I could probably start a blog just featuring ridiculous government licensing practices. As I have written before, licensing generally has little to do with the consumer, and more to do with protecting current incumbents from competition. Via Radley Balko, this is one of the uglier examples I have seen of late:
Mary Jo Pletz was really, really good at eBay. But now the former
stay-at-home mother and gonzo Internet retailer fears a maximum $10
million fine for selling 10,000 toys, antiques, videos, sports
memorabilia, books, tools and infant clothes on eBay without an
An official from the Department of State knocked on Pletz's
white-brick ranch here north of Allentown in late December 2006 and
said her Internet business, D&J Virtual Consignment, was being
investigated for violating state laws....
The 33-year-old opened her Internet business in 2004 so she could
stay home with her 6-month-old daughter, Julia, who was diagnosed with
a hypothalamic hamartoma brain tumor.
She cooperated when told it was illegal and works at dental offices
in Allentown, Bethlehem and Lehighton as a hygienist to help pay the
bills at home. Julia, whose health stabilized on medication, is
enrolled in day care. Pletz also has a son, Douglas, 7.
But the state has not dropped prosecution. It sent Pletz a complaint in
April and an amended complaint in December. The complaint says she
could be fined $1,000 for each violation of the state law. The April
complaint noted 10,000 sales. Pletz and her attorney, Joseph V. Sebelin
Jr. of Palmerton, did the math - $10 million in possible fines. The
second complaint does not list a number....
Because of the complaint, Pletz worries the state also could revoke
her dental hygienist's license, which she earned by attending community
college for seven years at night.
"I really wish that they will walk away from that one and prosecute
somebody else," said State Rep. Michael Sturla (D., Lancaster), who is
chairman of the House Professional Licensure Committee. "There is every
reason in the world that if she is found guilty, she should be
exonerated," he said.
This latter is the most outrageous of all, and it is a line taken by a number of public officials -- that the concept of prosecuting people who are selling things on eBay is just fine, but they should not have started with someone who has less sympathetic. Maybe Exxon has an eBay arm.
Sturla has proposed the bill to create the electronic auctioneer's
license. The license would require the Internet seller to buy a $5,000
bond for about $40 a year. This would protect consumers, he said.
Bull. This would protect competitors. eBay has numerous controls in place to identify problem sellers.
D&J Virtual Consignment had 11,000 feedback comments on eBay
and 14 were negative, Pletz said, giving her a 99.9 percent
I can say from experience that for some reason they must teach this in
government school -- when in doubt, make service businesses get a
This is not unique - Ohio tried to do the same thing. But why is a person who sells on eBay an auctioneer at all? Isn't eBay the auctioneer? If I turn my stuff over to Christies to auction off, setting a reserve price in advance and having them take a sales commission, how is that any different than putting the same stuff on eBay. In Ms. Pletz case, eBay is earning the auction commission. She is just taking a retail margin.