In what is likely the most bizarre story you will read all week, Seattle resident, trained fighter and self-proclaimed “superhero” (read: costumed vigilante) Phoenix Jones has decided to disband his team, the Rain City Superhero Movement (RCSM), citing an amusing problem: A lot of people seeking to join it aren’t all that…well…super. King 5 News reports:

After starting solo, Jones says, the movement grew so large, many of the off-shoots weren’t always following the rules.

They lacked the physical fitness of an 8th grader, refused to give police their identity, and some even carried illegal weapons.

“Illegal knives, pepper grenades, smoke bombs, really crazy stuff,” Jones said. “A lot of things we do are non-negotiable.”[…]

Jones says isn’t opposed to welcoming old members back into the fold, but they must meet his requirements for superhero activism, like 5 pull-ups and 25 sit-ups in two minutes.

A superhero who once worked alone, Jones doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but he says, feelings aren’t what superheroes are all about.

“I’m going to go out there with the most equipped, most protected, smartest team with the best tactical decisions I can, regardless of what that costs me personally,” Jones said.

In other words, Jones was confronting a number of problems that really would plague a vigilante who decided to take the law into his hands. For instance, any time a rogue superhero did something wrong, Jones’ name would be mentioned and he’d be tarred by association. So what to do? Apparently, the answer is to institute Superhero Quality Control. And if you can wrap your head around the seeming absurdity of those three words, it’s a decision that makes eminent sense.

Of course, not everyone is pleased by the news. Rex Velvet (yes, someone really calls themselves that), Phoenix Jones’ self-proclaimed “arch-nemesis,” issued a Facebook message offering any and all rejected superheroes the chance to join in a tell-all documentary about Jones, presumably to try and tar the “superhero” and by extension, damage his ability to do his work.

It’s a case that would be worth writing about for its oddity alone. But when you manage to look past the weird costumes, theatricality and seeming pointlessness of it all, the whole affair is actually something else as well: A lesson on the ability of businesses and professional associations to self-regulate. In fact, even going beyond that, you could even see the travails of the RCSM as a case that the vast majority of occupational licensing is unnecessary.

Imagine that instead of being a self-proclaimed superhero, Jones were simply a street vendor, a job that requires a government license in New York City and Washington, D.C. Now imagine that, all of the sudden, a few other street vendors began popping up selling food that was clearly prepared poorly and even made customers sick in some cases.

The reputation of pretty much every street vendor would be put at risk from such bad behavior, and so it would be perfectly within the rights of other vendors who prepared good food to take steps to try and weed out the bad eggs (no pun intended). Industries are vigilant about their reputation, and the reputational risks associated with having one or two bad actors hijack one’s brand, or one’s reputation, are sufficiently high (especially in the era of Yelp) that industries have a high incentive to self-police.

Phoenix Jones’ particular industry might look goofy, but it’s a model of what much more prosaic trade associations do all the time. What’s more, those who feel unfairly excluded by such organizations often strike back in just the way that Rex Velvet and his band of villains are attempting to do – by bringing yet more public pressure to bear against industry protectionism. And if Rex Velvet were called “Uber” or “Lyft,” we’d probably be pretty sympathetic to him, at that.

So while it’s dubious that this particular “superhero” and his nemesis will be helming any summer blockbusters anytime soon, let’s still be grateful they exist. If nothing else, they’re a good reminder of the power of the market to self-regulate, even when the product is something as seemingly unconventional as costumed vigilantism.

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