FTC Acting Chair Announces New “Economic Liberty Task Force”

Last week, in a speech given at a George Mason University symposium, Acting Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair, Maureen Ohlhausen, announced the creation of “an Economic Liberty Task Force within the FTC to advance economic liberty issues, with a particular focus on occupational licensing regulations.”

Ohlhausen discussed government regulations that eroded economic liberty by blocking or suppressing competition and diminishing economic opportunities, and called occupational licensing “a particularly egregious example of this erosion.” She also cited research by the Institute for Justice and other organizations highlighting the remarkable inconsistency with which different states regulate different occupations, and said this suggested “that many occupational licenses do not advance public health, safety, or other legitimate goals.”

“I challenge anyone to explain why the state has a legitimate interest in protecting the public from rogue interior designers carpet-bombing living rooms with ugly throw pillows,” Ohlhausen said.

The Trump administration would not be the first to address occupational licensing reform. In 2015, the Obama administration released a report that recognized the serious national problem with vocational overregulation and called for occupational licensing reform.

In order to address problems with occupational licensing, the Economic Liberty Task Force will use the FTC’s two main tools, advocacy and enforcement. Its first task will be creating a special section on the FTC website focused on economic liberty. The task force will continue issuing comments and amicus briefs, as well as working with states, state boards and self-regulatory entities to address licensing concerns. It will also work with governors, state attorneys general and other local and state officials to include “competition considerations in their decision-making processes.”

Ohlhausen said she was optimistic about working with these officials based on work already being done at the state and local level.  For example, she cited Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s statement on a line-item veto blocking unnecessary regulations for hair braiders in the state. She also referenced efforts in Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wisconsin to remove occupational licenses that restrict job opportunities.

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