Players: Supporters and opponents of capping the number of psychics allowed to operate in Salem, Massachusetts. Back in 2007, Salem lifted a long-time cap on the number of psychics allowed in the city. Specifically, Salem was legally limited to allowing five psychic licenses for every 50,000 inhabitants. As of last year, the number of psychic business in the city has increased fourfold since the cap was lifted.
Opening Serve: Certain Salem residents, psychics in particular, are frustrated by the growth and want the cap reinstated. "Now, walk down the street, it's like the strip in Las Vegas," Barbara Szafranksi, a long-time licensed psychic told the Salem News back last October. "I predicted three or four years ago when they took the cap off this would happen. The city has become a haven for people who want to do readings, and I don't mean good readings." She and others argue the influx of competition has significantly hurt her business.
Return Volley: The push to bring back the cap does not have everyone in Salem's support. Christian Day, for one, is the self-proclaimed "employer of the largest number of psychic readers and the single largest generator of psychic license revenue in the city of Salem," and outspokenly opposed to limiting the cities psychic industry in anyway. "First, I think there are serious constitutional issues with limiting fair trade, especially when that trade centers around a practice so intrinsically tied up with religious belief systems such as Witchcraft, Wicca, Paganism, Spiritualism and other faiths that embrace psychic work," Day suggested in a Salem News op-ed in February. "Second, to now stifle the licenses for future potential businesses is as unfair to new businesses as the old ordinance was to us.Competition is good. It forces businesses to raise the bar, and this can only improve options for the consumer."
What They Say the Fight's About: Proponents of curbing Salem's psychic operations, such as City Councilor Joan Lovely, "don't want a psychic on every corner." As Salem "witch shop" owner Laurie Stathopoulos explained to Fox News in late March, she was "one of the biggest advocates of keeping Salem quaint and small and magical and the more people we let in could hurt that name. Just like having a Chanel bag, you want the real thing. You don't want the run-of-the-mill or knock off bag." This line of thought has wound up, over the years, leading to a number of amusing ideas about how to test would-be psychics. Opponents like Day, on the other hand, urge the value of competition. "It is rather interesting to me that people expect government to protect their business," Day told Fox News. Your ingenuity should protect your business. Your talent should protect your business. Your aggressiveness to succeed will protect your business."
What the Fight Is Really About: Government regulation vs. the free market. The Boston Globe's Rob Anderson puts it into context. "While it may not be the most conventional of examples, the dispute is not all that different from the dilemmas cities have dealt with licensing other businesses like taxicabs," he notes. "In fact, the episode makes for what University of Michigan economics professor Mark Perry calls 'a good case study of occupational licensing, with economic lessons in barriers to entry, contestable markets, and government regulation vs. market competition.'"
Who's Winning: Salem's free psychic-market proponents. To date, no limit has been placed on the number of psychics allowed in Salem, much to the chagrin of some of the city's oldest fortune tellers. Though the audience of Salem outsiders following this debate has thus far been small, it seems for the most part, according to available internet evidence, to be leaning towards Christian Day's pro-competition argument. "Say what you will about psychics, it seems the real scam is the onerous and pointless regulations foisted on businesses by the City of Salem," writes Reason Foundation policy analyst Adam Summers.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.