Regulation of Charlatans in High-Skill Professions

Regulation of Charlatans in High-Skill Professions

By Jonathan B. Berk, Jules H. van Binsbergen
June 1,2017Working Paper No. 3539

We study a market for a skill that is in short supply and high demand, where the presence of charlatans (professionals who sell a service that they do not deliver on) is an equilibrium outcome. We use this model to evaluate the belief that reducing the number of charlatans through regulation increases consumer surplus. We show that this belief is false: both information disclosure as well as setting standards reduces consumer surplus. Although both standards and disclosure drive charlatans out of the market, consumers are worse off because of the resulting reduction in competition amongst producers. Producers, on the other hand, strictly benefit from the regulation, implying that the regulation we observe in these markets likely derives from producer interests. The model provides insights into the parameters that drive the cross-sectional variation in charlatans across professions. Professions with weak trade groups, skills in larger supply, shorter training periods and less informative signals regarding the professional’s skill, are more likely to feature charlatans. We conclude that the number of charlatans in equilibrium is positively related to the value added of that profession to consumers.

Keywords
charlatans, regulation, information disclosure, licensing