I really enjoyed this talk from Tom Woods. Loved, first, Joe Salerno’s introduction of Tom Woods. Woods’ point is not so much to silence lefties but for Lefties to examine some of their assumptions on topics like child labor. Tom puts this question into context, showing how child labor is not the function of bad parenting but of survival. Children and their families would starve or die otherwise. And yet we have the do-gooders, brave as they are, calling unfortunate circumstances bad, bad, just bad. What courage these lefties display, eh? I just found Bill Kaufman’s book, The Child Amendment Debate of the 1920’s or Catholics, Mugwumps, and Farmers, and I am using a few of its opening quotations to further the sound economic answer to the Progressives’ cry against child labor. His book opens with a poem, “Child Labor,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman whose Progressive tract, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” was one in a score of required reading for English [or Humanities] majors.
No fledgling feeds the father bird,
No chicken feeds the hen
No kitten mouses for the cat,
This glory is for men.
We are the Wisest, Strongest Race–
Loud may our praise be sung!
The only animal alive
That lives upon its young.
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
So there you have it. Man lives upon its young. What monstrous people we are. So socialists believe, without thinking one or two steps beyond their fervently formed and indignantly held positions, that children worked to help feed their families and supporting their standard of living. And yet Progressives want to get the government to ban children from helping their poor families and prefer to sentence them to a life of starvation. Huh. What bravery these socialists display, eh? My own father worked for a nickel. But with that nickel, he was able to buy milk and bread for his family. That was his role in the division of labor. He shared stories with me how he’d have to sweep the store’s floor. And that he’d have to work after hours if he wanted to get paid at all. There was no time and a half.
Then there are these observations:
[This is] a communistic effort to nationalize children, making them primarily responsible to the government instead of to their parents. It strikes at the home. It appears to be a definite positive plan to destroy the Republic and substitute a
Clarence E. Martin
President, American Bar Association)
Then there is this . . .
When the right of a father to govern his own family is taken
away from him, God pity our Nation.
Socialists’ main goal is to interpose between parent and child.
socialists whose reconstructionist dreams included the interposition of the
state between the parent and the child.
The “gaunt goblin army”5 of teenaged workers was cashiered by a series of laws prohibiting employment and prescribing schooling. While the mission was ostensibly accomplished, the triumph was incomplete: The Child Labor Amendment to the Constitution was rejected. Thwarted were what Columbia University President Nicholas Murray Butler called “more far-reaching . . . changes in our family, social, economic, and political life than have heretofore been dreamed of by the most ardent revolutionary.”
This is incredible.
Nascent American industries frequently employed families of the working class. Alexander Hamilton had remarked, in his “Report on Manufactures,” that “children are rendered more useful . . . by manufacturing establishments than they would otherwise be.”‘
In this boasted land of freedom, there are bonded baby slaves,
And the busy world goes by and does not heed.
They are driven to the mill, just to glut and overfill
Bursting coffers of the mighty monarch, Greed.
When they perish we are told it is God’s will,
Oh, the roaring of the mill, of the
Contrasting views of child labor can be found.
MY NOTES ON TOM’S PRESENTATION
Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, has a section on ingratitude. What life was like before the modern market economy as we know it. 1) pre-industrial, pre-market society. Burgundy, French peasants working in the vineyards, the 1840s, from Deidre McCloskey. After the crop was in in the fall, these poor folks would go to bed and huddle together in order to stay warm and they would actually hibernate for months in that state. That’s how poor they were–they couldn’t afford the heat nor could they afford the food they would need to consume if they got up and expended energy. Now that is not an existence that befits a human being. And that was normal. Now today that is so preposterous that we can’t even imagine that. And, yet, how many generations ago did that? Not very many. Think about child labor. Child labor has been ubiquitous throughout history. People say that child labor is a fruit of capitalism, that capitalism yielded you child labor because before you had capitalism the kids were just skipping through meadows all day, whistling a tune. And then capitalism came along and they all had to go in a coal mine and have their limbs blown off. That’s not so. Children have worked since the beginning of time. And the reason children have worked is not that they have terrible parents. There’s a profound lack of curiosity when you hear westerners talk about child labor. they know they’re against it, and they’re going to make sure that we know they’re against something everybody hates. Super brave! Because without child labor, families in poor countries starve to death. That’s why. The International Labor Organization, ILO, not exactly a laissez-faire outfit, said in their report about 20 years ago, “Poverty emerges as the most compelling why children work. Poor households need the work, and children commonly contribute to around 20% to 25% of family income. Since by definition, poor households spend the bulk of their income on food, it is clear that the income provided by working children is critical to their survival.” There are two ways that you could approach the child labor question. You could say, “a lack of food and a lack of labor productivity, if their parents’ work could produce more, then their children wouldn’t also have to work, maybe we could work on that–get the parents’ labor to be more productive, then they can produce enough stuff to buy more food, to buy more things. The kids won’t have to work.” Or, you could just say “Let’s pass a law against this, and unfortunately, there are enough low IQ people in the world, that they go for the second one. Let’s pass a law against kids working. We just learned that the kids [are] working because the family will starve if they don’t, so let’s ban them from doing it. That’s not the best way to go about it, and Oxfam actually did a study of what happened when Bangladesh tried to get rid of child labor [Benjamin Powell is really good on child labor]. Answer: the children starved to death or went into prostitution, which is exactly what all the Libertarians tried to say at the time but none of the do-gooders could manage to fo fit into their busy schedules to think about it. What’s gotten rid of child labor is the market economy because it makes people’s labor more productive. Tools allow you to make a greater demand on your wage. Children being so poor, they had to hibernate. At the 17:20 mark, Woods mentions Hans Rosling‘s Gapminder, a site on statistics [he does terrific presentations]. 12,000 people spread over 14 countries as the following multiple choice question, “Do you believe that the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty over the last 20 years has a) doubled, b) stayed roughly the same, or c) been cut in half?” The answer is C, it’s been cut in half. 95% of Americans got this question wrong. They don’t even know. Imagine being that ignorant about what must be one of the most momentous achievements in all of economic history. It’s happening all around you, and you don’t even know it? Which means that Americans are being gassed to think that our country, the great U.S.A., is richer and better than all of the other countries without knowing that the other half of the world is simply catching up. In the early 1800’s, 45% of all children died before age 5; that’s now 4%. In 1800, people living in what economists call “extreme poverty” was 90%; it’s under 10% today. If you force socialists to acknowledge this improvement, “Oh, it’s because of redistribution” they’ll say. “Governments are responsible for that.” Where did the increase in social spending take place? That took place in the rich countries, where they’d already gotten rid of extreme poverty. Poverty reduction took place in the poor countries that can’t afford a welfare state. Extreme poverty was gone in the western world long before there was a welfare state. Since 1960, literacy is up 43.6%. Caloric intake is up by 688%. Over 21 years in life expectancy, and over 3 inches in height . . . and you realize that’s just an average; it doesn’t apply to every individual. Scrolling through HumanProgress.org, Tom finds the following headlines almost at random.
“75% of SubSarharan Africa now has access to clean drinking water.”
“French family becomes the first to move into 3-D printed home.”
“Infant mortality in Asia has fallen 74% since 1969.”
“App [Be My Eyes] lets you be a blind person’s eyes from anywhere in the world.”
“Since 1970, the global rate of child mortality fell from 13 to 3.1%.”
“No, We are not running out of forests. This device can turn desert air into drinkable water.”
“Technology helps those with dementia live independently.”
“Every village in India now has electricity.”