The Salem witchcraft trials redux

In the 1600s, Salem put people in trial for being witches.  Today we are much more enlightened; Salem puts people on trial for not being honest-to-God, actual witches.  Or something like that.  In the comment section of my previous post Niklas Blanchard (I wish he was still blogging) reminded me that my impoverished imagination is incapable of dreaming up any absurd analogy that is too far-fetched to be true:

Starting this week, fortune tellers in Warren, Mich., must be fingerprinted and pay an annual fee of $150 “” plus $10 for a police background check “” to practice their craft. The new rules are among America’s strictest on palmists, fortune readers and other psychics, part of a growing push to regulate a business that has never been taken, or overseen, very seriously. But officials in Warren, a town of 138,000 near Detroit, say it’s time to weed out tricksters. “We had no mechanism of enforcement to protect people against unsavory characters,” Warren city-council member Keith Sadowski says. “We want to be sure there is some recourse in case we do get somebody who is not legitimate.” . . .

Three years ago, Salem, Mass., famous for its 17th century witch trials “” and something of a magnet for spiritual artisans “” tightened its rules on background checks for psychics while easing its cap on the number of local fortune tellers allowed in town. . . .

Not all psychics fear tougher government oversight. “I think it’s wonderful,” Julia Mary Cox, a Michigan psychic plying her craft near Warren, says of the town’s new rules. “There are so many people practicing out there, doing it under false pretenses, giving honest people a bad name.” But she concedes she wishes Warren’s new rules could more clearly separate true fortune tellers from false seers. “They are not looking at any training,” she notes. “I have a college degree, I have a background in religion and philosophy and English, and I have experience doing this.”

So I’d like to amend my previous post.  Any insinuation that the government is inconsistent in applying its “principles” is hereby retracted.  The SEC is just following a long and venerable tradition in American regulation.

PS.  Add one more to my American freak show post.

PPS.  Mark, is Keith any relation?



23 Responses to “The Salem witchcraft trials redux”

  1. Gravatar of gwern gwern
    7. September 2015 at 07:47

    > “They are not looking at any training,” she notes. “I have a college degree, I have a background in religion and philosophy and English, and I have experience doing this.”

    And people say college doesn’t teach useful skills. Take that, signaling theorists!

  2. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    7. September 2015 at 08:18

    Even the Obama CEA knows this is a problem;

    Research shows that by imposing additional requirements on people seeking to enter licensed professions, licensing can reduce total employment in the licensed professions.

    …. Licensing laws also lead to higher prices for goods and services, with research showing effects on prices of between 3 and 16 percent. Moreover, in a number of other studies licensing did not increase the quality of goods and services, suggesting that consumers are sometimes paying higher prices without getting improved goods or services.

  3. Gravatar of nickik nickik
    7. September 2015 at 08:35

    I happen to be professional fortune teller evaluater. For only 500$ I will perform a evaluation that can figure out who is a true fortune teller.

  4. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    7. September 2015 at 08:36

    In Maryland, it’s been litigated, and criminal fines have been imposed, on fortune tellers that tell their customers that they have a “hex” on them, that can only be cured by giving the fortune teller money. Fortune tellers have been prosecuted by the state for doing this, as of at least 25 years ago, more than once.

    Source: Washington Post articles over the years I’ve read while living in DC.

  5. Gravatar of ChargerCarl ChargerCarl
    7. September 2015 at 10:05

    Just another example of how insane American local governments are.

    This is one of the reason I find conservatives so frustrating. 99% of government abuse is local, yet they spend all their energy raging at the Feds.

  6. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    7. September 2015 at 10:56

    You’re not being pragmatic, Sumner.

    Regulations aren’t going away any time soon, so why try to fight the inevitable? Socialism is as inexorable as a law of nature.

    Perhaps you should cease trying to advocate for your ideal, and instead jump on board the NGDPLT (National Gross Domestic Palm-reading Legitimacy Targeting) party train.

    After all, the very long term trends show that there is a significantly positive correlation between overall regulations, and material standards of living.

  7. Gravatar of Edward Edward
    7. September 2015 at 12:01

    Via Paul krugman, a report by the EPI on divergence from wages and productivity.
    I KNOW you’ll have something to say. After all income inequality is meaningless, right? 🙂

  8. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    7. September 2015 at 12:13

    “PPS. Mark, is Keith any relation?”

    No, other than my brother, and an aged aunt in Arizona/Colorado, I have no immediate relatives in the US.

    P.S. Incidentally, a Stanislaus Sadowski was among the first eight Poles to arrive in the new world (Jamestown, Virginia, in 1608).

  9. Gravatar of Dots Dots
    7. September 2015 at 12:16

    There r scumbags and there r dupes, and their contact might b very dangerous

    I am willing to accept some inefficiency here

  10. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    7. September 2015 at 12:20


    “This is one of the reason I find conservatives so frustrating. 99% of government abuse is local, yet they spend all their energy raging at the Feds.”

    Local governments are easier to keep in check. Federal government is almost impossible to keep in check.

    It is frustrating that a blind eye is being put on both. You the Feds, and the conservatives the local.

  11. Gravatar of Dots Dots
    7. September 2015 at 12:21

    sorry for double post, but I want to mention that I’d still prefer deregulation

  12. Gravatar of benjamin cole benjamin cole
    7. September 2015 at 15:26

    So why license lawyers?
    And surely a BA in law and civics should be enough to start a career….

    I do have one pro-regulation comment. I am in favor of decriminalizing push-cart vending, which evidently is legal almost nowhere in urban America. Egads, think of the positives for those who want to enterprise without $250k to open up leased restaurant…

    But there would have to be some regulations, such as the maximum size of a cart, & a license.

    Why a license? A simple fee and license would allow the city to yank someone’s license who chronically makes a nuisance of himself.

    This may be what the city of Warren is after. They plan to yank the license of those who use their “psychic abilities” in fact to steal money from gullible clients.

    Or they just may be a bunch of lulu’s in Warren.

  13. Gravatar of benjamin cole benjamin cole
    7. September 2015 at 15:36

    And remember, when a city regulates wages, such as having a local minimum wage, that is very bad.

    But when the city regulates land use, and has vast swathes of land that are mandated single-family detached (sometimes with minimum acreage specified) that is good regulation.

  14. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    7. September 2015 at 20:10

    The Fed vs local or state government debate is a good one: the growth in employment in government has been at the state level since 1960 (Fed employment is mostly flat since then) but the growth in debt is at the Fed level (many states have balanced budget constitutions). Also state/local government is less lethal due to the Tiebout model (Google this).

  15. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. September 2015 at 05:06

    Edward, Income inequality is meaningless. But that post doesn’t discuss income inequality, it discusses wage inequality, which is much more meaningful.

    Mark, That’s good to hear. 🙂

  16. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    8. September 2015 at 09:16

    I notice that none of them have walked away with James Randi’s $1 million. What else do you need to know?

  17. Gravatar of Doug M Doug M
    8. September 2015 at 09:19

    An argument for licensed psychics. I know someone who was “unwell.” He went to a psychic, who told him that it was his money that was making him sick.

    It is one thing for a psychic to sell you her services for entertainment purposes, but when it turns to outright theft, some sort of licensing would give a chance to track down the grifters.

  18. Gravatar of Chuck E Chuck E
    8. September 2015 at 10:09

    I just received an application for a Business License in Addison IL, which also requires fingerprinting, police background check and fee. Plus, you agree to allow random inspections of your facilities. This is for ANY kind of business within the Village limits. I declined to participate and I am waiting to see if I get a citation. They did not require this when I first moved here.

  19. Gravatar of TallDave TallDave
    8. September 2015 at 10:13

    O/T: China trade looks bad today. China’s import/export activity seems to be falling back to 2011/2013 levels while corporate profits are flat to declining. Is it really plausible they’re growing at even 5% this year?

  20. Gravatar of ThomasH ThomasH
    8. September 2015 at 21:37

    This points to the need to make new and existing regulations pass a cost/benefit test. What is the harm that the regulation seeks to avoid? What is the most cost effective remedy whose cost is less than the harm being addressed.

  21. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. September 2015 at 07:07

    Doug, You really think that “regulation” is going to protect your friend? If you want to make grifting illegal, that’s certainly a respectable argument (what was done to him is probably already illegal, as it’s a sort of fraud.) But regulation won’t fix this problem.

    TallDave, Yes it is plausible. I think growth will be higher, as (probably) do the markets. See my new post on China.

  22. Gravatar of Doug M Doug M
    9. September 2015 at 12:46

    Regulation is a barrier to entry. If it is your intent to run a con, then you are going to have to put more work into it.

  23. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    10. September 2015 at 10:05

    Regulation also makes consumers overconfident, making it easier to run a con.

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