Billie Holiday on Occupational Licensing
By Bryan Caplan
Billie Holiday, arguably the greatest jazz vocalist of all time, was also a heroin addict. After serving her first prison term for narcotics possession, she endured further punishment at the hands of the nation’s occupational licensing system. From her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues:
Before you can work in a joint where liquor is sold you have to have a permit from the police department and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. This is a life-and-death matter. According to the law, which must be a hangover from the days of prohibition, nobody who has a police record can hold a liquor license…
When I got out of jail they threw the book at me. My application for a cabaret card was turned down flat. Without a card no one would hire me, and there was no place I could work in New York – not if they sold juice there.
I could play in theaters and sing to an audience of kids in their teens who couldn’t get in any bar. I could appear on radio or TV… But if I opened my mouth in the crummiest bar in town, I was violating the law…
That’s how screwy the setup is. The right to work everybody screams about doesn’t mean a damn. If I had been a booster or a petty thief I’d have the parole board helping me to get a job so I could go straight and keep straight. But as a singer, the parole board couldn’t do a thing for me. It was out of their hands.
More on the evils of occupational licensing here.
P.S. Broken link fixed.