Writing my screed against the AMA’s ridiculous price-setting cabal got me thinking. Is there a single example of a profession that self-regulates in a way that’s good for society as a whole, as opposed to protecting the interests of the members of that profession at the expense of everyone else? Liberals often slam industries when they talk about a desire to “self-regulate.” Why shouldn’t we be skeptical of the same claims from professional associations? Doctors (with their labor theory of value) and lawyers (with their billable hours) are just the most pernicious examples of professions that have structured their compensation in ways that are deeply harmful to the public interest.
Of course, with government regulation, you run the risk of industry capture—professions can and do simply petition the government to enact regulations that only serve the interests of their members—requiring interior designer licenses, for example. But self-regulation has no chance of working for anything other than the professionals’ self-interest. So it seems like government regulation at least gives you the chance of a result that serves the greater good. People and industries do not consistently act against their self-interest. So if an industry or a profession or a person’s self-interest runs contrary to the public good, there’s a case for changing the law and instituting penalties that change that calculus.