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Lousy government

In the book The Burden of Bad Ideas, Heather McDonald spends some time on the topic of the New York Times Neediest Cases charity appeal. As a part the appeal, the newspaper highlights a different charity case each day in order to tug at our heartstrings. Her thesis is that the evolution in the types of cases reported by the Times illustrates something important about changes in society. Whereas at the turn of the last century the Times would single out those who were the victims of circumstance -- orphans, those who lost their home in a fire, etc. -- in more recent decades these cases began to be replaced by those who were the "victims" of bad personal choices -- drug abusers, pregnant teenagers, and the like.

But then there's the other sort of case: those who are the victims of government:

She Survived the Khmer Rouge. Now the Language Barrier
That's the headline, but (as is so often the case with the Times) it doesn't reflect the reality of the story. Neary Kiet is a Cambodian immigrant, yes, but she's not a newly-off-the-boat refugee who doesn't speak the language and has no skills. Actually, she has been in the country since 1998, has a "working grasp" of English, and is trained as a hairdresser.

So what's the problem? It's not the economy; she is employed in a salon now. It's not that her skills are poor; in fact, they seem to be fine:

Ms. Kiet proudly shows off her diplomas from USA Beauty School in Chinatown, where she graduated in 2002. She passed her practical exams qualifying her to work on hair, skin and nails.
No, Ms. Kiet's problem is something far more sinister: the government -- the American government, not the Cambodian one -- won't let her work.
She was granted a six-month temporary license which she is allowed to renew twice but she still needs to pass the written New York State Board of Cosmetology exam, which she has failed three times.

Ms. Kiet explained her difficulty: "Like the root of the hair, the cuticle, everyone understands that: `cuticle.' But they have another name for it. And pediculosis. Lice on your head, it's called pediculosis. I thought, `what?' I couldn't understand that name."

Well, I can understand the name (though I don't recall having heard it before); what I can't understand is why anybody would need to know the name in order to be a hairdresser. But, hey, if a salon wants its employees to know the name, fine, that's their business. But why on earth is the government preventing someone from earning a living as a hairdresser simply because she doesn't know it? Since when did hairdresser become a profession from which the public needed to be protected?

Those are rhetorical questions; I know the answers. These sorts of rules may keep Ms. Kiet unemployed, but they provide jobs for many other people: bureaucrats who administer the rules, schools which train people for the exams, companies that develop the exams -- and let's not forget those already in the industry, who face reduced competition thanks to these sorts of barriers to entry. And did I mention bureaucrats?

My point here is not to criticize Ms. Kiet, or the Times' choice in highlighting her situation; she seems like a reasonably worthy cause. Rather, I'm trying to point out how, once again, big government and high taxes work against the public, rather than for us. We have an ambitious immigrant who wants to better herself, who wants to work hard, and the government is interfering. And then the Paul Krugmans of the world rant about the need for even more taxes to fund government to reduce the gap between the rich and poor. As if that's what they're doing with the money.


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Comments (1)

carol in california:

Sorry, but I wouldn't let this woman touch the hair on my head! And, it's not the lack of language skills, but the fact that she probably wouldn't recognize a lot of other stuff that many of us take for granted. She failed this test 3 times?

You think all the questions are that hard?


It's more of a surprise that a woman whose entered a profession that requires a license, and can't get it, doesn't choose to do something else. You mean it's 'Beauty School or Bust?'

I just wish it was about as difficult to get a driver's license! You take your life into your hands to drive a car anywhere near any Chinatown. Think of what it's like the moments after the accident when you meet someone who refuses to admit they understand English. And, who know how to get a lawyer on their cell phone faster than you can get the police to arrive. They even get pre-supplied witnesses. One thing that happens when people learn to play your system.


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