Bryan Caplan  

Hypocrisy and Child Labor

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Robin Hanson on child labor:
Kids work hard at school, housework, sports, practicing music, supporting clubs, etc. and none of this cruelty is prevented by "child labor" laws. Such laws only prevent getting paid to work; they don't even stop kids interning for free. If child labor laws come from our revulsion at miserable kids, why are there no laws preventing tiger moms from making their kids practice music for hours straight without a bathroom break, or against parents who make their older kids work full time taking care of younger kids?
This week isn't the best time for me to begin a crusade for child labor.  But read the whole thing nonetheless.


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
Stefano writes:

Sport and music lessons are supposed to be beneficial for a child's future life.

A full-time job is detrimental, since conflicts with the pursuit of an education or even detrimental for health (eg. work in coal mines).

Perhaps child labor laws could make an exception for works with a large educational content (eg. apprendiceship).

The "paid work" rule of thumb makes sense: if you pay for an activity (eg. music lessons) that means it's beneficial to you, if they pay you to do it, it means that what you put in is less than what you get.

It could be perhaps ok to have children work for pay, as long as they can keep the money. Otherwise, unscrupulous parents or guardians may get the money, exploiting the children.

diana writes:

@stefano:
if you pay for an activity (eg. music lessons) that means it's beneficial to you, if they pay you to do it, it means that what you put in is less than what you get.

what do you mean?

Also:
Sport and music lessons are supposed to be beneficial for a child's future life.

Have you read about Amy "Tiger" Chua, and her beneficial sport and music lessons? (here)
When I read about it on the internet I considered getting on a plane, go where she lives and set myself on fire in front of her house as a form of protest. (Yes, I reconsidered.)

Have you noticed most Italian kids - as young as 6 or 7, if not younger - have a busier agenda than an international corporation CEO? They go from school (8 hours, in Italy) to swimming pool to music class, and just have a sec for a pee-stop here and there, before crashing to sleep, so their moms' can feel fulfilled?

There's a lot of hypocrisy there, I agree with Mr Caplan.

diana writes:

p.s. I write from Italy, and am Italian.

diana writes:

p.p.s. sorry, I just realized it was a Robin Hanson's quote, and I had not clicked on the link!

darjen writes:

@Stefano writes:
Sport and music lessons are supposed to be beneficial for a child's future life.

Apprenticeship would arguably prepare someone much more for future life than music or sports.

A full-time job is detrimental, since conflicts with the pursuit of an education or even detrimental for health (eg. work in coal mines).

How much education do most people actually use in their daily life? Doesn't seem like very much, even for those in management or skilled positions.

Ted writes:

Part of the popularity of child labor laws comes from a biased perspective. I think when people think of "child labor" they usually envision some 7 year old working in a dangerous sweat shop making sneakers ready for their arm to be chopped off by some machine that the corrupt capitalist owner decided not to get repaired to save himself $200 - oh, not to mention the same corrupt capitalist's sweat shop lacks fire alarms, all the doors are locked shut, and he's smoking a cigarette next to a gas canister. I don't think they imagine a 13 year old running around his town's local shoe store packing boxes in the back for a couple hours after school. Indeed, people are arguably so repulsed by my horror scenario they are willing to cast a large net against all child labor to prevent an outrageous incident that might happen once.

I also think there is some believe that what the tiger mom does "broadens a child's horizons" (whatever the hell that means). Maybe that's a good thing and maybe it's not (for the most part I lean towards not). But, most people think it's a good thing for the child, even if most people don't agree with actually pushing your child that hard.

Frankly, we could probably repeal child labor laws entirely and we wouldn't see much of a difference. We are culturally and economically oriented against child labor horrors I spoke of and any child labor would probably just be odd jobs around a town store until they reached 14 when they could actually do something useful.

As a side note, a minimum wage of $5-8 an hour is basically already a prohibition on young child labor (e.g. less than 14-15 years old).

Matt writes:
"This week isn't the best time for me to begin a crusade for child labor. But read the whole thing nonetheless."

Really? I think child labor would be a great reason to have more kids and, compared to getting them to school, help parental stress.

HispanicPundit writes:

I really wish you would discuss Child Labor and Child Labor laws eventually though. I'd be VERY interested in your - I'm sure contrarian yet economically sound - views.

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