Licensing is Anti-Competitive -- This Time, Its Personal

I have written any number of times about how the justification for licensing is usually consumer protection or safety but the actual purpose is to protect larger, entrenched incumbents against competition.  However, most of those stories have been about caskets or hair braiding or other businesses that don't really affect me.  This time, its personal.

Sometime last October we needed a boat moved across the country from one of our marinas to another.  We found a local guy who was going in the right direction anyway and paid him a couple hundred bucks to haul the boat on a trailer behind his pickup.  Note that this is a perfectly ordinary pickup truck and a perfectly normal pontoon boat, the kind of car-trailer rig you can see thousands of people driving to the lake every Saturday morning.

The driver was stopped at a checkpoint in Wyoming.  And was busted there, at least long enough until he could give them my name and number and escape.

Why was he busted?  Because a) the truck/boat combination apparently weighed a tad more than 10,000 pounds and b) the boat was being moved for a commercial purpose  (i.e. it was a business asset).  Unknown to me, the combination of these two takes this transport event to the realm of "commercial carrier," which requires a Department of Transportation (DOT) license and a slew of regulatory responses.   Technically, the contractor we paid was at fault, but he escaped any legal problems because 1) he claimed he was our employee (untrue) and 2) he claimed he was driving our truck (untrue).  This led to Wyoming and later the DOT calling me asking for my DOT number (which I didn't have), my employment records (for a person who is not my employee) and my vehicle records (for a truck I have never owned).

Months later, I am still going back and forth with the cops in Wyoming.  But in the mean time I decided that since I was likely to move my stuff across state lines again, I might as well get my DOT number.  So I started that process.

As it turns out, there is absolutely no difference in regulation and compliance requirements between driving my own boat across state lines once a year and running United Van Lines.   The regulations one has to know are hundreds of pages long.  The user-friendly summary is 162 pages long! And it is careful to state, "Please do not use this guide as a substitute for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations."  There are driver and vehicle files that have to be maintained, special driver certifications, driver medical tests and certifications, etc.

In other words, there is absolutely no accommodation for a company like ours that is doing nothing different than you are driving you boat to the lake, but we have to set up a compliance and record-keeping system that trucking companies have whole departments for.  Which, of course, is the point.  Compliance costs for regulations can always be born easier by large companies and by incumbents.  The idea is to make it so onerous for individual companies to move their own boats that they are willing to pay over-priced Teamster-friendly trucking corporations to do it for them.  The point is not to make us safer - the average individual unregulated boater hauls boats more miles a year than we do - the point is to make sure we don't compete, even in the smallest way, with established trucking firms.

By the way, the issue that is likely to kill the deal totally on our getting a DOT number is the government mandate that I drug test my employees.  The relationship I wish to have with my employees is not one that encompasses my demanding samples of their bodily fluids on a regular basis.  I have turned down at least two potentially lucrative management contracts because both had drug-testing requirements and I am not going to do it.


  1. Gary:

    Typically drug testing requirements are nod, nod, wink, winked into oblivion, for most companies. Usually an initial test and then never again. This is just another re-enforcement of the illusion of safety, so eloquently demonstrated in 'Fight Club'.

  2. me:

    Respect and admiration on your stance on drug testing. Defending others privacy with actual personal gain at stake is laudable.

    This is, btw, in a nutshell why I wonder where the US is headed - Germany has always been an overregulated socialist state, but we appear to be headed in the same direction fast, with -crucially- all of the flaws and none of the benefits.

  3. Erik Carlseen:

    Many years ago I ran the IT department for a medium-sized trucking company. Even I was technically required to go to driver safety and compliance classes.

  4. perlhaqr:

    Your bold tag isn't closed properly after the link to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

    Also, I agree completely with everything you've said. I wonder just how much stronger the economy would be if the government didn't spend all this effort making it nearly goddamn impossible to do business.

  5. DrTorch:

    But at least there is a workaround: Ensure that your carrier weighs less than 10K. (Right?)

    Not everybody is so lucky.

  6. solution:

    Just find someone willing to be a private owner for the length of time it takes the boat to get to it's destination, transfer title by way of a temporary bill of sale or in anticipation of such, have an agreement as to resale back to yourself at the other end. Then your contractor is hauling his own boat and not for commercial purposes.
    Wink, Wink, Nudge, Nudge.

  7. ADiff:

    Bingo. Licensing & 'Regulation' by government is almost always destructive of business development, economic activity, consumer choice, and market efficiency.

    Last night I heard a 'show and tell' from the City of Phoenix about their upcoming 'Code 2050' City 'Plan'...including scads of regulations and rules for everything to how far from a street a hot dog stand has to be to how tall a build can be built on private property to how f*ing 'green' the materials for a wall or sidewalk have to be. I expressed a bit of heat about potential investors responding to the complexity and cost of this kind of thing and just heading elsewhere. Boy! You could tell the City folks, and some of the audience members, really didn't like that! Speaking later to a Phoenix police officer, I commented on the PPD's upcoming 15% staff cuts by saying rather loudly I'd rather then got rid of the Mayor and all the planning department before they laid-off even one cop. The hostility this engendered in the City Planning folks there, and their allies in the audience, was so palpable you could have cut it with a knife!

    I think it's time to outlaw any 'Rule' or 'Regulation' or 'Licensing Requirement' that's not clearly and unarguably absolutely necessary. We can go back later and put back what it turns out is needed a lot easier than we can ferret out all the absolute garbage that's evolved over the years.

    It's gotten to point where it's positively stifling the free market...and everybody, even those who's 'zero-sum' perspective makes them think they benefit, are paying for it!

  8. Dan:

    Wait - you actually stated that you don't want to drug test? Crud. Now you are on the "potential drug running shell companies" watch list since. You must have something to hide.

  9. beautox:

    Ah, America, the land of the free. I love stories like this. But then, I live in New Zealand where our government has better things to do.

  10. Peter:

    In regards to the drug testing Only your commercial drivers would have to be enrolled in a drug testing program. Granted if you have only one driver they would be "randomly" picked every month for testing. I do however prefer the solution of selling the boat to an individual with a guaranteed buyback agreement for the boat to be purchased in good condition at the desired destination for a higher amount than originally sold for. You know sufficiently higher to cover the cost of hiring an individual to drive it to the destination.

  11. commieBob:

    You are getting all the disadvantages of runaway bureaucracy but none of the benefits, like universal medical care for instance. (I duck behind my desk.)

    Seriously though, I'm intrigued by the tea party movement. It seems to me that it is still new enough that it could be turned to a good purpose. I'll bet most people would go for the idea that there should be some limit on the number of laws and regulations there are.

    I personally like the idea that every law and regulation should have a time limit of twenty years (or whatever). After that, the elected representatives would have to pass each legislation again; no omnibus bills allowed. That would set a natural limit to the number of laws and regulations.

    As it is, bureaucrats can create as many regulations as they want. Every regulation has some good purpose but, collectively, they are a drag on society.

    There's a lot that I like about the tea party movement and I have some hope that it might adopt a big picture view that the two existing parties are too corrupt to embrace.

    I've actually seen government done right but not too often. I know it will gall most Americans to hear it but Tommy Douglas did a fine job in Saskatchewan. The CCF were mostly preachers, teachers and farmers and they really did care about the social gospel ( and making people's lives better. Later, the CCF crawled into bed with labor, became the NDP and had all the goodness sucked out of it. :-(

    No 'system' is automatically right. It depends on the people involved. Ideals are necessary. Everybody has to be hauling together for some greater purpose. Cleaning cruft and corruption out of the system is a pretty good purpose and I have some hope that something like the tea party movement could achieve that.

  12. Stephen Macklin:

    The other ting to consider is if it would be possible to lighten the boat enough to get under the weight limit. Even if it meant a second driver with a pick-up full of gear it's better than complying with this crap.

    Either that or stay off roads with weigh stations.

  13. Craig:

    "I personally like the idea that every law and regulation should have a time limit of twenty years (or whatever)."

    I like it, too. Unfortunately, in the United States, that only applies to tax cuts.

  14. me:

    Time limits on law would be nice, but too easily worked around.

    Pick a hard limit, though (say, 5000 laws with up to 100 words each for the federation, 1000 additional ones per state and 50 per municipality) and you've got a nice way to enforce priorities.

  15. Noumenon:

    I absolutely love your respect for your employees' personal fluids. Wish more corporations would follow your lead.

  16. me again:

    When I read this -

    "Compliance costs for regulations can always be born easier by large companies and by incumbents. The idea is to make it so onerous for individual companies to move their own boats that they are willing to pay over-priced Teamster-friendly trucking corporations to do it for them. The point is not to make us safer – the average individual unregulated boater hauls boats more miles a year than we do – the point is to make sure we don’t compete, even in the smallest way, with established trucking firms."

    I was struck by the similar argument that could be made for campaign costs -

    "Campaign costs can always be born easier by incumbents. The idea is to make it so onerous for individuals to run their campaigns that they are willing to...."

  17. Les:

    Or just make it much much easier to repeal laws and regulations once they're on the books. In fact, make it easier to remove laws than to write and implement them. But then we have the problem of congresscritters not availing themselves to this due to the fact that repealing laws proves them wrong and questions the legitimacy of their power.

  18. perlhaqr:

    me again: Sure, it's a common theme in the political realm. Left to their own devices, those who control the reins of power will seek to not merely tilt the playing field in their favor, but to make it an actively vertical climb up a razorwire covered wall to unseat them. Unfortunately, by the time most competitors reach the top, they've been so scarred by the journey they do nothing to correct this inequity.