A Twisted Tale

You'd hardly expect to find a ghetto teenager running her own business. But that's exactly what Monique Landers was doing. Until the government shut her down. Monique received training through the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, an organization that helps ghetto teenagers start businesses. Teens who might otherwise be dealing drugs or having welfare babies are instead learning how to develop a business plan and market a product. The foundation has taught ghetto teens to become desktop publishers, baby sitters, and stereo component installers. Monique, who lives in Wichita, started a business washing and braiding hair. With family members and friends as customers, she founded an enterprise called "A Touch of Class" and was soon earning $100 per month in profits. She was even honored by the foundation as one of the five Outstanding High School Entrepreneurs. Considering the odds against kids like Monique, you'd think everyone would be thrilled about her achievement. But the government wasn't happy at all. Columnist Walter Williams reports that the Kansas State Cosmetology Board ordered Monique to close shop. The board warned that it is illegal for her to touch anyone's hair for a profit without a license—and that if she did not stop immediately she would be subject to "a fine or imprisonment in the county jail or both." The trouble is that getting a license is quite a barrier for an impoverished teenager. It requires one year of cosmetology school, costing anywhere from $2,500 to $5,500. That's if you can find a school that teaches cornrow braiding, which is rare. Even then, the minimum age for a license is 17. Monique is 15. It makes you wonder why licensing laws exist in the first place. Licensing makes sense in high-skill professions like doctors or dentists, when we put our life and health in someone else's hands. But low-skill jobs like braiding don't involve any health hazards. The real effect of licensing in these jobs is to shut the poor out of economic competition. In the case of Monique, more than 100 cosmetologists went howling to the cosmetology board to complain. Were they concerned about the safety of their customers? Or about losing customers? The answer is obvious. In his book Prosperity and Poverty, Cal Beisner argues that licensing for low-skill jobs effectively blocks the poor from climbing onto the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. And when that happens, Beisner argues, licensing laws actually violate the Eighth Commandment against stealing. You see, taken in a broad sense, stealing means anything that prevents us from making legitimate use of our property—not just physical property but also our human capital: skills, time, and motivation. Preventing people from using their human capital to earn a living is unjust. It's morally equivalent to taking money out of their pockets after they've earned it. So Christians who want to help the poor should think beyond giving to charity. We should also work against unnecessary laws that block the poor from climbing out of poverty. And maybe we should think about creating our own programs for turning poor teens into productive entrepreneurs.


Chuck Colson


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