Elias Zarate learned the hard way that nothing, including cutting hair, is too small to be regulated by government.

Zarate had picked up the art of cutting hair while working in his uncle's barber shop as a youngster. Zarate had landed a job  in a trendy barbershop in Memphis.

Zarate seems to have been handy with the scissors, but for the state of Tennessee that is not all barbering requires: there has to be a license. And getting the license requires a high school diploma or GED.

As Eric Boehm explains in an article at Reason, the license that Zarate had bought was fake. Zarate had been duped. So Zarate was in big trouble when the "hair cop" showed up.

Boehm describes what happened to Zarate after Jerry Biddle, field inspector from the Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners, spotted the fake license:  

Biddle's report of the incident is straightforward. He entered the barbershop. He witnessed Zarate cutting hair. He checked Zarate's license. It was not valid. He questioned Zarate, who admitted that he'd never been to barbering school.

It was a run-of-the-mill investigation and an open-and-shut violation of Tennessee Cosmetology Act code 62-4-108: "person without a valid license practicing."

There's nothing in the report—nor in other legal documents that eventually became part of Zarate's case—that suggests any concern about the 28-year-old's skills with scissors and a razor, or that indicates Zarate had done anything to put customers at risk. It's a simple matter of not having the right paperwork.

There are professions that should require an extensive licensing process. Brain surgery and cardiology spring readily to mind.

But cutting hair? We all know how upsetting a bad haircut can be, but it will grow out and you can go somewhere else for the next trim, right? And, while I am an advocate of graduating from high school, I must confess I've had good hair cuts from people who don't share my enthusiasm for Chaucer and Wordsworth. On the face of it then, barbering doesn't seem to be in need of government regulation.

In reality, as Mr. Zarate's ordeal shows, the government is very active in determining who can cut hair:

"They put fear in you. You know, they make you feel like they're going to come get you and put you in jail," says Zarate. "I just felt like I was dealing with the police."

And that was just the beginning of his ordeal. After dealing with the barbering police, he had to face the barbering courts.

The citation he received on January 18 required Zarate to appear before an administrative judge at a formal hearing of the state Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners in Nashville. With no previous experience in dealing with state licensing boards or navigating the quasi-judicial workings within them, Zarate assumed the hearing would clear up some of his confusion about what he had to do to get a legitimate license.

The hearing went quite differently. He didn't have an attorney, and because it was an administrative hearing, he wasn't provided one. In all other ways, it was essentially a trial. There was a judge, a set of witnesses (including Biddle), and evidence filed by the state.

"I thought it was to tell me what I'd done wrong or how to go about getting my license or getting right with the state," he says. "Once I got there, though, it was a full-on case against me. They slaughtered me."

He was hit with a $1,500 penalty, followed by $600 in additional fees that included court costs, attorneys' fees, and the expense of the investigation that had busted him for the fake license. There was no information about how to get licensed correctly. The state didn't want to help him. It just wanted money

Mr. Zarate was concerned about paying these fines, seeing as how he no longer had a job. With a new wife, who was expecting a child, Zarate was eager to set things right with the state and get a license to barber. So he began contacting barbering schools in the Memphis area. That is when Zarate, who had dropped out of high school in the 12th grade, discovered that a high school diploma or a GED was required merely to take barbering courses.

Let that sink in: you can't be a barber in Tennessee without having completed high school. Boehm writes: :

[Tennessee's barbering license requirement] is also a policy with no justification except protectionism. Cutting hair well does not require knowledge of trigonometry or a careful study of the meaning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Proper sanitation for the equipment used by licensed barbers—the only thing that could remotely be considered a reason for government to intervene in the process of determining who can be a barber—could be, and indeed is, taught during the mandatory training that all barber licensing applicants must complete in Tennessee. It is not taught in Tennessee high schools, for obvious reasons.

Classic. Tennessee's 2015 bill that requires stringent licensing for barbering was advocated by the cosmetology industry, which sought to "compete" not by offering the best services but by putting the competition out of business through government regulations.

Tennesee's barbering licensing is particularly stringent and thus an outlier. But it shows how much of the regulation of businesses that really don't need to be stringently regulated works and why the regulation was mandated in the first place.

It has nothing to do with safety or services provided and everything to do with established enterprises demanding to be protected from competition.