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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/14310/the-fallacy-of-child-labor-free/

The Fallacy of “Child-Labor-Free”

October 20, 2010 by

A parent who puts a child behind a loom for ten hours a day does so, not out of callous greed, but because this is what brings food to the table. Economic development is the precondition for all that is good and humane. FULL ARTICLE by Rod Rojas


pravin October 20, 2010 at 5:59 am

well thats a bit naive.though some children do work voluntarily and some societies have child marriages,many in the carpets business are in the ‘bonded labor’ crime.the parents are indebted to the carpetmaker and they have no option but to “sell” their children as slave labor.the parents are clearly left with no option,because the law and order machinery is broken. it has nothing to do with age,it has to do with forced labor.children are not parents property and with no bankruptcy laws,children are treated as chattel.

J. Murray October 20, 2010 at 7:16 am

What people in Western society have forgotten that the concept of a childhood originated in the late 19th century. Prior to that, people did not have the luxury of allowing family members to be unproductive. Everyone had to work out of basic requirements of survival. There simply weren’t enough resources being produced to allow for idle family members, even young ones. Lack of work meant death. This is the base-line human existence for all of recorded history.

It was only because of sufficiently advanced industrialization, capital investment, and division of labor were we able to maintain an unproductive population. An unworking child population is a luxury that must be earned with blood, sweat, and tears of prior generations. Simply passing laws that tell less developed regions they can’t use child labor is a death sentence, effectively telling that region that they will forever be mired in poverty.

Western nations are an extreme exception in the course of human history. We didn’t get here through enlightened governing and through child labor laws. Child labor was already on a sharp decline long before the first laws forbidding child labor were ever passed. Our society naturally evolved out of it. Children were lack the necessary education and knowledge to function in a system of growing complexity. Like how our society is finding less and less use for low-skill manual labor, children became undesirable compared to a higher paid adult who could simply outproduce the child labor on such magnitude that the lower wages simply weren’t justification. Thus children exited the labor market in the industrial and post-industrial world.

A lack of an employed child market isn’t enlightenment, but a symptom of economic development. Forcing an underdeveloped society to burden itself with idle people only harms everyone, including the children who are supposedly being helped, who now get to enjoy worse poverty as a result.

pravin October 20, 2010 at 7:25 am

didnt you read my post? Voluntary child labor is fine in any society -industrial or pre industrial. slave labor is not.-especially if it is for children who are treated like chattel by indebted parents because the judicial system doesnt address it.

The Kid Salami October 20, 2010 at 7:44 am

Well I don’t think the situation is as clear cut as you make out. If a society (for whatever reason) requires the work of children in order to reach some basic subistence level, then things are the way they are and people will do whatever they can to ensure they and their children survive. And if this involves them working 18 hour days and putting their children to work then this is awful but prefereable to starving.

If not though, if as you say “blood, sweat, and tears of prior generations” means that the structure of production is enough to raise people above this subsistence level, then people sending their children to work while they, for example, smoke 400 cigarettes a week, is wrong. Most people won’t do this sure – but some will. I have heard stories, not first hand but about 3rd or 4th hand, of parents sending their children to the streets to prostitute themselves in order to earn money for their parents to spend on drugs. So, is this ok by you and your framework?

J. Murray October 20, 2010 at 11:23 am

Place it in the framework of life, liberty, and property. Sending your kids to work while you sit at home is slavery, a violation of liberty, which is wrong. Sending your kids to work becuase you can’t afford to care for them doesn’t fall under this category as the child is now responsible for his own subsistence.

And that’s an immensely extreme example. Underdeveloped nations aren’t masses of adults sitting around at home drinking momosas while their kids toil in factories.

The Kid Salami October 20, 2010 at 11:38 am

So we all agree child slave labour is a property violation. Then you agree with what Pravin said originally (and what i just said) – it seemed like you were correcting him.

Juraj October 20, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I think what J. Murray was hinting at is that when someone says “child slave labour”, they often mean the option of children working or children dying of starvation. This is often considered being involuntary work since there is “no option”.

J. Murray October 20, 2010 at 12:51 pm

No, slave labor is a liberty violation, not a property violation. And there isn’t some special class called child slave labor. Slave labor is slave labor no matter how young or old the individual is. And Juraj is correct on this. We’ve perverted the concept of slavery by assuming that any child employed is somehow akin to forced labor. It’s not as I doubt many of those child laborers would prefer the alternative to weaving rugs that are available to them. If we expand the definition of slavery enough, everyone is a slave to the situation. What we’re seeing in underdeveloped nations isn’t widespread pressed bondage but a survival tactic.

Jim Turmmer October 20, 2010 at 7:54 am

From your words, most probably you’re one of those born rich, who never had to do *real* work as an adult, let alone as a kid. Not even selling lemonade.
You know what? You agree with the Chinese government! You know what that makes you?

J. Murray October 20, 2010 at 11:25 am

I would suggest that, in the future, you don’t assume the background of individuals. You just make yourself look stupid. I’ve held down a full time job since I was 14 without a single break in my employment history since.

Besides, that’s an irrelevant statement. You’ve just agreed with me that the substance is correct because you completely avoided rebutting any of it.

Jim Turmmer October 21, 2010 at 2:53 am

“I’ve held down a full time job since I was 14 without a single break in my employment history since.”

Big words coming from someone who is probably a teenager living with his parents. It’s easy to talk tough behind your computer about those other kids who weren’t as lucky to be born in a nice country like you.
It’s hard to think you are an adult when you have some kind of cartoon character representing you.

Russ the Apostate October 21, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Well, I am not a teenager. I am in my 40s, and haven’t lived with my parents since high school. I worked my way through college, and have supported myself since. Enough credentials for ya?

And J. Murray is right. Chidlren not working is not a right. It’s a luxury, available only to the rich (relatively speaking), such as people living in the US. And even then only recently. My grandfather, who was born in the US in 1899, only got up to an eighth grade education, and then went to work. (Well, actually, since he lived on a farm, I’m sure he worked even when he was still in school.) It’s just the way it was. Many people couldn’t afford to send their children to school until the age of 18. And why should they? An eighth grade education gave them the essentials they needed; reading, writing, basic math, and basic knowledge of American history and government. People couldn’t afford to forego a child’s income so he could study luxuries such as Latin or literature. Only after people were already getting wealthy enough so that they could afford to keep their children in school was it forced on them by law, and a lot of that was due to unions. And no, the unions didn’t care deeply for children. They just wanted protectionism against a work force that was cheaper than they were.

A child in a 3rd world country who has to work may seem like a tragedy to us, but to him or her, it may seem like a small price to pay for having decent clothing, shoes, basic medical care, or even decent food. Who are you to tell that child he shouldn’t work?

Juraj October 20, 2010 at 12:03 pm

This is not a place for trolls. If you prefer making assertions and insulting others without actually addressing their arguments, please find yourself a nice cozy troll cave elsewhere.

mr taco October 20, 2010 at 2:36 pm

using emotion in arguments is childish Mr. Turmmer

akash October 20, 2010 at 8:21 pm

‘our society naturally evolved out of it’-I think not! More like:
Devastating colonization/taxation of the colonies of the east
transfer of gold/wealth and raw materials from the east to fund the ‘industrial revolution’
military supremacy and takeovers/slaughters of indigenous peoples with subsequent land grabs

China and India accounted for 50% of world GDP a mere 250 yrs ago, and now? -the pillage of the world was well co-ordinated.

Jordan Viray October 20, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Some good points; Western progress was achieved partly through some terrible means.

But gold mainly came from the West, not the East. Also, that large influx gold caused quite a few problems for the nation that benefited most from it, Spain. But if you are concerned about China and India, rest assured that the more the market is allowed to operate, the sooner they will achieve the share of global wealth that their populations have historically implied. Let’s hope they don’t repeat the same mistakes various Western states did.

Price October 21, 2010 at 3:42 am

Spain’s problems weren’t caused by gold. Read Charles Adams’ For Good and Evil to find out the multitude of ways in which the Spanish screwed themselves.

Jordan Viray October 21, 2010 at 5:35 am

Read what I wrote. I did not say Spain’s problems were caused by gold but rather that the large influx of gold caused problems for Spain. Here’s what Rothbard says:

The seeming prosperity and glittering power of Spain in the 16th century proved a sham and an illusion in the long run. For it was fuelled almost completely by the influx of silver and gold from the Spanish colonies in the New World. In the short run, the influx of bullion provided a means by which the Spanish could purchase and enjoy the products of the rest of Europe and Asia; but in the long run, price inflation wiped out this temporary advantage.

The result was that when the influx of specie dried up, in the 17th century, little or nothing remained. Not only that — the bullion prosperity induced people and resources to move to southern Spain, particularly the port of Seville, where the new specie entered Europe. The result was malinvestment in Seville and the south of Spain, offset by the crippling of potential economic growth in the north.

Of course there were other problems. Read Murray Rothbard’s “An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, vol. 1, Economic Thought Before Adam Smith”

Joe October 21, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Wealth is not finite. It is created and we know that China can create as long as the Communist Government allows more Capitalism to be slowly entered into their country. In fact they need to because the people would throw them out.
Every child should thank their favorite god for the Industrial Revolution. One only has to look to the history of England to see what happened to the child mortality rate before and after the revolution. Viva the revolution.

P.M.Lawrence October 21, 2010 at 7:35 pm

transfer of gold/wealth and raw materials from the east to fund the ‘industrial revolution’

That part is nonsense.

Gold (and silver) actually flowed east, starting with supplies from the New World and going via middleman countries. That bullion flow caused constant worries in the west.

The Industrial Revolution did not use “raw materials from the east” but things like coal obtained locally and cheap cotton from the Americas. In fact, until steam engines improved, they weren’t economic at all outside coal mining areas where cheap waste coal was available.

What was taken from the east was highly relevant to the other wealth gains of the west, but not to those particular things.

Gil October 20, 2010 at 9:44 pm

I agree that childhood never really existed and there were no defined age groups and there was merely a smooth transition between a baby and adulthood. Hence it is not surprising the teenage years continue to expand into middle age in the West nowadays. However I disagree that “child labour was in sharp decline” prior to legislation rather I would probably argue that child workers were more desirable (because they were cheaper, faster learners, more nimble, etc.) then adults and child labour was banned primarily by adults to force up adult wages (i.e. trade unionism – note the way that immigration is also opposed by trade unions). Hence I believe the opposite: child labour laws were passed but had slow impact as business desirability kept child labour going for quite some time after until adults were apparently productive enough to allow children to not work.

But still why should it necessarily be bad to have children working? A seven year old can sweep floors, stack shelves, pack groceries, etc. I’m sure an eighteen year old with ten or more years work experience is far more employable and full of more commonsense than an eighteen year old who has just left high school with no work experience whatsoever.

iain October 20, 2010 at 9:06 am

Parents indebted to carpetmakers who force there children to work to pay off these debts – placing their children in a miserable situations – no doubt exist. I don’t think the article was so naive as to say otherwise.

Declaring bankruptcy won’t feed a starving family. Using children as labour might. The article is pointing out that introducing child labour laws will likely lead to these people starving as opposed to helping them as intended. Also, that it would reduce the wealth of people in the area thus lowering any chance of improvement.

Enjoy Every Sandwich October 20, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Voluntary child labor and child slave labor are two separate issues. A blanket law forbidding all child labor conflates the two. Slavery is immoral, and a difficult problem to solve as well. But the solution is certainly not to punish people who aren’t engaging in the slave trade.

akash October 20, 2010 at 8:31 pm

slavery is ‘immoral’-but that was what built the western ‘civilisation’-read your history books people-don’t feel guilty-enjoy the fruits of the slave trade-from sugar,tobacco,robbery,piracy. From stately homes to the London Underground to early 20th century new york skyscrapers to modern day dubai-all built by indentured sweat shop labour/slavery!

Daniel October 21, 2010 at 12:08 am

I’ll sell you an in-browser spellchecker a child coded himself :)

iain October 21, 2010 at 8:29 am

My in-browser spell checker spells like a British school child and claims spellchecker isn’t a word. It also reckons I’m a pedant with poor grammar – the worst kind of pedant (apparently).

Dave October 20, 2010 at 6:04 am

But don’t you see that there are so many more important things a child could be doing than working towards a greater standard of living? They could be thrown into a room with other children, each with different abilities and interests, and all exposed to the same progressive curriculum, meanwhile being told there is no wrong answer. This is of course paid for by confiscating funds from the evil capitalists. Then after a decade or so they can either continue into nice progressive government jobs, live on the welfare to which they’re entitled, or join in the proletariat’s struggle against the evil capitalists!

Dave Albin October 20, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Ha excellent

Gil October 20, 2010 at 7:07 am

The author of this article almost implies otherwise but then continues on the standard line “child labour is exploitation”? How so? The picture that goes wtih the article shows no exploitation. Why should Western children be forbidden by law to work unless under special circumstances? Why is stuffing children into schools until they’re at least fifteen years of age better? If you look at the “plight” of Angus T. Jones would you really presume that if Western children could choose between going to school or entering the workforce at an early they would only be doing work that Third World equivalents do? At least parents in the West have more earning power then they can take their children out of work if it does become exploitative.

The one big reason the birth rate is so low in the West is that children are deadweight liabilities. To paraphrase R. Kiyosaki: “How many non-income producing children can you afford to have? Not much. Now many children could you afford to have if they could earn an income and help pay their keep? Many!”. Is it any wonder West parents have few children and much later in their lives than those in poorer nations?

Lewis October 20, 2010 at 7:43 am

I wonder how most people, especially the bleeding hearts, don’t see the brutal irony in their feelings towards child labor when children are, in effect, slaves today because of the laws they advocate so intensely. Kids are forced against their will into a classroom for seven hours.

Matthew Swaringen October 20, 2010 at 1:26 pm

You are right. They are forced into schools and if they don’t go then the parent is blamed and fined in many cases, as if the parent is always to speak for the child even when he/she is clearly old enough to make decisions on many matters.

Gil October 20, 2010 at 9:29 pm

I’m sure many would agree with the Rothbardian notion that children have the same rights as adults and ought to be able to get a job and leave their parents if they can.

Sasha Radeta October 20, 2010 at 11:52 am

Let’s assume that labor contracts that involve children should become valid… What about the oldest profession? Do child-labor proponents also advocate child prostitution? Just curious.

As far as Lewis’s assertion about “forcing children into a classroom against their will” goes, we can also say that children are forced into their homes often against their will. The reason why we force them into our homes and into schools is simple: parents caused their existence into this world, they are not born able to take care of themselves – and it is their parents’ responsibility to make sure they don’t create burden upon anybody else. Although the state destroys the quality of education, I don’t see the parallel between schooling kids to become more self-sufficient and forcing them into unskilled labor market…

One of the main arguments of child-labor apologists often stresses the fact that additional incomes are needed for survival. They claim that poverty forces parents to turn their kids into laborers… However, they should bear in mind that many of these children were conceived for the sole purpose of creating laborers for the family. In many rural areas, poor people intentionally try to have as many children as possible, hoping that enough of them will turn to be male and healthy for hard physical labor.

Juraj October 20, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Have you read Rothbard’s take on the rights of children? E.g. whether they own themselves and what is their relationship with their parents, rights-wise.

Matthew Swaringen October 20, 2010 at 1:34 pm

The definition “child” is fairly arbitrary, and like many arbitrary things it makes the most sense to define it within the context of the culture/region/etc. of the individual. When someone can really consent is very much individual and even context sensitive (what are they consenting to, sexual consent arguably makes the age higher).

Allow full freedom of association and disassociation and people will handle the decision of whether they are ok with someone being a child prostitute at 16, 14, 12, etc.

I’m not saying this because I like the idea of child prostitutes, but because I don’t think we need a single rule for everywhere to answer that question. The same applies to your point about child labor and whether or not it’s forced.

Sasha Radeta October 20, 2010 at 6:31 pm


I am quite familiar with Rothbard’s take on children’s rights – thanks for asking.



Since terms like “minor” and “underage” are subject to arbitrary decisions that depend on cultures, we should focus on real issue: however you define “a child” (name any age) – do you support all labor contracts that children could be subjected to – including prostitution. Yes, or no?

Matthew Swaringen October 21, 2010 at 1:00 pm

I’d distinguish support from allow and support from advocate.

I would allow prostitution in general, but I would neither support it (contribute to it) or advocate it (tell others they should consider it as a career).

Insofar as it’s more dangerous than other professions and the age of consent is variable, the age at which I would say someone can legitimately make the decision to be a prostitute would be variable.

Your use of “subject” implies force. I’m not ok with anyone forcing anyone of any age to do anything. If you are intending to say that a child is being encouraged to do something by being provided privileges (or having privileges taken away) but without the threat or any actual physical violence I’d still be against that.

How I would act due to being against this is largely context dependent. I believe that private arbitration will not at all be for parents or anyone else abusing children in this kind of manner, and even though it doesn’t rely on force it’s still clearly abuse. I’d definitely pursue it from that route if possible. If not, then I’d consider vigilantism a real alternative.

The child age question has to remain open and context dependent because not every individual is exactly the same. So I think that any arbitration system that exists should factor questions of individual maturity in and not base decisions on age alone.

I have to say you asking all these questions doesn’t get anywhere to your original point that children shouldn’t have to work at all. Sexual consent is an entirely different matter from most other labor where children would be reasonably productive.

Tyrone Dell October 20, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Here’s Dave Chappelle on, “How old is 15, really?”

Doesn’t really concern child slavery, but for some reason I feel like its slightly relevant.

Matthew Swaringen October 20, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Certainly relevant to the point of variable ages of consent and intelligence levels :/

I wish he’d given the names for the other anecdotes he gave. I’m sure there was some embellishment there but it was interesting.

Micah October 20, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Things Elizabeth Smart could have
done to escape her captors:


Matthew Swaringen October 21, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Nice source there. Even just reading the wiki article on this (which was relatively non-biased and didn’t try to pursue the same angle here) I noticed that it took some months for someone to even think it might be someone who came to the house for employment. Most crime is perpetrated by someone the victim knows so I don’t know why this information wasn’t offered up from the start.

Considering the situation, I think the family name is ironic.

billwald October 21, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Unrestricted free trade is a race to the bottom for the working class which is why the freak post WW2 “middle class” bubble in the US has popped.

Of course, I am the only working class person who reads this website. I’m the only person on this list who isn’t an example of evolution, homo superior. You all will form the new master race.

Matthew Swaringen October 21, 2010 at 12:30 pm

You assume a lot about people with whom you speak. The assumptions aren’t warranted, not everyone is wealthy here.

J. Murray October 21, 2010 at 12:33 pm

This individual is a member of the krean species, it’s best not to respond.

Joe October 21, 2010 at 6:03 pm

You might get a better response if you share your ideas on specific topics instead of getting emotional and upset about another persons opinion. To think that you are the only person on this site that doesn’t believe in evolution and is a working class person. For one, evolution is a theory and as such is not absolute. There are many good arguments that disavow the theory. As for a “working class person” I don’t understand what that means? If you mean a blue collar worker than I think there are other individuals on this site that can fall under that designation. I for one have worked both blue collar and white collar jobs. I use to work for .75 per hour as a dishwasher in a bowling alley. One of the best jobs I ever had. I also worked as a Senior Group Operations Manager at a large bank in California. Not so good of a job. I’m sure if you were nice and played nice the other individuals who use this blog would be glad to share some life experiences with you.

Franklin October 21, 2010 at 6:14 pm

“Unrestricted free trade is a race to the bottom for the working class…”
This sentence proves that while you claim you “read this website,” you comprehend none of it.
You think in terms of classes. You always have. It is tiresome reading your nonsense.
You can no more consider that every man, and I mean every single one, is a king, than you can comprehend what free trade, truly free trade, means.
Yours is a slave mentality where you can only think of yourself as a worker bee following orders of the queen and the masses of mindless insects.
You have never understood libertarianism. And you never will. Never.

Russ the Apostate October 21, 2010 at 6:26 pm


How do you protect American companies selling to foreign markets from foreign competition? Are we going to make Germany institute a tariff that allows in American products, but not Chinese or Japanese products? Protectionism may have worked somewhat when America was the major market for products. Now that the world is globalizing, other people in the world can buy those foreign competitors’ products too, and there is nothing we can do to stop it. Protectionism will weaken America’s industries by giving them a crutch to grow dependent on, while foreign competitors become stronger by standing on their own two legs. The real way to make American labor more competitive, long term, is to build more automation, so that the productivity of the American worker is leveraged and increased. Hell, I think it would be great if American workers could make $28/hour for making small cars here in the US. But the only way that will ever be profitable is if there is enough manufacturing automation. Protectionism is not the answer. Capital, i.e. capitalism, is the answer.

Douglas Chalmers October 30, 2010 at 10:34 pm

#”…in societies where productive and reproductive life begins very early…”
Oh, groan, the age of ‘reproduction’ depends on physical maturation, NOT supposed age of marriage….. It is usually quite later in years than in wealthy countries as a result of poorer nutrition (starvation as opposed to Big Macs).
Apart from keeping their kids off the street, spending 10 hours a day on their knees helps them prepare for submission to Allah + praying 5 times a day for the rest of their life. They are not receiving an education but they are taught that such behavior ‘pleases Allah’ + that they have no other reason to exist.
So much for your ideological imperialism, Roxas, uhh.

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