Child Labor; to the Extremes

in libertarian •  5 months ago

Even in our civilization, child labor was quite normal just a hundred years ago; why not today? What has happened? Is it because we understood that children “deserve” a better childhood? No. Simply, we got rich enough to be able to afford this luxury.

On the subject of child labor, I’ve already attended many different debates, the range of which was more or less covered by many writings of well-known libertarian authors; bet yesterday I participated in one that forced me to think about where are the limits of what is still acceptable and what should be condemned. Considering that the article is about things that usually cause strong emotions, please try to stay calm; although I expect most people to reject my opinions as totally unacceptable, I will be glad for anyone who’ll analytically think about them.

Let’s start with what we (presumably) all agree: If a child is violently forced to work (for example by a slaver), it is a gross infringement of his natural rights, which is totally inexcusable and reprehensible; the same can be said of cases in which the child is somehow deceived, for example he does not get an agreed wage for work, or he doesn’t understand what his work involves, which may include sending a child to a uranium mine without understanding the consequences of radiation and so on. The above mentioned conduct would, of course, be reprehensible even if this was not about children, but adults. Now let’s talk about work that nobody is violently forced to do and at the same time, the worker fully understands, what and under what conditions they want him to do.

Let’s continue with what all reasonable people agree, if they thought about it a little: A child working under conditions we find acceptable. In the middle of Europe, we do not see such things very often, as we live in comparison to the rest of the world in an enormous wealth, so there are de facto no children who would have to work because of existential reasons, while children who want to get money (for example) to buy a computer cannot get a temporary job, because it is restricted by law and it would mean a serious problem for the employer (in the 1990s, I found myself an employer as a child, but according to my information it is far more difficult today). In the poorer parts of the world (Asia, Africa), however, it is a common practice for many children.

Is it bad? Well, we can discuss whether it is better for the children to spend time working or instead to “enjoy childhood” in the way we know in our civilization; but this is a fatal mistake: an alternative to working for poor Asian children is something different from our children’s. Even in our civilization, child labor was quite normal just a hundred years ago; why not today? What has happened? Is it because we have understood that children “deserve” a better childhood? No. Simply, we got rich enough to afford this luxury. When people in Asia and Africa get rich as we are, I am pretty sure that even their children will work far less. Among other things, it is also about a qualification: in the poor parts of the world, where almost everyone is doing unskilled work, a child does not earn much less than an adult, ergo can also be a valid worker in the poor family and earn for their survival; in richer civilizations there is a significant number of jobs requiring qualification, making the average adult labor price relatively much higher than the child’s labor price, so many families would just minimally increase their budget.

Now let’s go one step further, where there is no such consensus, and where the discussion is typically more emotional than logical: A child working in terrible conditions doing a very hard job for a bad salary; good example can be cocoa plantations, where children work from dawn to dusk in terrible heat to get water and a little food. Are their employers reprehensible? Before I try to answer the question, I would like to recall the aforementioned... we are still only talking about situations when the children are not violently forced to do the job. What does it mean when a child decides to accept such work rather than not to accept it? Well, simply, it means they need that water and food so much that they are willing to work hard for it; from that we can deduce that accepting such offer (hard work for water and food) is an improvement for the child (according to its standards), compared to the original state, because if that were not the case, the child would refuse the offer. So it means that those who employ children in such conditions help them, because they clearly improve their situation, compared to the original state.

Many people argue that it is a misuse of one’s desperate situation to self-enrich. This is, of course, true; companies that use the cheap child labor do it for their own enrichment. On the other hand, if these children have the choice of accepting or rejecting such job, and they still accept it, it is a proof, that this opportunity improves their situation because they have no better choice anywhere else (if they had, they would accept a better one). Such a factory or plantation improves the situation of children, the company earns something, and last but not least, it can bring lower prices of products on our market, which will increase our – already extensive - wealth. How can that be reprehensible? It improves the situation of poor children, improves the situation of their employers, which consequently improves the situation of all of us; it definitely does not make anyone’s situation worse. Why should we condemn something that helps everyone (someone more, someone less; it helps somebody to improve its horrible conditions, others to make money, but it helps everyone) and definitely not hurts anyone?

Please consider the following: If a child lives in such poor conditions that it is better for him (for example) to prostitute in order to eat and someone comes to such a child and gives him the choice whether he wants to starve or go with him to bed, he does more for that child than the one sitting in front of PC reading this article. I have no doubt that there are many people among us who help these children (they provide their resources through charity, etc.), and I also belong to them. However, we have to realize that, if there are still such children even with our help in poor countries, then our help is evidently insufficient. As a result, the children to whom our help did not arrive, are doing better with those who pay them (and it is pointless, what work they want to be done).

I certainly do not say that it is good for some children to experience such nightmares; it is really bad that some children have to live like this, it is horrible in how desperate situations people in the poorer parts of the world often find themselves. I do not want to “defend” such things, because it is probably such a horror that we can’t even imagine it here in Central Europe. I only argue that people who want to get rich by employing children (companies employing cheap labor in the poor parts of the world) are actually helping them; I know that their motivation is (mostly) not compassion, however, the result of their actions (no matter what their motivations are) is a real help for people in need, the improvement of their situation (again, I recall that we are talking about cases when it is not a slavery and the children are not forced to do anything, although they are desperate). If we do not like it, let’s help them; if we do not help enough (which is so much, so nobody would end up in desperate situation), then it is hypocritical to condemn those who do so (even if their motivation is purely selfish, it still improves situation of the poor children). If someone is in a desperate situation, the offer of an alternative (even the bad one) does not harm him, if he has the right to decline it; if he accepts it, then he chooses – according to his own standards – lesser evil and by that he – again according to his standards – improves his situation.

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Author: Urza

Who is him?

Urza is Czech anarcho-capitalist author, he has written about thousand of libertarian texts on the web and printed media and also the first Czech book on anarcho-capitalism. He lectures at schools and conferences, made a number of videos and is often invited to many discussions.

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I wish the whole world could read this with understanding...
We need more people who touch the problems of everyday life and try to see ways in which to make things right.
Thanks for sharing, much love @joyart


Thank you very much for your support. I appreciate it. ;)

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Does helping on your parents farm count as child labor?


That is a question to those, who is interested in etymology. In the article, there is explained why working children is not a bad thing and helping your parents is much smaller/no problem (nowadays), because everyone approves it.

But helping on your parents farm is definitely* not slavery, because you always have the choice. Sometimes you choose between helping and worse relations; sometimes between helping and leaving your family (and probably your friends, school, other interests, ...) and sometimes you don't know what the second choice is.

*it is slavery only if they violently forces you to work and to stay in the family and you can't leave even without telling them.

I think this would be a good time to point out that the three wealthiest individuals in this planet have more assets that the bottom 10% of the population combined. THREE PEOPLE have more assets than 744 MILLION people. There is something seriously wrong with this world. If someone wants to get into the discussion that these three people worked harder than the 744 million and therefore are entitled to this type of wealth, by all means, make your argument below.


If their actions didn't violate others' property and the market was not influenced by violent intervences, then we could say that they bring more good to the society than the 744 milion people. For example, someone invents a television and thus he gets really really rich, but he gets rich only by bringing good to the society (again, if the market is not influenced by violence: forcing others to pay someone - subsidies, etc.). In our society, we cannot precisely measure the good brought to the society by someone, because the market IS pretty much under control of the state (which acts violently). The inventor do better also because of patents, but on the other hand, he has to pay taxes... also numerous regulations help him, because smaller firms cannot handle them so easy, and so on.


First of all thanks for your answer, this is an important point to discuss, here and everywhere.

In my opinion, you can't say that 3 individuals bring more good to society than 744 million people. I mean, you can, but that's an obscene statement whether we are talking economy, society and, it is most definitely obscene, if we are talking ethics. And, forgive me, but your read on the correlation between merit and wealth seems naive at best. Do you really believe that most of the sickly rich got rich because they were good at inventing stuff? Nah man, they were good at having others inventing for them and then taking the credit, at exploring cheap labor, at lobbying politicians, at sacrificing Nature in sake of profit. I know I sound all "conspiracy-theory", but apart from some exceptions that's how big money was made - by putting a price tag on everything else.

I agree with you that the markets are under control of the state and this is a discussion that would fill a book, but economics came to find that in many instances the optimal result does not came from Adam Smith's invisible hand, but by it being nudged a little bit one side or the other. Which means a laissez-faire economy does not provide the best solution. It is also very liable to be corrupted as for example the current market of real state, diamonds, pharmaceuticals, and on and on and on...


I am glad that you are interested in this topic. Thank you. :)

The inventor of TV was just an example and every entrepreneur has his unique way of "bringing good to the society". Somebody can even employ cheap labor from poor countries and, as written in the article, that's not a bad thing.

As I said, state acts violently and every entrepreneur want to have profit, so it is much easier to lobby at politicians and get regulations that harm the competition. That's not a problem of those entrepreneurs, but a problem of the system. Greed is a beneficial thing in the free market, because by satisfying the most urgent needs they get the biggest profit.

Sacrificing nature in sake of profit, well... that is not something inherently bad. I think that everyone should do with his property, what he thinks is the best. Today, there is not a big market need for protecting the environment, because the state assume this role, so almost nobody does that. That's a similar thing as protecting culture.

I can agree with you that nudging the invisible hand can bring better results in a certain industries. If you order people to pay taxes to you and you then transfer most of this money to, for example, healthcare, then of course you would (probably) have better healthcare than on the free market. But politics is a game of priorities. As a politician you constatly argue with somebody what's best for the people. Where to put money. Why would a politician have a more reasonable judgement than those who are involved? I think that I can decide things about my life better than a politician, who is a part of system that is highly inefficient and has no idea what my priorities are... through the free market, there are expressed the real needs and I have no idea why should the state get better results even if there was no inefficiency.

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