Thursday, January 24, 2008

Felonious massage

There are lots of unfortunate things about the untimely death of Heath Ledger, but what strikes me as especially unjust is the fact that the woman, Ledger's masseuse, who found the actor and notified authorities and his friends of his death may be in hot water because of her role in the case. Check out this passage from the New York Times:

The police said that all five witnesses — Ms. Solomon, Ms. Wolozin, and the three guards summoned by Ms. Olsen — were cooperating with the authorities.

The police said they could not immediately say if Ms. Wolozin was a licensed masseuse. There is no Diana Wolozin listed in the state database of licensed massage therapists. It is a felony to practice massage without a license in New York.

A felony? As if it wasn't ridiculous enough to require people to seek government permission to rub customers' backs, the Empire State actually charges non-compliers with felonies. Ms. Wolozin may face some pretty severe consequences because she chose to draw attention to herself by doing the right thing rather than simply walking away.

If Ms. Wolozin is really digging her knuckles into the sore muscles of her clients without benefit of a state-issued piece of paper, and if authorities choose to make an issue of the matter, she may lose her right to vote (at least temporarily), to own firearms, to hold a liquor license (you need government permission to sell booze, too) and face other restrictions.

And that's in addition to any time served.

Despite spurious claims about protecting the public from incompetents and charlatans, occupational licensing laws have long had more to do with creating barriers to entry into trades and professions and so shielding existing practitioners from competition. That's a fairly well established fact among economists, and a point largely acknowledged by most people, at least when they talk about trades outside of such designated priesthoods as medicine and law. As Professor S. David Young of the European Institute of Business Administration (INSEAD) has written:

A careful analysis of licensing's effects across a broad range of occupations reveals some striking, and strikingly negative, similarities. Occupational regulation has limited consumer choice, raised consumer costs, increased practitioner income, limited practitioner mobility, and deprived the poor of adequate services—all without demonstrated improvements in the quality or safety of the licensed activities.

Why have states required licensing of so many occupations if the results are so counter to consumer interests? Participants in any regulatory process must have a reason for getting involved. Because the number of potential political and legal battles is large, people tend to concentrate on those battles in which their personal stake is high. Because their per capita stakes in the licensing controversy are so much greater than those of consumers, it is professionals who usually determine the regulatory agenda in their domains. Crucial licensing decisions that can affect vast numbers of people are often made with little or no input from the public. If such a process serves the public interest, it is only by happenstance.

With licensing laws representing such bold-faced abuses of state power for private gain, it's especially unconscionable that violating licensing restrictions can have such profoundly dire results as imprisonment and loss of rights.

Yes, Heath Ledger's death is unfortunate -- but the peril in which Diana Wolozin now finds herself may be the most underappreciated part of the matter.



Anonymous Prudence said...

Oh, I didn't know that, though, every Filipino blog that I know must have posted about Heath Ledger's death. Most merely said some stuff about how the actor's life was wasted, etcetera. This is an aspect about the case that I wasn't really aware of. Thanks for posting.

January 24, 2008 9:50 AM  
Blogger Fred said...

Yeah, first I'd heard of this part of it.

January 25, 2008 7:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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March 18, 2009 11:45 PM  

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