Certifications and regulations are designed as barrier to entry and protect those already there from competition. Not to mention that there is a lot of money in running certification programs.
Competence is derived from experience and can easily be verified by references.
While it is hypothetically possible to use certifications as a barrier to entry, and it may even happen in a few areas of specialty, it's absurd to suggest that this is their primary purpose. I think your extreme cynicism is distorting your view of reality here.
And references are not so easily verified these days. Due to fear over defamation lawsuits, many employers absolutely refuse to provide anything more than a verification of dates of employment. My employer has a special hot line set up just for that, and we're not allowed to say anything besides giving out the phone number.
I continue to insist that education means something. I know that book smarts alone isn't enough - you need practical experience be be truly competent (Malcolm Gladwell argues that it takes 10,000 hours in most fields). But you need both
In the US's politically hyper-partisan environment, it has become fashionable for some to try to discount the importance of degrees and certifications by scornfully referring to educated people as "elites." Don't let yourself get caught up in that. Any time I fly on a plane, hop on a ferry, or get on a train, I want my pilot/captain/engineer to have both the book smarts AND the practical experience to keep me safe. I can't check references myself, so I want there to be a system in place to ensure that the people responsible for the safety of large numbers of people are fully qualified.