EPIC LICENSING BATTLE: The Florida Interior Design Cartel Strikes Back

When you think about a highly aggressive cartel teaming up with politicians to pass protectionist laws that kick entrepreneurs out of work, you probably don’t think about interior designers.

But you should.

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The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) represents less than 3 percent of all designers, but its members have designated themselves as spokespeople for the entire industry. ASID has spent over 30 years and millions of dollars lobbying from coast to coast for interior design licensing schemes. Not surprisingly, the schemes they propose would force all interior designers to have the exact same credentials as required for membership in ASID.

The group has worked relentlessly to enlist state legislatures in its campaign for total industry cartelization. The Institute for Justice has documented these efforts in a study titled “Designing Cartels.”

Florida is ground zero right now in this epic battle.

After 17 years of wasteful and unnecessary government licensing, Florida is considering legislation to unlock economic opportunity for countless would-be entrepreneurs by eliminating needless licensing laws for more than 20 occupations–including interior design. Not surprisingly, the interior design cartel fighting hard to keep its government-enforced monopoly Florida through a lobbying campaign of misrepresentation, deceit and baseless scare tactics.

The video above, produced by the Institute for Justice, debunks three of the cartel’s key myths:

  • Myth #1: Most states regulate interior design
  • Myth #2: Unlicensed interior design threatens public safety
  • Myth #3: Interior designers will not be able to work without government regulation

In fact, none of these myths are true. The reality is that Florida is one of only three states that regulate the practice of interior design. And in 47 states, interior designers are doing just fine without licensing schemes, while consumers enjoy lower prices and more choices.

In Forbes this week, Institute for Justice president Chip Mellor explains that Florida’s regulation of interior designers presents a case study in cartels:

If Americans want to see how to create jobs, they should stop looking to Washington, D.C. for answers and turn their attention southward to Florida. There, as a means of reducing the state’s higher-than-national-average unemployment rate, Gov. Rick Scott has proposed eliminating job-killing licensing requirements in 20 occupations, ranging from auto repair shops to ballroom dance studios and hair braiders.

But businesses that have long benefited from government-enforced cartels in these occupations aren’t giving up without a fight. The most vocal of those seeking to maintain their protected status are interior designers . . . . [T]he designers’ cartel has hired a high-powered lobbyist to wage an aggressive PR campaign to remove interior design from the should-be deregulated industries.

But what about public health and safety?

The cartel claims all sorts of ills will befall Floridians if the state deregulates interior design. My favorite:

By not allowing interior designers to be specialists and focus on the things they do, what you’re basically doing is contributing to 88,000 deaths every year.

That gem is documented in a St. Petersburg Times news story from Friday. Not to be outdone, another cartel member featured in the article offers this bizarre assertion:

Do you know the color schemes that affect your salivation, your autonomic nervous system?” she said. “You don’t even have correct seating. And somebody chose that for you.

Apparently, cartel members know all about color schemes that affect human salivation, therefore Florida must preserve its interior design cartel.

In reality, however, the cartel has never produced a single shred of evidence to support those bogus health and safety claims. A reporter for NBC-TV Austin who covered a similar cartelization battle in Texas, asked a cartel leader if she could give a single actual example of harm coming from the unlicensed practice of interior design. You have to watch her response, it’s priceless:

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Conservative icon George Will has even weighed in on the issue, along with many other reporters and journalists. In a Washington Post column called Wallpapering With Red Tape, Will writes:

[G]overnment licenses professions to protect the public and ensure quality. It licenses engineers and doctors because if their testable skills are deficient, bridges collapse and patients die. The skills of interior designers are neither similarly measurable nor comparably disastrous when deficient. Perhaps designers could show potential clients a portfolio of their work, and government could trust the potential clients to judge . . . . Thomas Hobbes thought that liberties “depend on the silence of the law.” From lawmakers here, and everywhere else, more silence . . . would be welcome.

The bill that would deregulate 20 occupations in Florida, including interior design, is now before the House now and will soon move to the Senate. If the passes as is, interior designers and their customers will once again be free from anti-competitive government licensing. But if it fails, or if the cartel succeeds in removing interior design from the bill, Florida will remain one of just three states in the nation to regulate the practice of interior design–and a golden opportunity to strike a blow for economic liberty will have be lost.

Do you live in Florida? Is there anything you can do to help make sure that this golden opportunity for economic liberty will not be thwarted by powerful special interests? For more information on this struggle and the nefarious interior design cartel, visit www.ij.org/interiordesign. Please get involved today.

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