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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Haircuts for the Homeless: The Latest Public Menace

The government prefers cronyism to genuine human kindness.

There is something especially immoral about a government that punishes a person for giving back to their community. Unfortunately, this cruel trend is becoming all too common, as one Tucson resident is now learning firsthand.

Montesdeoca’s only real “crime” was not asking the government for permission.

Stranger than Fiction

When local news spread about a cosmetology student being investigated for giving free haircuts to the homeless, many people expected to find some shocking twist revealed in the fine print. Surely, this student must have done something truly monstrous to warrant an official state investigation.

But instead of the story taking a Sweeney Todd-esque twist, it turned out that Juan Carlos Montesdeoca was just a generous cosmetology student trying to help the less fortunate in his community. His only real “crime” was not asking the government for permission beforehand.

A Noble Deed

Montesdeoca had extra time on his hands after his cosmetology school unexpectedly closed its doors a few months ago. Not wanting to lose the momentum he had built while in school, Montesdeoca decided to continue practicing his trade while also lending a hand to his fellow man.

For the homeless recipients of Montesdeoca’s generosity, this was the first haircut they had received in months. One woman even stressed that she had gone seven months without so much as a trim.

The state went out of its way to penalize Montesdeoca.

Every Sunday, Montesdeoca would visit his friends and offer to wash and cut their hair. This was especially significant to these individuals since even a simple shampooing was enough to help restore some of the dignity they had lost while living on the street.

After being chastised by passersby on a daily basis, many begin to feel disconnected from society. Having this human interaction was as good for morale as it was for their hair. Montesdeoca understood this plight all too well, as he too, had been homeless in the past.

Send in the Goons

Instead of applauding the efforts of Montesdeoca, who had also been experiencing rough times since the closure of his school, the state went out of its way to penalize him. Apparently, protecting the cosmetology industry is more important than promoting human kindness, at least in the eyes of the local government.

When the Arizona Cosmetology Board discovered that Montesdeoca was cutting hair without a license, they immediately put a stop to his “criminal” conduct.

Cosmetology is, unfortunately, just one of the many industries heavily burdened with protectionism in the form of occupational licensing.

Occupational licensing rigs the game against hardworking individuals.

True market competition terrifies established industries that have gotten too comfortable in their specialized fields and now refuse to innovate. The taxi industry’s constant campaign for stricter regulations on the ridesharing market is a perfect example of this.

Unwilling to participate in the market process, these trade cartels spend money pressuring local politicians into passing laws that protect their companies from actually having to compete. In other words: it’s cronyism at its finest.

Occupational licensing rigs the game against hardworking individuals, who, as a result, are the ones who end up paying the highest price.  

A Slap in the Face, Not on The Wrist

Since Montesdeoca has not completed his cosmetology training, he does not yet have a license to practice his trade. While he has not received any compensation in exchange for practicing cosmetology without a license, giving free haircuts to the homeless still somehow constitutes a violation of the state’s laws.

The board has now opened up an investigation into Montesdeoca’s “criminal” behavior and has also moved to proactively suspend his cosmetology license. When Montesdeoca finally does complete his training someday, it won’t matter since the board has already suspended a license he doesn’t yet have.

The board claims that its primary concern in this matter is the health and safety of the homeless community. Without a proper license, the board worries that Montesdeoca may not have practiced proper hygiene with his “clients.”

However, this claim seems unlikely, since no one in that particular governing body seemed too worried about any of the other unsanitary conditions so inherent to life on the street. Instead, they focused their attention on Montesdeoca, shutting down an act of charity in the name of cronyism.

After learning about the board’s insensitive response to Montesdeoca’s actions, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey released a strongly worded letter saying:

“‘Very unfortunate’ is an understatement. I find this outrageous, and I call on you to end your investigation, save Mr. Montesdeoca the inconvenience of having to travel to Phoenix to appear before your body, and waive any fees or penalties the cosmetology board is considering against him.”

Appalled that the board would threaten to ruin Montesdeoca’s career before it even begins, Governor Ducey was livid when he learned that the board was taking any action aside from applauding this young man for his charitable deeds. 

Governor Ducey ended his letter to the board by reminding them that their duty is to serve the people of Arizona and not the cosmetology industry. 

“Our job as public servants is to support Arizonans in their efforts to better their own lives—and certainly in their efforts to improve the lives of others.”


  • Brittany is a writer for the Pacific Legal Foundation. She is a co-host of “The Way The World Works,” a Tuttle Twins podcast for families.