Jeff Neal for C.U.R.E. - Certain Unalienable Rights Endowment

Thank Goodness for Child Labor

In Economics, Everyday Life, Financial, Opinion on March 27, 2011 at 12:17 pm

IT’S CAPITALISM, STUPID, NOT CAPITOLISM

OR

A PERSONAL STORY ABOUT CHILD LABOR

Child Labor – we only outlawed it because we could, because capitalism improved productivity enough that we could let the kids go to school instead of making a living for their families.  It’s not like mom and dad were sitting at home living off their kids’ wages.  Everyone was working and conditions sucked.

The employers of those pitiful kids were driven by the profit motive.  That term is better stated as one’s desire to own the fruits of one’s labor and to have the freedom and the ability to dispose of that fruit as one sees fit.  That one word – Freedom – is the key.  If you try to eliminate the profit-motive, you are eliminating freedom, simple as that.

The profit motive, freedom, is the reason – and the only reason – we were able to write “child-labor” laws and let the kids spend the first 18-22 years of their lives being sponges instead of having to earn their way.

Can it really be true that it was a businessman’s “greed” and evil that made him hire children for $.10 per hour (or whatever it was) instead of hiring his mother or father for $5.00 to toil in his factory?  It was a necessity, it was the only way he could make a profit, and without a profit, the job wouldn’t have existed, the child and his family would starve.  Without the potential to make money, the businessman could not have borrowed or otherwise raised the money it took to build the factory to begin with.  It had to start somewhere.

Were there examples of “evil” and crooked businessmen who abused their power over a small portion of the labor force?  Of course there were.  But, be serious – if that practice were as widespread as we’re often led to believe, where were all the complicit, cruel parents, and why did they sit idly by?  The kids were working because the family needed them to, don’t you think?  If the vast majority of the businesses that employed child labor were the monsters we often see portrayed, and the families didn’t really need the extra money, wouldn’t the parents have let their kids stay home or at least do the work themselves?  The jobs were low-skill, low-pay jobs that enabled the factory owner to keep the factory open – and open the next one and the next one, increasing productivity and replacing, eventually, the kids with machines.  God bless those factory owners who fed families – including his own, by the way – while building a world in which the next generation of kids could spend their youth contemplating and protesting the evils of child labor, instead of shoveling manure out of the family barn.

Do you really think, for example, that a small businessman, a family farmer in Davenport, Iowa in 1905 worked his whole family from dawn ‘til dusk because he hated his only son, Frank E. Neal, Sr., or because he wanted to, God forbid, make a profit off of his own child?  No, we know he did it that way, because otherwise the family wouldn’t have had enough to eat – Frank, Sr. would have starved.

Because he didn’t starve, and since we live in a free country where innovation is driven by the profit motive, that farmer’s son later moved to Tennessee, became a letter carrier for the US Postal Service and sent his third son to Isaac Litton High School in Nashville.  That son then attended an insurance company’s training program, sold property and casualty insurance for several local and national agencies, and raised six children, four of whom make their living working for the independent insurance agency he founded in 1975.

Which of those two men – the farmer in Davenport or the businessman in Nashville – is an ogre, using the labor of his children to line his own pockets.  Neither.  My father, Frank E. Neal, Jr., is the same man as his grandfather and his father – just standing on their shoulders.  I’m grateful that my great-grandfather pushed my grandfather out of bed every morning to milk the cows and tend the crops.  If that’s abusing child labor, I’m all for abusing child labor.

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