Licensing is Anti-Consumer

Here is an amazing example of how far the state will go to protect entrenched competitors from new competition.  Because it is far more important to make absolutely, 100% sure (precautionary principle, you know) that no one is competing in the Minneapolis market without a license than it is to encourage volunteer-ism in the wake of a natural disaster.

Tree trimmers who work in Minneapolis need to be licensed with the city. It’s a regulation in place throughout many cities, and something Haege knows all about. He’s licensed in Hastings and several area cities. Since he doesn’t work in Minneapolis, he isn’t licensed there.

All that was moot, of course. He was just going to volunteer and was not charging residents for his services.

He had brought a bucket truck to get high if needed, and he brought a wood chipper to dispose of fallen trees. He and the volunteers got to work on homes where the resident didn’t have insurance.

“We were removing stuff so people could get out of their driveways and out of their doors,” he said. “The place was a pretty big disaster.”

What happened next shocked Haege.

A city inspector arrived at the scene. She told Haege he had to leave. Immediately.

“You have to leave right now,” the inspector told Haege. “You’re not licensed to be here.”

“I said, ‘I’m just a volunteer,’ and she didn’t believe me.”

Haege went back to his truck and got his volunteer paperwork. Still, that did little to get the inspector off his back.

“I don’t want to see you up here,” she told him.

“She just didn’t believe me,” he said.

A volunteer from the Urban Homeworks, who had been with Haege since he signed up to volunteer that morning, did his best to convince the inspector that Haege wasn’t charging for his services.

Residents then came out of their doors in his defense, telling the inspector that he had just performed work at their house and hadn’t charged them a dime. Still, the defense fell on deaf ears.

The inspector told him to get out of the city, so Haege left with the volunteer. As they were on their way back to the volunteer area, residents waved down Haege, pleading for help. He pulled over and helped get a tree out of the way for them.

Haege had no idea police officers were behind him in a sort of unofficial escort out of town. He said they stopped traffic for about two hours while they figured out what to do with him. At one point, officers threatened to throw him in jail, he said.

All the while, residents continued defending him, screaming in his defense.

Officers told him to leave. They told him he was going to receive a “hefty fine” in the mail, and that if he stopped on the way out, the fine would be doubled.


  1. Joe Martin:

    This was so outrageous that I figured there had to either be more to it or else it was a hoax. Well, it's not a hoax but there is a little more to it than the excerpt indicates.

    In tornado zone, a helping hand gets slapped with a $275 fine |

  2. L Nettles:

    Damn them. Notice he did NOT get a ticket for being in a banned zone. Some one is trying to cover their ass.

  3. epobirs:

    The petty bureaucrat never raised that issue. She was solely concerned with whether he'd paid for the privilege of contributing to the local economy. I too think someone made up this excuse post hoc.

  4. aczarnowski:

    Yet another reason I'm working like hell to get out of this place. As if I needed another.

  5. Mark Alger:

    And yet, we're advised that violence is not to be on the menu.


  6. joshv:

    "Haege went back to his truck and got his volunteer paperwork"

    Volunteer paperwork? What the hell has become of this country.

  7. Roy:

    Past Monday I spent a day in Joplin, MO. Gave me a first hand view of both sides of the ugly issue behind Coyote's posted story. (Go read the link in Joe Martin's post, #1 in the line for a lot more info.) Civil authorities imho correctly wanted to avoid people getting hurt. They correctly concluded that at least some people might visit a disaster area with intentions to help themselves rather than help the victims. They correctly figured some kind of coordination, some kind of supervision ought occur. How to do all this? How to encourage assistance without chaos?

    In the case of Joplin, police cruised the streets. So did lots of volunteer organizations, passing out water, meals, gloves, face masks, sometimes tools. Several times we interacted with various of these people. All recognized the balances that made sense, and worked at understanding what could get accomplished.

    But had any official demanded I not assist a homeowner asking for that assistance, I would have made a scene. While I would comply, and would leave the area, I would not do so without gathering evidence: names, license plates, IDs, offices, phone numbers, superiors, chain of command. I would have drawn a crowd with plenty of witnesses to certify my cell phone pictures, and made it plain that said official would soon be facing at minimum publicity and likely some legal action piercing claimed immunity. Stupid is stupid.

    Demands for licenses for reconstruction work opens up a related, but I think different issue. I argue that a local gov't has legitimate concern that people not infringe upon one another via, eg, shoddily done and hazard prone wiring. Should it protect by codes (which are the result of people coming to an agreed compromise between unobtainable safety and achievable levels)? Should it protect by inspections? Should it allow everything to be protected by lawsuits after failure being the motivation to get it right? I do the electrical work on my home which I can by code as a homeowner. But I left my electrical tools at home when I visited Joplin. Did not want to get involved in any kind of insurance problems.

  8. Smock Puppet:

    > Volunteer paperwork? What the hell has become of this country.

    Been happening for decades. You change your name from Rip Van Winkle?

    There's a reason we're all supposed to hiss when the fascist bureacrat/security apparatchik says, "Your Identity Papers, Please?"

    So -- pardon me, sir, but where is your driver's license? Your social security card? Your voter's registration card? Your ObamaCare Healthcard (Ok, not yet, but it's hidden in there somewhere).

    And you know, I just found a picture of you. You rather clearly don't appear to have your 18-digit ID tattooed on your arm or forehead.

    You realize the penalties for not having this are quite severe?

  9. Smock Puppet:

    > Stupid is stupid.

    I beg to differ -- Ignorance is only skin deep. But stupidity goes straight to the bone.

  10. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    >> Demands for licenses for reconstruction work opens up a related, but I think different issue. I argue...after failure being the motivation to get it right?

    I have a simple solution, there, Roy.
    a) Responsibility. Individual responsibility. Just because I see some guy driving by in a panel truck doesn't mean I should be stupid enough to hire him for work that involved skill, talent, and understanding of the type of work performed. And if I am, then fine, let the shysters take them out, since perhaps they'll learn a lesson about the world.
    b) Insurance. The organizations whose job it is to provide insurance have a vested interest in getting jobs done right in the first place. It is within the proper purview of insurance agencies to deal with almost every aspect of the matters you're concerned with, from quality of work to dangers of shoddy/sloppy job performance. And in most cases of disaster being worsened by low-grade work, it was always in places with heavy duty licensing and Official Government Inspection... There was little danger to the bureaucrats in charge in those areas of them losing their jobs. This is generally not the case if you're working for an insurance agency that will go tits up because of excessive payouts. In other words, "Vested interest" is the best solution of these matters.

  11. cluemeister:

    How many of those homeowners unhappy with the bureaucrat will connect the dots and vote against big government nanny state politicians next election? Answer: Zero

  12. marco73:

    I live about halfway between Tampa and Orlando Florida. Back in 2004, we had 3 hurricanes that criss-crossed our area, leaving a lot of damage in their wake. Luckily our property was spared significant damage, but folks just a few miles away had lots of damage, mainly trees downed and roofs torn off. The volume of debris was astounding. For about 2 weeks I volunteered with a church group cutting branches, loading trailers, and putting tarps on roofs. Not once did anyone ask for a license, or for any id at all. We never asked for any money, we were just there helping people pick up their lives.
    Admittedly, we usually had a box truck from the local food pantry near us, where we could store some tools. The only time we ever had anyone of authority speak to us was when we blocked traffic on a local street, to drag a tree out from someone's house so it could be cut up. The local police, who had been working 12 on/12 off shifts for probably a month, just asked that someone put on an orange vest if they were going to be stopping traffic.
    I have to believe, partly, it was just because of the sheer volume of effort that local licensing agencies didn't mess with us. To give you some perspective, it took some people a 4 year wait to replace their blue tarps with a real roof.

  13. John O.:

    Its never about justice or morals any more because its long been sucked out of government. Instead its about enforcing the regime for those who can buy into it; allowing them to feel a false sense of security.

    The simple fact is that the person despite volunteering during a post disaster cleanup was a subtle challenge to the regime and those in charge would not stand for it.

    -- John O.

  14. Roy:

    Igot, I agree in general with your drift. But I also bet you're every bit as smart as I am, and can envision at least a few real life scenarios where that drift runs aground. What if my neighbor wants to do something on the cheap? And isn't as smart as either you or I regarding quality. And the shyster takes out not only them, but the resulting fire takes out me. And the neighbor on the other side. And the middle neighbors total assets just went up in smoke. When he had no insurance. Which we couldn't have expected, 'cause demanding it would be licensing. (Ie, so much for your 2), Igot.)

    As a professional I've had responsibility for writing codes dealing with preventing explosions in manufacturing plants, grain silos, railroad tank cars, etc. Condensed version: buncha vendors, big company customers, lawyers, insurance companies, and, yep, gov't officials (ie, engineers, actuaries, accountants, managers) went into a room, locked the door, and had a knock down-drag out. We engineers could build a pressure vessel that would not fail. But nobody could afford it. We could make calculations about safety factors, over design, and similar, that enabled statistically very accurate predictions about performance. But not absolutely accurate, not to mention that the statistics included failures. A compromise resulted. Insurance companies agreed to designs that had the bets stacked in their favor; manufacturers, not at all cold blooded money squeezers who cared nothing for their personal friend employees or even their own lives, agreed to some level of trade off. One eg of a trade off: A safety design could have elaborate, detailed testing of the materials and expensive examination of the pressure vesel, thus better enabling accurate predictions. Or the safety design could have less expensive testing, but the wall thickness of the vessel had to be much greater than in the first option.

    All that paragraph to illustrate: tradeoffs. Some level of licensing results from, imho, a sane consideration of tradeoffs in a world where none of us are presently omniscient, error free, much less perfectly prescient.

    That, rather than the disaster of Coyote's excerpt, is where the real debate lies. How to restrain the gov't beast such that it demands educated trade offs (which include living with failures). How to make cluemeister's zero something other than zero.

  15. David Y:

    I'm disgusted by this, but not surprised.

    Is there a 'defense' here along the lines of religious freedom? As in, part of exercising my right to freedom of religion is in helping others in their time of need? A stretch, and not likely to work given the Godless heathens manning the bureaucracies...

  16. David Y:

    The Star-Tribune article features a quote that perfectly illustrates the problem: "People were super ramped up to help, and frankly there wasn't much to do," he said. "The hard part is, I'm sure people were asking volunteers for help in those areas. But if we just released 600 people into the neighborhood, it would have been a nightmare."

    Hmmm...As someone with a belief in private citizenry's abilities to solve problems better than government, I'd say 600 people free to help as they see fit (and able to figure it out on their own) would have been ideal. Instead, the prevailing belief is that government can best manage the resources. Central planning uber alles. And this is what is wrong with our society today--we've been convinced that government can solely do things well, which is the opposite of reality.

  17. Roy:

    David, here are a couple links to groups I worked with in Joplin. Reading what they say might give you some perspective on the problem.
    Here is something I wrote to a friend wanting to go the next trip a team made to assist in Joplin:
    My take is that once the immediate needs are taken care of (finding people, making sure utilities are off, similar) and maybe some assists doing what we did Monday (helping sort thru debris to salvage at least something of the personal treasures), volunteers will rapidly become less able to do anything effectively. Some tornado victims will simply leave Joplin. Others will move in with family or friends. For the insured, rebuilding will start. Machinery will do a better job of clearing rubble; professionals a better job of construction (although I plan to provide volunteer labor thru the supervision of one of our sister churches in Joplin). Both insurance money and government money will go into this. I think sometime fairly soon despair and frustration will overwhelm, especially those not insured. And those wanting to help but not committed to slogging thru unglamorous work that doesn't have immediately visible results. That's where I hope that the church teams in Joplin will sort thru the needs and provide guidance to those not local. We'll also have to recognize that the needs will shift from labor to money.

    I don't agree with denying access to volunteers. But I recognize the legitimate concern about keeping chaos from destroying those who need help. The problem, imho, hinges on finite minds facing accomplishing a huge task of great need with a relatively short timespan for accomplishment. Military in wartime illustrates the massive wastes of such a situation. Civil disasters are simply another such instance.

  18. traderpaul:

    The scenario you constructed for Igotbupkis to show why we need licensing is flawed.

    When you buy home insurance, your insurance company pays you if your property is damaged. It doesn't matter if the negligence of your neighbor caused the damage to your property.
    Your insurance company may subsequently try to sue your neighbor for damages, it's possible he has other assets, but this would be done independently of the reimbursement of your loss. In no way is your reimbursement for your loss dependent on your neighbor having appropriate insurance.
    Now, according to your scenario, your dim-witted neighbour is without a home, may be sued for his own negligence and has no insurance for his own property.
    As Igotbupkis said, “Vested interest” is the best solution of these matters.

  19. DrTorch:

    Why didn't anyone ask the bureaucrat for HIS papers?

    Better yet, why didn't anyone run off that worthless bureaucrat? Make life very hard on him. And I do mean hard. If he comes back w/ cops, demand they arrest him; he was trespassing.

  20. Roy:

    traderpaul, run your vested interest solution a few iterations past where you left off. Can you envision a situation where the loss is sufficiently catastrophic that the impossibility of restoration after the fact makes reasonable restrictions before the fact? For example, suppose it's not merely your and your two-house-away neighbor's houses that get burnt, but your and that neighbors kids? I bet you can provide more examples.

    In general I want to reach the "vested interest" outworking resulting from applying foundational principles. Yet this result does not reflexively follow with no limitations or qualifications. That's way in the last paragraph of my response to igot I pointed to the actual rather than (Coyote's) sidetrack debate, one where real-world tradeoffs occur.

  21. Max:


    Well, but that is the problem with those codes and laws that protect a certain technical skill level: They get outdated, they get outfoxed and even if you get a licensed electrician, he might perform shoddy work! And if he gets out of business, you don't even have a way to get your money back (while paying a lot more).
    Here in Germany, we have a zillion codes of conduct and licenses for all kind of things, and still on every bigger construction project I have witnessed all kind of unprofessional and shoddy work. Yet they were all licensed workers! I think the risk of unlicensed shoddy work is much lower than many think.