Blooming Nonsense

For more than a decade, Monique Chauvin has owned and operated one of the most popular and recognized floral shops in all of New Orleans. Her work is regularly featured in magazines, and her store has been repeatedly voted as “Tops of the Town” in New Orleans magazine by residents of the Big Easy. Yet Monique faces the real possibility of losing her business—not for economic reasons, but because Louisiana is the only state in the nation that requires florists to hold a license to work.

To earn that license, aspiring florists must pass both a written and a practical test, the latter graded by already-licensed florists—in other words, competitors. Monique does not hold a florist license. Despite all of her recognition and success, she failed the exam, as have thousands of other florists over the years. Louisiana only allows her to operate her store as long as she employs a licensed florist and displays the employee’s license in the shop. But the licensed florist Monique employed passed away in February 2010. Monique must find another licensed florist to put on the payroll within 90 days or take and pass the test herself. Otherwise, she will have to close the shop, putting Monique and her five employees out of work.

Why does Louisiana impose such regulatory burdens on florists? Protecting public health and safety cannot be the reason; in 49 other states, florists operate free of such regulations with no harm to consumers. The work of economists and sociologists who study occupational licensing suggests another possible purpose for Louisiana’s law: Already-licensed florists reap financial rewards from fencing out competition.[1]

Given the size of the floral industry, this benefit is quite real. According to the Economic Census, there are 22,750 retail floral stores in the United States with annual revenues of $6.6 billion. In Louisiana alone, 332 floral retailers generate $76.8 million in annual revenues.[2] Licensure enables state-licensed Louisiana florists to enjoy a greater share of that revenue.

Defenders of Louisiana’s licensing regime, however, point to another justification for the law: maintaining professional standards and thereby ensuring better-quality floral arrangements for consumers.[3] But an experiment I conducted contradicts this claim.

I asked practicing florists to judge a random line-up of floral arrangements from shops in regulated Louisiana and unregulated Texas. In judging those arrangements, not even licensed Louisiana florists identified any difference in quality that could be attributed to licensure. Floral arrangements from Texas, with no licensing regime, were rated essentially the same as those from Louisiana. This suggests that Louisiana’s licensing scheme does nothing but protect existing license-holders from fair competition.

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