Defense of Child Labor
the other day, hard-eyed federal cops descended on young lawbreakers
all across America. Their crime wasn't drugs or gang warfare or
even shoplifting. It was work.
the number of bums infesting our cities, one might assume a Republican
administration would not attack work. One would be wrong.
Secretary Elizabeth Dole wife of Senator Bob (R-IRS)
is a pal of big labor, an institution which really ought to be called
big anti-labor. Unions use violence and government- granted privileges
to get more money for less work. As part of this effort, they seek
to outlaw the competition newer people who might work harder
or for market wages.
the behest of Mrs. Dole and the unions, President Bush and Congress
raised the minimum wage. This abolished entry-level jobs suitable
for kids ill-educated in the government schools. Now Mrs. Dole,
with White House support, is usurping parental rights with a union-inspired
attack on "child labor." Like the minimum wage increase, it does
her Labor police investigated and fined a legion of businesses in
Operation Child Watch, Mrs. Dole said: "I want to deliver a clear
message to employers, parents, and youth. The cop is on the beat."
cop. These 14 and 15-year-old kids hold part-time jobs because they
need the money, but it's illegal for them to work more than three
hours a day, later than 7:00 pm, or more than 18 hours a week. Thus
if a teenage busboy works three and a half hours, or until 7:15prn,
he's guilty, and his boss can be fined $100,000 and sentenced to
six months in prison.
wrong with hard work? And why should the federal government, not
exactly an expert in hard work, stick its nose in? The Constitution
doesn't appoint Mrs. Dole as Big Mother.
a youngster work too many hours? Sure, just as he can play
too many hours. But in a free and decent society, decisions about
these matters are for parents, not bureaucrats. Mrs. Dole not only
violates the free market, she usurps the authority of fathers and
dare she close off these kids' opportunities? A teenager's job is
not only gainful, it's a school for life. And it is the most important
school many kids attend. The government wants to kick them out.
This is made easier by what Ludwig von Mises identified as the "anti-capitalistic
mentality" of politicians and intellectuals, and the long history
of socialist propaganda on this subject.
labor is the "most widely misrepresented aspect of the history of
capitalism," says Robert Hessen of the Hoover Institution.
told that capitalism put young people to work in the English factories
of the 1700s and 1800s that were little better than concentration
camps. As usual, the left has got it exactly backwards.
1697, before the Industrial Revolution, John Locke urged families
to put their children to work at age three. Otherwise, they would
have only "bread and water, and that very scantily too." And many
would not have even that.
1830, the life expectancy of children had vastly increased, thanks
to the most explosive growth in living standards in history. Before
capitalism, "these children were destitute," said Mises. "Their
only refuge was the factory," which "saved them from death by starvation."
work was hard, as life was hard, but it was not abusive. The real
maltreatment took place in the English welfare system. The government
placed orphaned and deserted children in horrendous establishments.
youth factory work was restricted by an unholy combination of upper-class
bleeding hearts and socialists, it was the kids who suffered. Since
they had to live, and since they would do anything to avoid the
social workers, the youngsters were forced to look for usually lower-paying
and more dangerous work in the countryside. Many ended up, says
Mises, "vagabonds, beggars, tramps, robbers, and prostitutes."
labor was not abolished by Parliament, says Hessen, any more than
it could be legislatively eliminated today in Bangladesh or Ghana.
Only when "the income of parents became sufficient to support them"
did it cease. The "emancipators and benefactors for these children"
were "manufacturers and financiers," not politicians.
during the Progressive Era (the regressive era that gave
us the Federal Reserve, the income tax, and World War I), Congress
tried to restrict youth work, but both times it was stymied by a
Supreme Court that followed the Constitution.
and unions proposed a constitutional amendment to ban child labor;
but it too failed. Only Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, which
subverted the Supreme Court and exalted unions, could have enacted
the union-inspired Walsh-Healey Act of 1936, ordering government
contractors to fire young people, cut working hours, and pay above-market
union wages. The so-called Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 extended
these principles to the whole economy, and gave us the first minimum
Congressmen saw the legislation as a way to attack the lower-cost,
non-union Southern states. A conservative Republican-Southern Democrat
alliance tried to stop the laws, but unfortunately to no avail.
Anti-market legislation is always harmful, but these laws threw
people out of work during the Great Depression.
power of Labor unions has faded since those dark days, and few people
(outside of university economics departments) believe in Marxist
exploitation theories anymore, but we are still saddled with anti-work
laws that stunt young people's lives.
of harassing small businesses, I have a better idea. Let's raid
the Department of Labor and toss the slothocracy out on the street.
Maybe they can get some real jobs in fast-food restaurants. . .
as long as they're willing to compete with America's young people
newly enfranchised by the repeal of all child-labor laws.