Note: the following post grew out of an update to this post -- I have not pulled it out into its own post.
I resisted the call by a number of web sites at the beginning of the year to make predictions for 2005. However, now I will make one: We will soon see calls to bring a tighter licensing or credentialing system for journalists, similar to what we see for lawyers, doctors, teachers, and, god help us, for beauticians. The proposals will be nominally justified by improving ethics or similar laudable things, but, like most credentialing systems, will be aimed not at those on the inside but those on the outside. At one time or another, teachers, massage therapists, and hairdressers have all used licensing or credentialing as a way to fight competition from upstart competitors, often ones with new business models who don't have the same trade-specific educational degrees the insiders have. As Milton Friedman said:
The justification offered [for licensing] is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.
Such credentialing can provide a powerful comeback for industry insiders under attack. Teachers, for example, use it every chance they get to attack home schooling and private schools, despite the fact that uncertified teachers in both these latter environments do better than the average certified teacher (for example, kids home schooled by moms who dropped out of high school performed at the 83rd percentile). So, next time the MSM is under attack from the blogosphere, rather than address the issues, they can say that that guy in Tennessee is just a college professor and isn't even a licensed journalist.
Fortunately, this effort will fail, in part because it is fighting the tide of history and in part because constitutional speech protections would probably invalidate any strong form of licensing (I wish there were similarly strong commerce protections in the Constitution). Be careful, though, not to argue that this proposal will fail because the idea is stupid, because it can't be any more stupid than this form of licensing (or this one; or this one). Here are the various trade-specific licenses you need here in Scottsdale - I would hate to see the list for some place like Santa Monica. My favorite is the one that says "An additional license is required for those firms which are going out of business."