucial questions. It did not give respondents the option of choosing from a list of other possible workplace benefits. The only cost it included was $5 per week, which is on the low end of the cost scale for various paid leave programs.

Other polls have asked such questions, and their results do not support the theory that paid leave is so critically important for employees that the state must guarantee it via a mandate and wage tax.

  • A 2017 Pew poll found paid leave statistically tied with more flexible work schedules as the most preferred new benefit, with 28 percent preferring schedule flexibility and 27 percent preferring paid leave. (That poll also found, by the way, that most Americans were satisfied with their workplace benefits and thought their employers cared about them and their well-being.) 
  • A 2017 study by data research firm FRACTL found that employees ranked paid parental leave 8th among a list of 17 benefit options. More popular were better health benefits, more flexible hours, more vacation time, work from home options, unlimited vacation, student loan assistance and tuition assistance.
  • A 2017 survey by payroll and benefits firm JustWorks found that flexible schedules and remote work options were far more popular among employees than unlimited paid time off or parental leave. Fewer than half of employees said unlimited paid time off or paid parental leave were important. 
  • A Cato Institute poll last December found that support for paid leave crashes when people are given the option of considering the costs. In the abstract, 74 percent of Americans support paid leave. But 60 percent oppose paid leave if it would lead to lower future pay raises. 

Paid leave is being pushed on Granite Staters as if it is universally acknowledged as the holy grail of workplace benefits. It isn’t. National polling shows that most employees prefer other benefits to paid leave. And even if it were the most popular benefit, that wouldn’t make it the right benefit for every employee or every employer. 

When employers are forced to offer this particular benefit over all others, employees are then forced to accept this particular benefit instead of others employers might have chosen. There is no compelling case for forcing this choice on all New Hampshire employees. Creating a budget showdown over an entirely unwarranted mandatory benefit would only compound the mistake.  

 

Bartlett Brief:

Minimum wage increases hurt the lowest-skilled workers

Legislators on Thursday are preparing to vote on bills to mandate that employers raise wages to levels some politicians find morally appealing. These mandates will hurt the lowest-skilled workers. They also have the potential to raise costs for consumers and taxpayers.

  • House Bill 186 would raise the minimum wage by $2 to $9.50 an hour immediately, then to $10.75 in 2021 and $12 in 2022. Teens younger than 17 could be paid $1 per hour less than the statutory minimum. 
  • Senate Bill 271 would mandate that contractors on state public works projects pay all their workers the prevailing federal wage for the particular construction project. The federal prevailing wage for construction projects in New Hampshire is $10.60 an hour. 

Though intended to benefit low-wage workers, these bills together are likely to harm Granite Staters who are trying to grab that first rung of the economic ladder.

Minimum wage

  • A 2015 Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco review of minimum wage studies confirmed that “the most credible conclusion is a higher minimum wage results in some job loss for the least-skilled workers—with possibly larger adverse effects than earlier research suggested.” 
  • The authors of Seattle’s famous minimum wage study reported last fall that the city’s wage hike raised pay for the most experienced workers but produced a significant reduction in employment among the lowest-skilled workers. “The entirety of these gains accrued to workers with above-median experience at baseline; less-experienced workers saw no significant change to weekly pay.”
  • A recent follow-up to the Seattle study found that the higher minimum wage raised the price of day care. “Providers’ most commonly responded to higher labor costs by raising tuition and reducing staff hours or headcount—strategies that may negatively impact low-income families and staff.” 
  • This podcast interview with University of Washington professor Jacob Vigdor provides a great analysis of the negative effects the wage increase had on Seattle’s lowest-skilled restaurant workers and those trying to enter the job market for the first time.  
  • A 2013 study for the National Bureau of Economic Research showed how minimum wage increases harm lower-skilled workers by eliminating many job opportunities for them. It found that “the minimum wage reduces net job growth, primarily through its effect on job creation by expanding establishments.” Businesses hire fewer people in the long run after governments mandate that they pay low-skilled employees an artificially high wage. 

Prevailing wage

Prevailing wage laws mandate that construction companies pay higher hourly wages to low-skilled employees than they otherwise would. Research on the effects of these laws on total construction costs are mixed. But much of the research is consistent with minimum-wage research showing that the mandates lead to a preference for higher-skilled employees. 

  • Some studies find increased costs for public works projects, as did a recent University of Kentucky study on West Virginia’s repeal of its prevailing wage law and a 2005 study of low-income housing construction costs in California.
  • Other studies, however, show that contractors adjust to mandated labor cost increases by hiring more high-skill, high-productivity employees and using capital to reduce the need for lower-skilled workers. Similar findings have been produced in minimum wage studies of specific industries. Many businesses respond to mandatory labor cost increases by hiring more productive workers and finding ways to reduce their need for the lowest-skilled labor. 
  • As automation takes off in the construction industry, government-mandated higher wages could increase the incentives for contractors to replace lower-skilled workers with machines. A study last year suggested that automation could replace 49 percent of America’s blue collar construction workforce. Self-driving graders and brick-laying robots are among the technologies already making their way onto construction sites.  

Summary 

By artificially inflating the price of low-skilled human labor, prevailing wage and minimum wage laws have the unintended effect of reducing employment opportunities for the lowest-skilled workers while artificially raising pay for people who have had the good fortune to have greater workforce experience. 

Though these wage mandates are intended to be a forced wealth transfer from businesses to low-income employees, they wind up creating a forced wealth transfer from the lowest-skilled workers to higher-skilled competitors. 

A pdf version of this brief can be downloaded here: JBC – Minimum Wage Warning.

The odds that legislators will vote to raise New Hampshire’s minimum wage this year are significantly better than the odds that sitting through next year’s Super Bowl halftime show will be more entertaining than going to the kitchen for more nachos.

Why?

Ideas like this, as expressed by Rep. Howard Moffett, D-Canterbury:
“If there is more money in people’s pockets, they are going to spend more. That will mean more business and they will go and hire more workers. It is a virtuous circle in the economy.”

Some really people believe that taxing businesses (the minimum wage is effectively a tax on hiring low-skilled labor) and transferring the revenue to the least-skilled employees will make those businesses more profitable than if they had been left alone to use that money in more productive ways.

That theory runs counter to the vast majority of work on minimum wages and, even if plausible, as The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissman pointed out a few years ago , its stimulating effects would be short-lived.

New Hampshire’s minimum wage is pegged to the federal minimum, which is $7.25 an hour. A lot of people believe that people who earn this wage make up a large fraction of the labor force and tend to be primary bread-winners working full time to support their families. None of that is true.

Here are five facts about the minimum wage that ought to inform whatever debate there will be on the topic as the legislature decides how much to tax employers for the practice of hiring low-skilled employees.

Nationally, only 2.3 percent of all hourly wage workers earn $7.25 per hour or less, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show. “Minimum wage workers tend to be young,” according to the BLS. “Although workers under age 25 represented only about one-fifth of hourly paid workers, they made up about half of those paid the federal minimum wage or less.” They also tend to be single. Never-married individuals make up 40 percent of those who earn an hourly wage but 68 percent of hourly wage workers who earn a minimum wage. Married individuals are 44 percent of hourly wage workers but only 21 percent of hourly wage workers who earn the minimum wage or less.

Minimum-wage employees tend to work part-time, BLS data show. Although about 75 percent of hourly wage workers hold full-time jobs, only 35 percent hourly employees with a full-time job earn the minimum wage or less. Only 25 percent of hourly workers hold part-time jobs, but 65 percent of hourly workers with part-time jobs earn the minimum wage or less. Of minimum-wage employees, fully 60 percent work part time.

In New Hampshire, the number of minimum wage workers fell by almost half in 2017, dropping from just over 15,000 people in 2016 to just 8,000 in 2017, according to the state Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau. Forty-nine percent of those 8,000 minimum-wage earners were under age 25, and the same percentage worked part-time.

The minimum wage is an entry-level wage typically paid to the lowest-skilled employees, the vast majority of whom work their way to higher pay within a year. A 2013 study by Texas A&M economists for the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “minimum wage compensation is three- and-a half times more prevalent among new workers than in the entire labor force.” Using data for 3.5 million people from 1979-2012, they found that 77.6 percent of people who earned the minimum wage in one year were still employed the following year, and of those 65.85 percent earned more than the minimum wage.

That last study, by the way, also found that “the minimum wage reduces net job growth, primarily through its effect on job creation by expanding establishments.” That is, the minimum wage doesn’t necessarily always produce an instantaneous reduction in jobs. Rather, it suppresses job growth over time, leading to fewer jobs than would otherwise be available.

In other words, it’s a tax on low-skilled labor. And like any tax, it reduces the supply of what is taxed.

Senate Democrats unveiled their paid family and medical leave bill this week, and the big question was: Why? 

The reasons given — that it will be a job recruitment tool and a family benefit — were hardly enough to justify its cost. 

The bill’s fiscal note predicts that the mandatory 0.5 percent tax would raise $156.6 million a year from private employers. That would make it New Hampshire’s sixth-largest tax, coming in right behind the real estate transfer tax. It would extract from the economy $50 million more per year than the interest and dividend tax does. 

Two years’ worth of revenue from this tax would surpass the entire balance of the state’s employment security trust fund

That is a hefty weight upon the economy for a tax that is entirely unnecessary. 

This tax doesn’t have to exist because the program it would support doesn’t have to exist — even if one agrees that some type of paid leave insurance must be created.

Gov. Chris Sununu’s proposal shows that even if creating a paid family leave plan is a top priority, there is no need for it to take the forms of a mandate, a tax and an entitlement. 

Gov. Sununu’s innovative proposal showed — before the Senate leadership released its plan — that state leaders can offer a paid leave program for employers that avoids high taxes and employer mandates. 

Based on testimony given before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, it remains unclear from a policy perspective why a tax-and-mandate approach was taken when less costly and intrusive options were available. 

It is not as though a 12-week program, vs. the six weeks in Gov. Sununu’s proposal, is essential. California’s landmark paid leave program offers six weeks, and a 2015 study by the California Employment Development Department found that most people who take the leave don’t use all of it.

Supporters of the Senate version say it is necessary to attract workers to the state. Although research does show that many workers would prefer additional benefits rather than a raise, paid family leave is fairly low on the list of preferred benefits. In a 2017 Harvard Business Review survey, only 42 percent of employees said they would consider paid maternity/paternity leave when considering whether to take a higher paying job vs. a lower-paying job with better benefits. (The survey did not include an option for paid medical leave.) 

The survey found that the four most attractive additional benefits were 1) better health, dental, and vision benefits, 2) more flexible hours, 3) more vacation time, and 4) work-from-home options. 

This context is important because paid leave is just another form of employee compensation. Employers gauge employee preferences when deciding whether to offer higher pay or more generous benefits. A paid family leave mandate would deny both employers and employees the option of deciding whether other forms of additional compensation would make more sense for them. 

For example, 80 percent of employees in the Harvard Business Review Survey reported that they’d consider foregoing higher pay if they could work from home, and 88 percent said they’d consider foregoing higher pay if they could have more flexible hours. But only 42 percent said the same of paid parental leave. 

Flexible hours and work-from-home benefits could in many circumstances offer people much better long-term options than a mandated 12-week paid leave plan. And about twice as many people would prefer those two options to paid leave. There is no reason to believe that a paid leave plan is such a crucial form of compensation that it must be mandated by the state. Employees don’t think it is, so why should lawmakers?

If there are options for providing a good or service that don’t involve the use of force or coercion, and that good or service is not an absolutely essential one that only government can provide, then there is no justification for using force or coercion to provide it. Paid family leave is a nice benefit, but it fails the test of whether it should be imposed via government mandate. 

As of July, the average hourly wage for private employment in New Hampshire was $26.22, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

In February, New Hampshire recorded its highest average hourly wage on record, $26.89. (The Federal Reserve data show New Hampshire wages regularly peaking in winter, dropping a bit in summer.)

Even counting for inflation, New Hampshire’s real per capita personal income is up more than $4,000 since the recession.

Hillsborough County was in the top ten counties in the country for wage growth last year, and New Hampshire was among the top five states, according to Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data released in August.

Amid all of this good news, activists and some politicians are telling everyone that things are bad for the simple reason that state law doesn’t mandate a higher entry-level wage.

This fixation on government mandates rather than the actual economy is a really telling difference in the way some people view the world. On one side, people look around and say, “things are good!” On the other, people bury their heads in statute books and say, “things are terrible!”

The “things are terrible” crowd is pushing again to raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour. As always, the central assertion is that $7.25 an hour (New Hampshire’s minimum wage is the federal minimum) is not a ‘living wage.”

This is where the gap between the actual economy and economic notions expressed in law grows very wide.

The state Labor Market Information Bureau has compiled U.S. Census estimates for the number of people working at or below the minimum wage in New Hampshire. (Tipped jobs can pay below the minimum.) The data (based on surveys) show only 8,004 Granite Staters working at the minimum-wage or less in 2017.

That’s really low. In fact, it’s a 48 percent decline from the 15,284 Granite Staters estimated to have worked a minimum wage job in 2016. (The number for 2015 was 15,845.)

Why the drop? We don’t know yet. And because of the small sample sizes, it’s possible that a sizable chunk of the decline is a measurement error. Next year’s data will help fill out the picture. But even if 50 percent of the drop is a reporting error, New Hampshire would still have only about 11,600 people working at or below the minimum wage. That’s out of a working-age population of around 913,000, according to Census figures.

At the current estimate of 8,004 people, less than 1 percent of New Hampshire’s working-age population makes the minimum wage or less.

The data further show that 73.5 percent of Granite Staters making the minimum wage or less work in “food preparation and serving-related occupations.”

Tips, commissions and overtime pay are not included in the minimum wage figures, so the actual take-home pay of about three-fourths of New Hampshire employees who are classified as minimum-wage workers will be considerably higher than the minimum wage.

The Census estimates also show that 3,951 people, or 49.4 percent, of Granite Staters who make the minimum wage or less are between the ages of 16-24. These are high school and college-age employees with fewer skills and limited experience.

And experience, as in axe throwing or being Jose Canseco, is a key factor. Looking at the lowest-paying sector, food preparation and serving-related occupations, we see an entry-level wage of $8.36 an hour, a mean wage of $10.55 an hour, and an experienced wage of $13.76 an hour —just $1.24 an hour less than the $15 an hour wage some activists and politicians are demanding.

This tells us that wages are not a measure of a person’s moral worth or dignity, but of economic value. Employers pay inexperienced teens less than experienced adults for reasons that ought to be obvious to anyone who’s ever had a job or waited in line at a McDonald’s. And they pay higher wages to attract better employees.

Even in the fast food industry, competition for good employees is driving up wages so that the minimums in many paces are $10 an hour or higher.

More than doubling the minimum wage to $15 an hour would have a relatively small effect on the pay of experienced employees even in the lowest-paid industries. But it would have a big effect on entry-level positions, effectively pricing younger, less-experienced people out of those jobs.

In an economy in which employers are voluntarily raising wages, we are being told that the government must mandate a very high wage floor, which gets us back to the point about markets vs. laws.

Laws are expressions of moral values. Markets are expressions of economic values (mostly). Even when markets are pushing pay rates higher, people who view the world a certain way find this unacceptable precisely because it does not come from a moral directive.

For the conspicuously virtuous, everything all the time has to be an expression of moral values. Markets don’t operate that way. They consider tradeoffs, which the conspicuously virtuous rarely do. Everything is black and white, good or bad.

So even if markets are driving wages higher, society must act collectively to mandate that wages never fall below whatever the virtuous wage floor of the moment is. Refusal to pass such a mandate is considered a society-wide moral failure.

Or to put it in the contemporary vernacular, minimum wages are virtue signaling.

Every time you pay your electricity or heating bill, you’re lighting your money on fire. That is, you’re trading money for the energy released by burning some combustible material — natural gas, home heating oil, wood pellets, etc. So in effect, you’re burning your money.

That’s OK, it’s how a market economy works. You don’t make your own clothes or slaughter your own food or build your own home by hand, you pay other people to do those things. (Excepting some of you in the North Country.) When you trade money for energy, you’re basically burning money. The priority, then, is to burn as little of it as possible.

In New Hampshire, politicians keep preventing you from doing that. In fact, they continue to force you to burn more money for electricity than you would otherwise choose to burn.

On Thursday, legislators overrode Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of Senate Bill 365. The bill forces electric utility companies to buy power at above-market rates from the state’s six biomass power plants and municipal solid waste incinerators.

The bill’s own fiscal note projected that it would cause electricity rates to rise by between $15 million and $20 million a year. So legislators knew exactly what they were doing. They knowingly voted to make you burn more of your money than necessary when buying electricity.

They’re very practiced at this. Over the years, legislators have passed one law after another to prohibit electric utilities from buying power at the lowest available price.

All of these costs add up. Here are just two examples.

A 2015 study by the Beacon Hill Institute found that New Hampshire’s Renewable Portfolio Standards would raise electricity prices by 3.7 percent by 2025, for a total impact of $70 million.

A previous biomass subsidy bill passed just last year, SB 129, also forced utilities to buy additional power from biomass plants. Its costs were estimated at around $75 million to $100 million.

To understand how these mandates make electricity more expensive, imagine you’re a cave man who needs to build a fire. Og is willing to offer you a bundle of wood he chopped himself for one rabbit pelt. Unk is offering you a bundle of organic, cured, and deodorized buffalo chips for one rabbit pelt and a handful of arrow heads.

You just need a fire. You’ve got a fresh squirrel in your deer-skin sack, you’re hungry, and you’ve got to make a new spear to replace the one you lost when that mammoth ran off with it dangling from its side. (WHY WON”T THOSE THINGS JUST DIE??) So you turn to Og.

At that moment, the clan’s code enforcement officer strides up to remind you of the clan leader’s decree that everyone has to use organic buffalo chips as a fuel source once a week. (Unk is the clan leader’s cousin.) You used wood every day this week. You’ve got to buy the dung.

You give Unk your worst arrow heads, naturally, but now you’re out all those arrow heads and will have to make more. You’re no warmer than you were before. The fire didn’t cook your meat any better. It just cost more because someone with power ordered you to support the organic dung industry.

There are other ways politicians and regulators force prices higher. They can even be politicians and regulators in neighboring states.

Across the country, electricity prices have fallen thanks to the natural gas boom. But the prices fall faster and farther in places where politicians don’t block pipeline construction. In New England (and New York), politicians and regulators have made it extremely difficult to build new pipelines.

As ISO New England has pointed out, though natural gas power generation has grown tremendously in in the last 20 years, “the natural gas pipelines that deliver low-cost shale gas into the region have not been expanded at a commensurate pace.”

Public policy is a major reason why New Hampshire has the fifth-highest electric rates in the country.

Politicians could immediately lower those rates by repealing laws and withdrawing regulations that prohibit utilities from buying power at the lowest available market price.

Instead, legislators continue to add new laws that push prices ever higher.

Utilities want to sell us power for less money. They would if they could. But the state forbids it. This needs to stop. We shouldn’t allow our politicians to force us to light our own money on fire.

How many lumberjacks live in New Hampshire?

Given the debate over Gov. Chris Sununu’s vetoes of two bills to further subsidize the state’s forest products industry, it’s an important question. No one seems to know the answer.

Supporters of the two bills, Senate Bills 365 and 446, say the subsidies would save 900 jobs. Sometimes they say 1,000 jobs. These figures are supposed to include people who depend on the forest products industry for their own livelihoods.

Maybe. But state data show only about 400 people employed in forestry and logging in New Hampshire. That’s down from the high 400s a decade ago.

Some of those good folks showed up in Concord on Thursday to demand that legislators override Gov. Chris Sununu’s vetoes and add even more subsidies to the already subsidized biomass and solar power industries. This is corporate welfare dressed in flannel.

Legislators know that a direct state subsidy of the state’s dwindling number of biomass plants, financed by tax increases, would be a non-starter. So they found another way to pay for this corporate giveaway: Hide the costs in everyone’s utility bills.

Both bills force utilities to pay above-market rates for electricity, thus raising prices for consumers. Because the rate increases would be mandated by law, they’d have the same effect as a tax hike. But because they’d be hidden in your electricity bill, they wouldn’t show up on any list of new taxes.

Nice trick.

The state Public Utilities Commission estimated that SB 365 would cost the average commercial utility customer in New Hampshire an extra $5.15 a month, which comes to $75.60 a year. In total, the bill would cost ratepayers about $20 million annually.

Utility customers would get nothing in return for that extra $20 million. It’s just a mandatory price increase. Instead of buying electricity from the lowest-cost producer, utilities would have to buy some of it from the state’s biomass plants, which can’t produce electricity as cheaply as their competitors can.

SB 446 would further increase electricity rates (by an undetermined amount) by letting these biomass plants and other producers build large-scale solar systems — and then forcing utilities to buy that solar power at inflated prices.

These aren’t just subsidies. They’re laws that forbid utilities from buying power at the best rates.

It’s critical to understand that because these bills never became law, upholding the governor’s vetoes takes nothing away from the forest products industry in New Hampshire. It simply means that ratepayers aren’t forced to pay them tens of millions of dollars more each year for the exact same product — electricity — that can be purchased from other providers at a lower cost.

Supporters say the bills are needed to save jobs. But jobs are plentiful in New Hampshire right now. What they really mean is that they’d like everyone to pay more for electricity so about 400 people can keep very specific jobs.

The unemployment rate is 3.2 percent in Coos County, 2.3 percent in Carroll County and 2.1 percent in Grafton County. The economy is galloping like wildlife fleeing the booming steps of Paul Bunyon. The issue is not whether jobs are available in the most thickly forested parts of New Hampshire. They are.

The issue is whether the state should forcibly confiscate tens of millions of dollars a year from 1.3 million people in an attempt to preserve specific jobs for about 400 people.

At about $20 million a year, SB 365 alone would generate enough money to pay each person in the forestry and logging industry roughly $50,000. Tuition at Harvard University this fall is $46,340.

If legislators override the governor’s vetoes, they will force Granite Staters to pay enough money in utility overcharges to purchase a Harvard degree for every forest and logging industry worker in the state every four years.

But instead of buying Harvard degrees or any other form of education or training to enable folks in a struggling industry to better survive a changing labor market, Granite Staters will be freezing a few hundred jobs in time — as the world continues to move on. That’s not a good use of $80 million.

These bills also would hurt Granite Staters who are even worse off than the people in the forest products industry. Higher electricity rates will eat into the budgets of low-income residents as well as manufacturers and other businesses. At 7.3 percent, New Hampshire has the lowest poverty rate in the country. But that still comes to about 95,000 Granite Staters living below the poverty level. To provide a handout to 400 employed people, these bills would take money from scores of thousands of low-income people, many of whom have worse employment prospects.

Subsidies can sound nice and compassionate. Most people want to help their fellow man. But subsidies aren’t just help. Unlike free trade, in which both parties win by getting something they want at an agreed-to price, subsidies help some by harming others. They do this because they force people against their will to pay for something they neither want nor need (in this case, high-priced electricity). That’s not compassion; that’s compulsion.

If you live in New Hampshire and enjoy wine, there’s something you should know (besides how approach a tasting). Your own state government, which sells wine, wants to be your primary supplier. Really, it wants to be your only supplier, but the Legislature won’t allow that. So to satisfy its impulse to smash all enemies, it’s rigging the wine market to kneecap upstart competitors.

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission both sells — and regulates the sale of — alcohol. This blatant conflict of interest gives it the power and incentive to limit its competition. Naturally, it uses that power.

After Prohibition, the Liquor Commission was the state’s only alcohol retailer. In the decades that followed, it aggressively fought the private-sector sale of beer and wine, changes that were proposed and ultimately ordered by legislators, who have grocers and drinkers as constituents.

Today, the commission is fighting a new competitor — direct wine retailers. The Liquor Commission is this week acknowledged that it has been systematically banning the direct-to-consumer sale of wines that are also sold in state liquor outlets.

The National Association of Wine Retailers this week called the commission’s actions “gangster tactics.”

During Prohibition, gangsters controlled the production and distribution of alcohol and snuffed out competitors. Ironically, the Liquor Commission, which was created to control alcohol distribution after Prohibition ended, wound up operating like a more lawful version of La Cosa Nostra. It pursues competitors relentlessly and does what it can to eliminate, or at least handicap, them.

Using the word “gangster” to describe the behavior of New Hampshire officials might call to mind images from a Weird Al parody. But where the power to whack competitors exists, it’s used.

Occupational licensing laws often grant specific industries the power to restrict competition. Licensing boards, made up of practitioners of a particular trade, are empowered to both practice and regulate that trade. Not surprisingly, they tirelessly suppress competition and seek legislative authority to further restrict entry into their field.

Public schools succeeded sank an Education Savings Account bill that would have expanded the definition of what constitutes a public education. It would have allowed families to spend the state portion of their public education dollars at non-public schools (local dollars would remain with the local public school district).

Perceiving this as a competitive threat, public school administrators, some local school boards, the teachers’ unions, and their political allies fought hard to maintain their advantage. They successfully turned enough Republicans against the bill to kill it in the House.

Even preppy suburbanites do it. Municipal officials and voters regularly approve ordinances to limit new business and home construction, reducing competition and raising prices.

It’s not that institutions granted such power attract people with a lust for blood and conquest. It’s that the combination of incentives and opportunity leads inevitably to anticompetitive behaviors.

So if you wondered why you could no longer order your favorite wine online, wonder no more. The Liquor Commission’s been taking a lead pipe to the knees of your favorite winery.

This was originally published in our weekly email newsletter, for which you can sign up here.

Can you define “art therapy?” More specifically, can you define it well enough to criminalize the unauthorized practice of it?

The state Senate thinks it can.

This coming Wednesday, the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee continues its hearing on Senate Bill 535, to establish state licensure of art therapists. (The bill passed the Senate on March 15.)

If SB 535 becomes law, it will be a misdemeanor for any individual to practice art therapy for pay without a state license. For corporations, it would be a felony.

What is art therapy? According to Art Therapy Journal, the practice originated in the 1940s when artist Adrian Hill, being treated for tuberculosis, thought to teach art to his fellow sanitarium patients as a means of therapy. Early practitioners were not therapists, but artists who realized that the artistic process had various therapeutic uses. Only much later did art become adopted as a treatment method by therapists, as the journal recounted.

SB 535 assumes, contrary to the history of art as therapy, that highly specialized training is an essential foundation for blending art and therapy. To get a license under the bill, one would have to obtain a master’s or doctorate in art therapy and accumulate “not less than 2 years, with a minimum of 2,000 hours, of supervised experience in art therapy.”

One need not try to practice unlicensed psychology to fall afoul of the law under this bill, but merely use integrate basic psychotherapeutic principles into the creative process for the purpose of helping people feel better or cope with stress or trauma.

Not all of these techniques are a part of a new, highly specialized scientific field. “Throughout recorded history, people have used pictures, stories, dances, and chants as healing rituals,” a major 2010 review in the American Journal of Public Health concluded.

No doubt there are highly trained specialists who can do wonders with art therapy and who deserve handsome compensation for their services. The problem with this bill, as with so many licensing bills, is its assumption that anything short of the work of the most highly trained expert is so dangerous that it must be banned.

Importantly, SB 535 does not ban the unlicensed practice of psychology. That is already illegal. The bill makes it illegal to apply the principles of psychotherapy to art instruction.

In the beginning of this legislative session there was hope that lawmakers would reduce licensing burdens. Part of that hope came from the huge shortage of licensed substance abuse counselors relative to demand.

New Hampshire’s opioid addicts are going without treatment in part because state licensing requirements have kept the supply of counselors artificially low. Senate Bill 487, which mandates that the state waive licensing requirements for substance abuse counselors who have licenses from other states, was, surprisingly, not killed by the Senate. It is slowly making its way through the House.

But despite shortages in other fields, the Senate has killed bills that address similar problems. This week the Senate killed House Bill 1217, which would have reversed the mandate, passed in 2016, that all school nurses have a bachelor’s degree. Nurses in any other setting need only an associate’s degree. School officials testified that they face serious nursing shortages and that the bachelor’s requirement has made the problem worse. They were no match for the lobbying power of Big Nurse.

And as this Unnamed Newsletter has noted before, the Senate killed House Bill 1685, which would have reformed the occupational licensing process to make it less burdensome.

Maybe, like a Rolling Stones fan who unwittingly hopped into an Uber driven by a Beatles obsessive, you’re tired of hearing this tune. Fine. We’ll cue up something cooler. In just a second. First, we’ll remind you that, unlike John Lennon’s songwriting ability, occupational licensing remains a huge issue, as the number of bills dealing with it suggests. And highlighting its problems is the only way for people to understand how damaging licensing can be. Roughly a third of the U.S. workforce faces occupational licensing requirements. That figure was only about 5 percent in the 1950s. By contrast, about 11 percent of the workforce is unionized.

Licensing can be a significant barrier to upward mobility and economic opportunity. In New Hampshire, legislators continue to block reform and pass new requirements, making these problems worse. Relief typically comes only when a crisis develops, as in the case of licensed substance abuse counselors.

There are real consequences to inaction. Schools are short of nurses. Opioid addicts get worse while waiting for counselors. But requirements keep being piled on, as if everything is fine.

Things aren’t fine, and they’re getting worse. Without some action by legislators to control the growth of these requirements, they will continue to spread like a plague of job-eating, wage-eroding, state licensed locusts.

On Tuesday, the august members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives will consider House Bill 287, which would create a commission to study legalizing prostitution. It comes with an “ought to pass” recommendation from the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. (The jokes really are so obvious, you’ve probably already thought of a better one than this newsletter would.)

HB 287 is part of a growing trend toward legalizing behavior once considered taboo or at least distasteful. From same-sex marriage to marijuana use to prostitution, government-imposed restrictions on private behavior are being abolished. There is even a new movement to make marijuana use a 10th Amendment issue and get the federal government out of it altogether.

(Honestly, 10th Amendment advocates are making a big strategic mistake here. Marijuana should be at the end of the list. It does the 10th Amendment movement no good for everyone to be too complacent after the first victory to put down the Doritos, get off the couch and continue fighting.)

While Granite Staters this year hear a lot about the pros and cons of legalizing “sex work” (that’s what it’s called in the bill), lots of other non-controversial occupations will remain illegal to practice for pay without state approval. For instance, auctioneering.

RSA 311-B makes it “unlawful” for any person to “knowingly engage in, or offer to engage in, auctioneering for a fee, commission, or other consideration unless such natural person has a valid license under this chapter or such other person is an authorized business organization.”

Unless you have a license, you break the law just by claiming you are “able to perform auctioneering.”

In New Hampshire, this is a criminal offense. Auctioneering for pay, or merely claiming the ability to perform auctioneering, is a misdemeanor for an individual and a felony for a business.

The “Occupations and Professions” section of state statutes is peppered with criminal penalties for working without state permission.

RSA 314 makes it a misdemeanor to practice eletctrolysis without a license.

RSA 323 makes it a misdemeanor to sell lightning rods without a license. (We are not making this up.)

RSA 328-H makes it a violation on first offense, a misdemeanor on second, to practice “Asian bodywork therapy” without a license.

RSA 331-A makes it a misdemeanor to engage in real estate brokerage without a license.

RSA 332 makes it a misdemeanor to “practice veterinary medicine” without a license. The statute defines “practice of veterinary medicine” as: “To diagnose, treat, correct, change, relieve, or prevent animal disease, lameness, deformity, defect, injury, or other physical or mental conditions….”

It is not always a criminal offense to work in certain fields without permission. Sometimes the state just makes it really hard to enter the field.

To become a cosmetologist, one must complete 1,500 hours of schooling or 3,000 hours of training under a licensed cosmetologist.

To become a pastoral psycotherapist, one must have a master’s in divinity, a Ph.D. in pastoral therapy, and 3,000 hours of supervised experience.

To become a “shampoo assistant apprentice,” one must first “work under the direct supervision of a licensed barber or cosmetologist for at least 150 hours” and pay a $25 fee. This is for a job that consists exclusively of “shampooing, rinsing and removing rollers or permanent rods, rinsing treated or untreated hair, and other cleansing or sink-related functions not requiring the skill of a cosmetologist or barber.”

If not the state, who will save us from unregistered shampoo apprentices?

Thankfully, some people have noticed that the state’s occupational licensing regime has become exceedingly burdensome. Rep. Bill Ohm, R-Nashua, has introduced a bill to create an occupational regulation review commission that would examine whether licensing boards use the least restrictive means to achieve their goals. It’s not as sexy a media topic as prostitution, but (presumably) it would have a bigger impact on the average Granite Stater.