Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway revival We roll along happily has received critical acclaim and rewritten the musical’s previous status as a commercial flop. But without some recent changes to New York City’s licensing laws, the performance I saw could have resulted in huge fines for the show’s star, Daniel Radcliffe.
In the last few months of the year, casts often raise money after the final curtain call for Broadway Cares, an AIDS charity. After the show I attended at the end of October, it took the surprising form of an auction. Radcliffe, the former Harry Potter star and the new one Cheerful lead, returned to the stage and urged the audience to submit dozens of live bids for a signed prop from the musical’s off-Broadway run. The winner paid $1,600.
Until last year, that simple bit of fundraising would have been illegal without a special permission form from the city government. Without an auctioneer’s license, he would have faced fines of hundreds of dollars.
Thanks to New York City, auctioneers are no longer licensed Local legislation 80which came into effect in June 2022. The law repealed many restrictions on small businesses, including not only mandatory licensing for auctioneers (which has been in place since the 1980s), but also licensing for arcades and laundries.
Auctions still require a license in 27 states and the District of Columbia (in addition to numerous municipalities). According to License to operateAccording to a national report from my employer, the public interest law firm the Institute for Justice, it can cost up to $800 in fees and more than a year of unpaid internship experience and coursework to secure one of those licenses. Since 2017, nine states have doubled their revenue by increasing costs, time or other burdens on aspiring auctioneers.
That’s just one of many professions where licensing requirements can be both nonsensical and extreme. The Institute for Justice study examined 102 blue-collar and/or lower-income occupations and found that on average, these clearances to work require almost a year of training and experience, at least one exam and $295 in fees. That’s a lot of time and money spent on earning a license instead of making a living, especially for lower-income workers—and that doesn’t even include hidden costs like tuition for required training.
Many low-risk jobs require a lot of training. In fact, 71 occupations in the survey require more training than entry-level emergency medical technicians. On average, EMTs require about 36 days of training, as opposed to 342 days for cosmetologists. And 88 percent of the occupations included in the report have been unlicensed by at least one state – and 14 have had their licenses revoked by at least one state – indicating that these jobs can be safely performed without a license.
Supporters of licensing say it is necessary to protect consumers. But even the fiercest defenders of NYC’s former auction regime acknowledge that there are no similar regulations in comparable cities such as London or Hong Kong. And the end of New York’s auction licensing system did not lead to chaos. A spokesperson for Christie’s, one of the industry leaders, told The Art Newspaper last year that the auction house would maintain its own ethical standards and simply “continue to operate as we always have.” If adequate standards and ethics already exist in the private sector, there is no need for a government licensing system.
Numerous other laws already regulate sales transactions and protect against fraud. Licensing has little to do with protecting consumers; instead, it mainly protects existing companies from competition by blocking new entrants into the market.
Cheerful is about the obstacles people face on the long road to success. That road will become even longer and bumpier if the government adds additional challenges. Fortunately, New Yorkers – and visiting Brits, like Radcliffe – are now free to hold auctions Cheerful‘s fundraiser without fear of government retaliation.