Thursday, April 26, 2012
Chapter 90, Article 25 of the North Carolina General Statutes makes it a misdemeanor to "practice dietetics or nutrition" without a license. According to the law, "practicing" nutrition includes "assessing the nutritional needs of individuals and groups" and "providing nutrition counseling."The story sees the obvious problem with freedom of speech in this case, but misses the more insidious problem with licensing in general:
Steve Cooksey has learned that the definition, at least in the eyes of the state board, is expansive.
When he was hospitalized with diabetes in February 2009, he decided to avoid the fate of his grandmother, who eventually died of the disease. He embraced the low-carb, high-protein Paleo diet, also known as the "caveman" or "hunter-gatherer" diet. The diet, he said, made him drug- and insulin-free within 30 days. By May of that year, he had lost 45 pounds and decided to start a blog about his success.
"If people are writing you with diabetic specific questions and you are responding, you are no longer just providing information -- you are counseling," [Charla Burill, Director of the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition] wrote. "You need a license to provide this service."There is no reason consonant with the government's proper function of protecting individual rights for the government to restrict what individual citizens say or to whom they say it. That is, barring instances in which what someone says violates the rights of others (e.g., slander or fraud), it shouldn't be against the law, period, for anyone to say anything, including offering advice of any kind. People who hear advice have free will and minds of their own: They can accept or reject what they hear, and simply offering advice, good or bad, doesn't pick their pockets or break their legs.
The board also found fault with a page titled "My Meal Plan," where Cooksey details what he eats daily.
In red, Burril writes, "It is acceptable to provide just this information [his meal plan], but when you start recommending it directly to people you speak to or who write you, you are now providing diabetic counseling, which requires a license."
On top of this, as John Stossel recently pointed out, the whole idea of the government relieving consumers of the need to think for themselves is bunk for several reasons. (Regarding the Stossel piece, I noted, too, that such "protection" does far more harm than any charlatan can by paving the road for them -- by putting people to sleep.)
It is also worth noting something that Brian Phillips, author of Individual Rights and Government Wrongs, has pointed out about licensing:
[I]n Texas a licensing law was passed that requires computer-repair technicians to obtain a criminal justice degree or serve a three-year apprenticeship under a licensed private investigator...I do not follow the "Paleo" diet (and, like science blogger John Cook, object to the nonsense often used to advocate it), but I do agree with many of its advocates that the government actively encourages unhealthy eating habits with its various guidelines and regulations. Not only does North Carolina's licensing law bar entry of would-be nutritionists into professional practice, it does so at the cost of harming the consumers it is supposed to be protecting: probably by institutionalizing bad advice, and certainly by lulling people into not thinking about nutrition, eliminating choice from the market, and, worst of all, by violating freedom of speech.
Consider what this might mean in your life if you live in Texas. Suppose that your teenage neighbor offers to repair your computer. You know he is competent because he has built several computers for himself. You agree to hire him on terms that are mutually acceptable. The state of Texas however, would consider your neighbor a criminal because he has not obtained the required criminal justice degree. Who would be harmed by such a transaction? Not you. Not your neighbor. Not most of the other twenty-five million people who live in Texas and know nothing of your transaction. The only people "harmed" would be those computer technicians who do not want to compete in a free market. Restricting entry into a profession, and the higher incomes that result for those who are licensed, is the real motivation behind occupational licensing.
Licensing laws are an evil, freedom-violating cancer that must be abolished.