Regulating Yoga?

Regulate yoga? Oh my, they want to regulate yoga? How could anyone want to impose rules and regulations on something as lovely and groovy as…yoga?

From the New York Times: Yoga Faces Regulation, and Firmly Pushes Back

Citing laws that govern vocational schools, like those for hairdressers and truck drivers, regulators have begun to require licenses for yoga schools that train instructors, with all the fees, inspections and paperwork that entails. While confrontations have played out differently in different states, threats of shutdowns and fines have, in some cases, been met with accusations of power grabs and religious infringement — disputes that seem far removed from the meditative world yoga calls to mind….

The rationale for regulation? Well, ostensibly, it’s consumer protection:

Regulators said licensing the schools would allow states to enforce basic standards and protect customers who usually spend $2,000 to $5,000 on training courses, not to mention provide revenue for cash-starved governments. “If you’re going to start a school and take people’s money, you should play by a set of rules…”

Now at least some of the opposition to regulation is off-base. The notion of “forcing [an] ancient tradition to conform to Western business practices” isn’t silly at all if by “Western business practices” you mean record-keeping and assuring customers of quality and if that ancient tradition is being used as a way to make money.

The “playing by a set of rules” thing sounds great — except that, as businesses, yoga schools are of course already bound by a set of rules, namely the set of rules that govern commercial transactions more generally. The question at hand is whether you need a regulatory structure specific to yoga. On that matter, the NYT story isn’t all that helpful (i.e., the people interviewed for the story aren’t that helpful). I’m a big fan of regulation where it serves to protect customers. But in all but the most dangerous of situations, I’m also a fan of waiting to see a problem actually happen, before leaping in to fix it.
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Thanks to Wn for this story.

5 comments so far

  1. Matt Zwolinski on

    The more likely rationale: rent-seeking. It’s an old story: established entrants in a market seek to close off new competitors by imposing costly barriers to entry, thereby reducing competition and gaining some margin of monopoly power. As best as I can tell from an outsider’s perspective, there’s a fair amount of consensus in economics regarding the explanatory power of this kind of story, even if it’s not reflected in the econ textbooks or popular understanding. See the piece by Stephenson and Wendt in the May 2009 issue of the excellent Econ Journal Watch: http://www.aier.org/ejw

  2. Chris MacDonald on

    Matt:

    That might well be the case, but at least as the story was reported, the initiative didn’t come from yoga schools, but from government. Of course, there may have been lobbying.

    Chris.

  3. Matt Zwolinski on

    Again I’m writing outside of my area of expertise, but from what I’ve seen in the public choice literature it’s really quite shocking the extent to which the government regulation of business is driven by demands from business itself! There’s a paradox there that’s resolved by noticing that not all businesses are affected equally by regulation – some are much better able to bear the additional costs than others. I remember the first time I saw this idea in an old collection of essays edited by Murray Rothbard and Ronald Radosh entitled “A New History of Leviathan.” It really makes for a nice point of contact between right-libertarian and leftist analysis of state and corporate power.

  4. Chris MacDonald on

    Matt:

    I think it surprises a lot of people, the extent to which business actually wants to be regulated — though of course, it prefers to be regulated on its own terms, as would we all!

    I was told recently by someone at an American biotech company that her particular sub-industry hadn’t really taken off in Canada yet because there aren’t relevant regulations to ensure a stable business environment.

    I posted something relevant on my Biotech Ethics blog recently:
    California: New Regs for Gene Tests?

    Chris.

  5. thesimpleyoga on

    I just found your blog. Great articles and well written. Thanks for all the info. Namaste!


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