How to Ruin a Kid's Life (Jeffrey Tucker)
Tuesday May 1st, 2012
I was just down at the "feed and seed" buying two baby chicks to replace my female duck that was carried off by a bird of prey, leaving one lonely male duck behind. No one told me that ducks don't like chicks. The rest of the story is, well, let's just say "it's complicated."
In any case, the details distract from the reason I'm bringing this up at all: The store was bustling with activity and filled with rural people of all ages. Yes, lots of kids too. Prepare yourself for a shock: these kids actually work on the farm!
We city people don't really understand this world. We know that, and so do they. That's okay. I marvel at the social structure of rural agricultural life, the way kids learn and work from an early age, how extended families and communities all share in the work, how impervious and protected the culture is from the mechanized, regulated and planned life the rest of us live.
To me, the milk on the farm tastes like butter and the butter tastes like cheese, and I don't really understand where and how all this food comes from, much less how it is that young kids can learn to drive gigantic tractors and shoot varmints out the kitchen window with shotguns without blinking an eye. But it is all marvelous, regardless.
And on this very day, the news came across my screen. The Department of Labor had planned to destroy it all, and then barely pulled back when faced with massive protest. The bureaucracy was on the verge of passing new rules that would have banned many kids from working on farms. An exception in the law against "child labor" has always been made for agriculture. FDR would have been impeached if the 1938 law had not included that exception. (Other exceptions include family businesses, child actors and wreath makers.)
As a member of the Corleone family might say, the Obama administration don't respect nothin'. The urban elite who run the government think it's just awful that kids are getting up at the crack of dawn to feed chickens and bale hay when they should be reading a civics text that instructs them about the glories of government. Another sector that probably finds it awful: big agriculture that is fed up with dealing with these pesky extended family farms that keep horning in on its monopoly.
The proposed regulations were being pushed as an update to the last update from 1970. In government parlance, an update always means worse. The list of "shall nots" was extremely long and tedious and amounted to a complete ban on work by anyone under the age of 16 or, in the case of driving tractors, the age of 18.
The proposal was first made last August, to the cheers of "Human Rights Watch," which apparently doesn't believe in the right to be productive. Since that time, the Department of Labor had been getting closer and closer to making it law. Such a rule would transform rural life in America. Or maybe people will just ignore the law and stick with tradition? The government thought of that. The Department said it would use "all enforcement tools necessary to ensure accountability and deter future violations."
Just think of it. One in two college graduates doesn't have a job. Teen unemployment has never been higher in the whole of American history. Young kids are desperate for opportunities. So what does government do? It proposed to ban yet another opportunity, spreading misery as far and wide as possible.
But look at it this way. If this wiped more people off the labor rolls, unemployment would go down again. This is truly how this works in an Orwellian sort of way. It's like poisoning people to death and then happily noting that sickness among the living is down.
The proposed law made an exception for children of parental owners, but no one took comfort in that. Most farms use extended family to help: nephews, cousins and the like. You can't draw a strict line between nuclear families and extended families and not cause havoc in this world. For this reason, rural farmers protested bitterly and the Obama administration backed down — for now.
Anyone who has been exposed even slightly to the agricultural lifestyle knows that working on the farm or ranch is not really like any other job. It is part of who you are and what you do. Everyone pitches in from the earliest ages to the oldest. There is great pride among all these people in the life they lead. A rule like this would be devastating.
Also as part of the legislation, reported The Daily Caller, the government would have mandated replacing 4-H training programs and private systems with a government-administered program. To be sure, I know nothing about 4-H, but I do know that for many people in this world, this program is as central to one's childhood experience as Sunday school in the suburbs or Catechism class in Catholic communities.
Thank goodness the Department of Labor has backed down. Regardless, this kind of thing should not be a threat in a free society. There would be no hectoring from Washington about things government can't possibly manage or understand. The outrage is that this is threatened at all. No one should have to protest such a law; it should have never been proposed in the first place.
And while we are at all, let's put in a good word for the city folk too. These so-called child labor laws came about 1938 only as an effort to prettify the unemployment data and give some extra market leverage to the labor unions that FDR was trying to win over.
Look at the 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds today. They have no opportunities to learn anything useful. They are denied a chance to be part of the world of remunerative work. They are thereby denied the opportunity to learn adult-like responsibilities and serious skills beyond repeating what the teacher says while they are strapped in their tax-funded desks.
These laws have been wrecking lives for far too long. And with labor law enforcement today, there are ever fewer opportunities to work for cash. Then when that magic day comes when they graduate from college and we shove them out into the workforce and say, "Go to it!" it should be no surprise that they have no idea what to do.
The feds can't think of anything better to do that make sure that this pathetic situation spreads to another sector of life — and do it on on behalf of big agriculture. And what will the bureaucrats say when yet another generation is wrecked by mandatory sloth in prison-like educational institutions? Maybe they will tell us that they all should have become child actors. That exemption still lives. For now.
Jeffrey Tucker, publisher and executive editor of Laissez-Faire Books, is author of Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo and It's a Jetsons World. You can write him directly here.