It seems like I know that Sowell has written better than this on this subject. In this case, it isn’t what he said that is wrong, but rather what he didn’t say that is right. I’m beginning to wonder if he did intend this book to be for left wing crazies. Once again, he doesn’t quite come out and justify child labor laws in the era in which they were written, but he does imply it, “… Child labor laws began before there were laws governing working conditions for adults… ” and “At One time, children were used for hard and dangerous work in coal mines, as well as working around factory machinery that could maim or kill a child who was not alert to the dangers… However, laws passed under one set of conditions often remain on the books long after the circumstances that gave rise to those laws have changed.”
He goes on to point out that while child labor laws were passed to keep 8-year-olds out of coal mines, today the same laws keep 15-year-olds out of air-conditioned offices.
While all of this is fair enough, that “Once Upon a Time” stuff is wash for the hogs. “At one time” begins at the dawn of time and continued down for thousands of generations right up until the turn of the last century!
Skeletal remains of children to be as young as 5 years old have been found in tin mines in England dating back to 1,000 B.C. just for instance (I learned about this at the BHP podcast). Children have almost always had to work, royalty excluded of course.
The alternative to children working was children starving. To most people this idea is so foreign to them that it seems inconceivable. But, those days are gone, right? It’s a moot point isn’t it? Well, yes, in the Western Countries it is, but what about in Southeast Asia? What about in Sub-Saharan Africa? What about South America? The industrial revolution has not advanced so far as to increase the marginal output of adult workers sufficiently enough to allow them to support themselves and their children.
People didn’t make their kids work for thousands of years because they didn’t love them. They had to work to survive. That is, by and large, the same story in the developing world. Those movie stars condemning “sweat shops” for using child labor would see those same children go hungry, or perhaps turn to prostitution to stay fed.
The point is, child labor laws are not just wrongheaded now, in the fully industrialized West, but they are wrong in the developing world, and they were wrong 85 years ago. It isn’t that it had a time and a place… It was always wrong.
This is just another one of those areas where Sowell wings the enemy when the firepower was available to actually obliterate them out of the sky. As Jeffrey Tucker did here. And, as Tom Woods did in about 5 minutes.