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EDITORIAL: ‘The worst kind of political tribalism’ on display

Updated August 20, 2019 - 9:56 pm

It’s no exaggeration to suggest that if Donald Trump held a press conference to embrace “Medicare for All,” Democrats might trip over each other rushing to disavow their previous support for government-run health care.

After all, how could they agree with a president they so despise?

This same phenomenon was at work over the weekend when ThinkProgress, a hyper-leftist website, weighed in on the issue of government employment licensing.

The number of jobs requiring a state permission slip has increased from about 5 percent in the 1950s to more than 30 percent today, the Institute for Justice reports. The restrictions go beyond merely licensing pilots or doctors in the name of public health or safety. Instead, governments in many areas require certification for landscapers, interior decorators, barbers, cosmetologists, hair braiders, manicurists and scores of other occupations.

The result, in many cases, is a style of protectionism that shields established interests from upstarts.

This has led to growing calls — including from inside the Beltway — to relax such restrictions in the name of promoting opportunity. Occupational licensing reform is a rare issue these days that generates support across the political spectrum. Republicans and libertarians like the idea because it would pare the regulatory state. Progressives and Democrats embrace it because the requirements are particularly stifling for the poor.

But now, this bipartisan consensus may be crumbling.

On Saturday, Josh Israel of ThinkProgress published an essay opposing those who would ease licensing regulations, teasing the piece with a laughable tweet implying that “unlicensed, untrained cosmetologists” represent a dire threat to the republic. This concern for the havoc that a rogue interior designer may wreak on an unsuspecting client’s décor came about as the result of Mr. Israel’s discovery that the evil Koch Brothers and their organization Americans for Prosperity — “a right-wing tax-exempt dark money group bankrolled by petrochemical billionaires,” in Mr. Israel’s words — have spent money endorsing the idea of licensing reform and entrepreneurship. Oh, the humanity!

Reason magazine’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown amply described such lazy thinking. Mr. “Israel displays the worst kind of political tribalism,” she wrote, “in which any idea or policy espoused by those considered enemies is automatically treated as suspect or even evil. If the Kochs support occupational licensing reform, the dictates of tribalism say ThinkProgress cannot. The End.”

ThinkProgress and Mr. Israel are free to argue, of course, in favor of a massive regulatory state under which more and more workers must seek approval from bureaucrats before they’re allowed to earn an honest living. But it’s telling they would sacrifice the “disadvantaged” for whom they deign to speak at the altar of animosity and division.

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