Curtains for the Interior Design Cartel

June 22, 2009

For three years, the Institute for Justice has been locked in a battle with an elitist faction of the interior design industry that seeks to legislate competitors out of business. This is among the most aggressive cartelization efforts IJ has ever encountered, and it represents a textbook example of “public choice theory”—where government officials act as agents for special interests—run riot. But with our latest case in Florida, launched on May 26, we are poised to deliver a knockout blow to the entire interior design cartel.

Florida is the crown jewel of the interior design cartel’s decades-long, multi-million-dollar national lobbying effort. Since 1994, it has been a crime in Florida for anyone but state-licensed interior designers to provide a “consultation,” “study” or “drawing” about the “nonstructural interior elements” of any commercial building or structure. Florida has thus criminalized entire industries such as office furniture suppliers, companies that sell commercial filing and storage systems, retail business consultants, product display companies, and even corporate art consultants—all of which involve consulting with customers about equipment, furnishings and other “interior elements” of their buildings. They are not remotely the practice of interior design, properly conceived.

As they say in late-night infomercials, “But wait—there’s more!” In 2002, amid complaints about lax enforcement from industry insiders, the state outsourced investigation and enforcement of its interior design law to a hired-gun private law firm in Tallahassee that gets half-a-million dollars a year to go after unlicensed interior designers with a vengeance. The law firm sends out hundreds of cease-and-desist orders every year threatening entrepreneurs with fines of up to $5,000 for supposed violations of Florida’s interior design law, including letters to those people who have done nothing more than accurately advertise their interior design services.

Of course, it is perfectly clear by now that interior design laws have nothing to do with protecting public health or safety, as is the case with most such licensing laws, and everything to do with promoting the anti-competitive agenda of cartel members. As documented in IJ’s latest strategic research study, Designed to Exclude , this not only results in higher prices for consumers, but it also disproportionately excludes minorities and older career-switchers from the industry because they are less likely to possess the necessary academic credentials. This is economic protectionism at its very worst and an all-out assault on the very essence of the American Dream.

Enter the Institute for Justice. After a three-year campaign of painstaking litigation, strategic research, grassroots activism and effective media relations, we are now ready to bring this cartel’s actions to light in the Sunshine State and bring that much more freedom back to the Land of Opportunity.

Clark Neily is an Institute senior attorney.

Subscribe to get Liberty & Law magazine direct to your mailbox!

Sign up to receive IJ's bimonthly magazine, Liberty & Law, along with breaking news updates about the Institute for Justice's fight to protect the rights of all Americans.