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Jewish World Review Sept. 8, 1999 /27 Elul, 5759

Walter Williams

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America, land of restricted opportunity --
LET'S SET THE BACKGROUND with a sampling of sentiments of yesteryear's Supreme Court Justices considered trash by most of today's justices, legal scholars, legislators and politicians in general.

Justice Joseph P. Bradley in the Slaughter-House cases (1873) said, "For the preservation, exercise, and enjoyment of these rights the individual citizens, as a necessity, must be left free to adopt such a calling, profession, or trade as may seem to him most conducive to that end. ... The right to choose one's calling is an essential part of that liberty which is the object of government to protect; and a calling, when chosen, is a man's property and right. Liberty and property are not protected where these rights are arbitrarily assailed."

Justice Rufus W. Peckman in Dent v. West Virginia (1888) said, "The liberty mentioned in that Amendment (Fourteenth) means ... to earn his livelihood by any lawful calling; to pursue any livelihood or avocation."

Justice William O. Douglas in Barsky v. Board of Regents of New York (1954) said, "The right to work, I had assumed, was the most precious liberty that man possesses. Man has indeed as much right to work as he has to live, to be free, to own property. ... The great values of freedom are in the opportunities afforded man to press to new horizons, to pit his strength against the forces of nature, to match skills with his fellow man."

Contrast these sentiments to today's reality. In Las Vegas, John West applied for a license to operate his limousine. After having spent $15,000 and failing to prove that his business would "not unreasonably and adversely affect other carriers," his application was turned down. Nevada's established limousine operators get politicians to keep new entrants out so they can get away with charging higher prices.

In New York, there's been a running battle between "dollar" commuter vans and the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission. Dollar vans emerged in 1980 during the city's transit strike. They operate along fixed routes providing badly needed services in Brooklyn and Queens. But they compete with the city's decrepit bus service. The riding public wants the vans but the Taxi Cab and Limousine Commission, acting on the behalf of New York's Transit Authority and transit workers union, wants them out of business.

Then there are African style hair braiders who operate out of their homes and small shops in predominantly black neighborhoods. Given the style's popularity, hair braiders can earn a good income. However, the cosmetology establishment wants them to complete 1,600 hours of study at state-certified schools at a cost of $5,000 to $7,000. Licensed cosmetologists fear loss of business and cosmetology schools fear the loss of students. They both use government to stifle competition with hair braiders.

Many of these fledgling entrepreneurs are black people who are trying to move up the economic ladder. The good news is that the state-sponsored siege against them is being broken. It's not black politicians and civil rights groups coming to the rescue. They tend to side with the establishment.

Instead, it's the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice. The Institute has produced an excellent record of success. In New York, they've sued successfully on the behalf of the dollar vans. In cities such as Denver and Indianapolis, they've broken long-standing taxi monopolies. Just last week, the Institute won their California challenge where a U.S. District Court found the state's enforcement action against hair braiders unconstitutional. Similar successes have also been won in Washington, D.C., Michigan and Maryland.

It would be great if the Institute for Justice ultimately beats back protectionist economic regulation. But in the meanwhile, we should all give moral encouragement to any person who tries to earn an honest, albeit illegal, living.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate