J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · September 1, 2016

Arlington, Va.—On Monday, millions of Americans will celebrate the contributions that businesses and individuals have made to benefit the strength and prosperity of America’s economy.

But for many other Americans who are locked out of the workforce due to arbitrary licensing, permitting or other unjustified regulations, Labor Day is another reminder that governments big and small continue to deprive them of their right to earn an honest living.

Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ) launches its “IJ Asks Why” initiative to encourage entrepreneurs, regulators and others to question the underlying justification for laws that stand between entrepreneurs of modest means and their ability to climb the economic ladder. Through litigation, activism and research, IJ Asks Why will hold governments accountable for infringing Americans’ right to economic liberty.

Find out more about IJ Asks Why: www.ijaskswhy.com

As part of the initiative, IJ is releasing “Open for Business,” a new report outlining seven simple steps cities can take to foster economic growth by unleashing the transformative power of economic liberty. Economic liberty is the simple idea that all Americans have a right to earn an honest living. Unlike the grand plans and regulations that typify government-directed economic development, the report suggests that cities take a different approach. By reducing the barriers to entrepreneurship and eliminating unjustifiable economic regulations, local governments can unleash the creative potential of their citizens and empower individuals to put themselves to work.

The report recommends that cities:

  • Streamline business licensing;
  • Reduce or remove restrictions on street vendors and food trucks;
  • Allow for more competition in transportation markets;
  • Liberalize regulation of signage;
  • Expand opportunities for home-based businesses;
  • Reduce the burden of overly restrictive zoning codes, and;
  • Remove unnecessary regulations for food businesses.

“These seven suggestions are not meant to be exhaustive; they are instead meant to encourage municipal leaders to critically examine existing regulations by simply asking ‘Why?’” said IJ Senior Attorney Paul Sherman. “Why is the process of starting a business so complicated? Why are some businesses insulated from competition in the free market? Why do we have this or that regulation? Often, this simple inquiry will reveal that existing regulations or processes are supported by no good reason and that we would all be better off without them.”


For 25 years, the Institute for Justice has fought to teardown these barriers to entry by persuading state and federal judges to take entrepreneurs’ constitutional rights seriously. Three recent IJ cases highlight the need to question the underlying justifications for regulations limiting economic liberty.

  • Why does Baltimore not allow food truck owner Joey Vanoni to sell pizza within 300 feet of another pizzeria?
    The city of Baltimore prohibits food trucks from operating within 300 feet of any brick-and-mortar business that sells the same type of food. Baltimore’s law has no basis in protecting the health or safety of residents. Rather, the law only serves to insulate restaurants from competition.
  • Why does Louisiana require eyebrow threaders like Lata Jagtiani to get twice as much training as it requires to become an emergency medical technician?
    Louisiana requires that eyebrow threaders spend 750 hours to obtain an esthetician’s license that involves no training in threading. That’s more than twice as long as it takes to become a life-saving EMT. The law’s only purpose is to raise the barriers to entry for threaders and thus protect traditional beauty salons from competition.
  • Why does Little Rock, Ark. allow a single taxi business to maintain a monopoly?
    The city of Little Rock has only one taxi business and it is illegal to start a second one. Rather than doing what’s best for the public, Little Rock’s law only serves to prevent citizens from enjoying the competition, job creation and consumer choice found in most other U.S. cities.

“Asking ‘why’ gets at the heart of how IJ’s litigates economic liberty cases,” said IJ’s Chief Operating Officer Deborah Simpson. “We ask why, and we expect answers. We ask courts to engage in truth seeking—to examine the underlying justifications for laws. All too often, we find that laws limiting economic liberty have only pretextual justifications with no rational basis for their existence other than preserving monopolies and limiting economic opportunity. It is precisely these circumstances where judges have a duty to stand up for Americans’ constitutional right to earn an honest living. ”