The question has arisen as to whether speechwriters should be licensed. As a speechwriter, my first reaction was to say no. Do speechwriters really want to behave like the plumbers’ union?
But on second thought, I’ve decided that speechwriters should be licensed after all.
Why did I change my mind? As a believer in free enterprise, I am in principle opposed to any unnecessary government interference with the workings of the market, since government interference usually results in barriers to entry, less competition, higher prices, more unemployment and any number of other unforeseen negative consequences.
State licensing requirements are a prime example of this kind of interference. In the 1950s, only one in 20 U.S. workers needed licenses to pursue their chosen occupation. Today, the figure is more than one in four. Depending on the jurisdiction, you may need a license to be a florist, handyman, barber, wrestler, dance instructor, tour guide, frozen-dessert seller, fireworks operator, second-hand bookseller or interior designer.
Often, it is expensive and time consuming to qualify for a license. Often, the arguments offered in defense of licensing requirements range from the self-serving to the ridiculous. In Florida, for example, an aspiring interior designer must obtain a four-year degree, undergo a two-year apprenticeship and pass a two-day examination. When the state legislature considered abolishing these requirements as frivolous, local designers protested that they were essential to protect the public. One designer claimed that unlicensed designers might inadvertently use fabrics that could spread disease and cause 88,000 deaths a year. (“Stop! Drop those bed ruffles and freeze! You’re under arrest.”)
Licensing requirements are particularly burdensome for women and minorities. Consider the current case of a minority woman in Arkansas who is trying to make a living by African-style hair braiding. State authorities told her that she needed a cosmetology license to braid hair. Obtaining the license would require her to complete 1500 hours of training, pass two exams, and spend thousands of dollars to attend a cosmetology school that doesn’t even teach hair braiding.
As I said, I would ordinarily oppose the establishment of yet another license-protected occupation, because that would mean another barrier to entry that might keep someone from earning a living. But after careful reflection, I’ve concluded that the public interest does require that speechwriters be licensed. It may indeed be frivolous to suggest that occupations like hair braider, florist, dance instructor or interior designer should be licensed, but speechwriters are a special case.
Think about it. Do you realize that in this country, anyone—absolutely anyone—can set him or herself up as a speechwriter? Without any training, education or qualifications whatsoever. None!
Do you realize that anyone with a degree in journalism or public relations can pose as qualified to write speeches—even though that person may have never written a speech in his or her entire career?
Consider the menace to the public posed by unlicensed speechwriters.
Consider the wedding receptions that turn into fiascos every year because the wedding toast was hopelessly garbled by some speechwriter wannabe. Consider the number of aspiring politicians and rising young executives whose careers have been irretrievably blighted because of a bad speech crafted by an amateur.
Consider the effect that dull, boring and incompetently-written commencement addresses have had on the lives of untold thousands of high school and college graduates. Ruining this major rite of passage by second-rate oratory has been known to cause them untold psychological damage—even to traumatize them for life.
Because the stakes are so high, surely it’s not too much to demand that anyone entering the speechwriting profession have a minimum of professional qualifications.
Surely, at the very least, entrants to our profession should have a B.A. in English. Surely they should undergo a rigorous two-year apprenticeship under the direction of a seasoned speechwriting professional. Surely they should be required to complete at least 2,000 hours of specialized training, followed by written and oral examinations—to be administered, naturally, by established speechwriters like us.
Fellow speechwriters, my eyes have been opened to the public hazard posed by unlicensed speechwriters. We need to organize to protect the integrity of our profession. We can’t have speeches being written by anyone who has not first been duly certified.
Hal Gordon, who has a B.A. in political science, a law degree and an M.A. in public communication is an uncertified freelance speechwriter in Houston, Texas. He blogs at www.ringingwords.com.