From Research to Real-World Results

Mindy Menjou
Mindy Menjou
Kyle Sweetland
Kyle Sweetland  ·  April 1, 2022

In statehouses nationwide, IJ works to promote reforms that will make America freer and more just. And, as regular Liberty & Law readers know, we often use IJ’s strategic research to do it. Now we have two new reports we’re using to make change in the economic liberty arena, reining in occupational licensing and expanding food truck freedom. 

One of the reports, Too Many Licenses?, is the first comprehensive analysis of government studies of proposed occupational licenses. These “sunrise” reviews give legislators objective information to help them decide whether licenses are needed to protect the public—or whether they are unnecessary barriers to work.   

As it turns out, the vast majority of government studies conclude licenses are a bad idea. Of nearly 500 studies we analyzed, about 80% declined to recommend licenses—and more than half declined to recommend any new regulation at all. Not surprisingly, most proposed regulations were put forward by those with a vested interest in fencing out competition: 83% came from industry groups compared to just 4% from consumers. That government studies often saw through these self-serving proposals suggests sunrise programs can help legislators make better decisions in the face of organized pressure. 

We’re using these findings to urge more states to adopt strong sunrise programs to help protect economic liberty. But we’re also using them to remind legislators that they should be skeptical of interest groups pushing new licenses even if they don’t have a sunrise program—and that they should revisit many licenses already on the books. After all, decades of government studies reveal some of these very same licenses to be needless barriers to work.  

The second report, Food Truck Truth, takes aim at a myth commonly used to justify unnecessary restrictions on mobile food entrepreneurs: that food trucks steal customers from restaurants, driving them out of business. Leaving aside that customers aren’t property and competition isn’t theft, is this argument true? We investigated using 12 years of county-level census data and found it holds no water.  

For one thing, we found that even as food trucks took off following the Great Recession, the restaurant industry continued to grow—and restaurants still vastly outnumber food trucks. But stronger evidence comes from our robust statistical analysis, which controlled for economic conditions and other factors and found food truck growth in one year was not followed by restaurant decline the next. We also found that the number of food trucks and restaurants in a county were correlated, suggesting that both sectors can and do thrive at the same time—and that laws designed to curb food trucks are misguided. 

We’re using this research to promote state-level bills that would streamline licensing so that food trucks wouldn’t have to submit to multiple applications, fees, and inspections to operate across several cities or counties. And, of course, we’re using it to fight protectionist city-level regulations pushed by the restaurant industry. 

IJ invests in rigorous research because knowing the facts makes us more effective advocates for freedom. Robust protections for individual rights are not only moral and constitutional imperatives—they also work, and IJ’s research provides policymakers with proof.

Mindy Menjou is IJ’s research publications manager, and Kyle Sweetland is an IJ researcher. 

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