We guess we never really gave any thought to the ridiculous notion of having to license barbers before now. It's not like licensing barbers has done a single thing to curtail the number of truly horrible haircuts we have seen over the years.
The government licensing and regulation of barbers, like other hair stylists, is driven by the self-interest of the profession. Licenses restrict entry and reduce competition, enabling those with licenses to capture more rents. This is actually the case with most licensing regimes, even those that appear to serve a greater public interest than barber licenses. Though I doubt Yglesias would go this far, I would argue that it’s rare that a licensing regime of this sort is put in place without the support of those who stand to benefit economically, and that many public spirited rationales, including health and safety, are a smokescreen.
This is really no different than what major beer and wine makers and distributors are attempting to do by further regulating how it is that beer and wine can be purchased and distributed. Nor is it any different than casket makers in Louisiana putting the squeeze on a small group of monks who make simple, understated caskets (We covered both situations here and here).
Beer, wine, caskets and bad haircuts, regulated all and for what benefit to the consumer and to society as a whole?