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Those intricate hair-braiding styles sported by black girls, and sadly enough by some black guys, can fetch a price as high as $200. But most of the hair-braiding industry is underground. In New York state, to practice hair braiding legally, one must attend no less than 900 hours of costly cosmetology classes. In California, North Carolina and Massachusetts, it's 1,600, 1,500 and 1,000 hours respectively. What's taught in these classes has little or nothing to do with braiding.

In order to operate a taxi in New York, you need a chauffeur's license ($20 annually) and successful completion of classes ranging from 14 hours to 80 hours, depending on proficiency in English and map reading. That's the easy part. If you want to own your taxi, you must buy a medallion (license) that costs $175,000. If you can't afford that, you can lease a vehicle from someone who has a medallion for $450 to $650 per week.Let's do one more. New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) runs a bus service that not only provides poor service but runs at a loss as high as $3.94 per passenger. Enterprising black residents of Brooklyn, Queens and Harlem have gotten permits to purchase and operate "dollar" vans to pick up passengers along fixed routes, such as from a shopping plaza to a train or bus stop. In one 18-month period, 18,000 citations were issued to vans for offenses such as picking up or discharging passengers at or near bus stops.

In these cases, and many others, entrepreneurial people try to start a business, and state and local governments throttle their efforts. Why? Incumbent cosmetologists don't want competition from hair braiders. A neat way to forestall that competition is to get politicians to write laws that make legal entry costly. It's the same with taxi medallion holders. If the license to own a taxi costs $175,000, there will be fewer owners. Those who are already in can charge higher prices and render shoddier services. The MTA and the bus drivers unions don't want to face the customer losses if vans are free to provide more flexible services.

I don't know how you feel, but I think this is a rotten, mean-spirited, despicable use of government. Some people want to start a business, and others use state police powers to thwart their dreams.

Poor people, who want to get into these and other businesses ideal for those with modest means, have an advocate. It's not the NAACP, Jesse Jackson or Ted Kennedy; it's the Institute for Justice, based in Washington, D.C. It has already broken up taxi monopolies in Denver, Indianapolis and Cincinnati and deregulated hair braiding in Washington.

Poor people don't need welfare. They need government to leave them alone to find their own solutions. After all, that's how millions of other poor people made it before the advent of the welfare state.