Clicking on banner ads keeps JWR alive
Jewish World ReviewJune 3, 1999 /19 Sivan 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Tony Snow
Michael Barone
Dave Barry
Dr. Laura
Michael Kelly
Bob Greene
Paul Greenberg
David Corn
Sam Schulman
Philip Weiss
Mort Zuckerman
Richard Chesnoff
Larry Elder
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Don Feder
Linda Chavez
Mona Charen
Thomas Sowell
Walter Williams
Ben Wattenberg


Childish labor laws

(JWR) ---- (
THERE WAS A CERTAIN IRONY in a recent news story about the government cracking down on Sears because the department store chain was accused of having hired some workers who were not quite old enough to be working, according to the child labor laws.

Richard Sears, who founded the company, was younger than these workers when he began working. So was Aaron Montgomery Ward. An even younger worker was James Cash Penney, Jr., founder of the chain of stores bearing his name.

When J. C. Penney was an eight-year-old boy growing up on a family farm, his father told him that he was now old enough to buy his own clothes. Moreover, neither his parents nor his older siblings would tell him how to get the money. He had to figure that out for himself, as the older children had had to do before him. With a hole in his shoe, he had a special incentive to go find some work to do.

These department store magnates were not unique in starting to work at an early age. John Jacob Astor, who would eventually become the richest man in America, left home and began working at lowly jobs as a teenager. So did future Wall Street financier Jay Gould, future steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, future oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, future founder of the American automobile industry Henry Ford and future radio pioneer David Sarnoff, who created RCA and NBC.

What if our wonderfully compassionate and ever zealous social crusaders had been around then and had managed to put a stop to this child labor? Would these energetic young fellows have been diverted into midnight basketball or perhaps gone into the underground economy and possibly crime?

If they had ended up in jail or on welfare or on drugs, the social crusaders would undoubtedly have come to their rescue with half-way houses or other programs that would have made them wards of the state. Meanwhile, the social crusaders would feel good about themselves because of all the benefits they were showering on the less fortunate with the taxpayers' money.

Do-gooders are not the only people with a vested interest in restrictive child labor laws. Labor unions have always supported and promoted laws that keep young people out of the work force, where they would otherwise compete for jobs with the unions' own members. Since these young people have to be warehoused someplace while they are kept idle, unions have also been big supporters of compulsory attendance laws that keep teenagers in school, even when they are learning nothing except irresponsibility and self-indulgent mischief-making.

The education establishment itself has of course been all in favor of keeping teenagers in school long past the point where it is accomplishing nothing, except providing jobs for teachers and administrators. Those jobs are not a small thing, as far as the National Education Association is concerned. And the NEA, with its millions of dollars in campaign contributions, is no small thing as far as the politicians are concerned.

At one time, child labor laws were used to stop youngsters whose ages had not yet reached double digits from working in exhausting and dangerous factories and mines. Today, they are used to keep big healthy teenagers from handling pieces of paper in air-conditioned offices.

Education is of course important. But, like many other things that are important, how much of it makes sense varies from person to person, as well as according to circumstances. Not everyone should continue on to get a Ph.D. and then receive a post-doctoral fellowship.

The point along the way at which it makes sense to stop cannot be determined by simply saying that education is a Good Thing or by calling people "drop-outs" when they decide that they have had enough before third parties want to turn them loose. Much of what is called education is glorified baby-sitting, producing little more than artificially extended adolescence.

The stringency of today's compulsory attendance laws and child labor laws prevents many young people from getting the kind of maturity that can only be found in work and in personal responsibility. If nothing else, many teenagers need to get out of their adolescent subculture and into an environment where they can draw upon the experience of adults around them, instead of absorbing the fads of similarly immature peers.


06/01/99: Demonizing for dollars
05/27/99: The real public service
05/24/99: Income, taxes and demagoguery
05/18/99: Random thoughts
05/14/99: Aborted knowledge
05/10/99: The new "fairness"
05/04/99: Holding parents responsible
05/03/99: Exit strategies
04/28/99: Tragedy and farce
04/26/99: Guilt and cop-outs
04/21/99: Choosing a college
04/16/99: When success fails
04/13/99: A photo-op foreign policy
04/09/99: Russia and the Serbs
04/06/99: Random thoughts
03/31/99: Irresponsible "experts"
03/29/99: Another Doleful prospect?
03/23/99: Random thoughts
03/22/99: Loving enemies
03/19/99: Naming names
03/15/99: Undermining the military
03/10/99: Joe DiMaggio -- icon of an era
03/02/99: Facts versus dogma on guns
03/01/99: Losing the cultural wars
02/22/99: "Saving" social security
02/18/99: Too many Ph.Ds?
02/8/99: A national disaster
02/8/99: Economic fallacies in the media: Part II
02/5/99: Why economists visit dentists so often
02/2/99: Warning: Good news
01/29/99: What is at stake?
01/26/99:Moral bankruptcy in the schools
01/22/99: Who is going to convict Santa Claus?
01/19/99: Seeing through the spin
01/13/99: A trial is a trial is a trial
01/11/99:Trials and tribulations
01/08/99: Rays of hope
01/04/99: Random thoughts
12/31/98: The President versus the presidency
12/29/98: The time is now!
12/23/98: World-class hypocrisy
12/21/98: The spreading corruption
12/17/98: Politically "contrite"
12/16/98: Polls and partisanship
12/14/98: The "non-profit" halo
12/11/98: Corruption and confusion
12/03/98: The health care "crisis"
11/30/98: Knowing what you are talking about
11/23/98: The impeachment legacy
11/23/98: Random thoughts
11/19/98: Tales out of bureaucracies
11/16/98: Scholarships based on scholarship
11/12/98: Forward march
11/09/98: Moral outrage
11/05/98: Will the Republicans ever learn?
11/02/98: A voter's duty
10/30/98: The poverty pimp's poem
10/29/98: Random thoughts on the election
10/27/98: "Partisan" and "unfair"
10/23/98: Ed-u-kai-tchun
10/21/98: McGwire, Maris and the Babe
10/16/98: Lightweight Boxer
10/14/98: A strange word
10/09/98: Impeachment standards
10/08/98: Alternatives to seriousness
10/07/98: Heredity, environment and talk
10/02/98: A much-needed guide
10/01/98: Starr's real crime
9/24/98: Costs and power
9/18/98: Are we sheep?
9/16/98: Judicial review
9/15/98: Hillary Rodham Crook?
9/14/98: Taking stock
9/11/98: Moment of truth
9/04/98: Random thoughts
8/31/98: The twilight of special prosecutors?
8/26/98: "Doing a good job"
8/24/98: America on trial?
8/19/98: Played for fools
8/17/98: A childish letter
8/11/98: Hiding behind a woman
8/07/98: A flying walrus in Washington?
8/03/98: "Affordability" strikes again
7/31/98: Random thoughts
7/27/98: Faith and mountains
7/24/98: Clinton in Wonderland
7/20/98: Where is black 'leadership' leading?
7/16/98: Do 'minorities' really have it that bad?
7/14/98: Race dialogue: same old stuff
7/10/98: Honest history
7/09/98: Dumb is dangerous
7/02/98: Gun-safety starts with
parental responsibility
6/30/98: When more is less
6/29/98: Are educators above the law?
6/26/98: Random Thoughts
6/24/98: An angry letter
6/22/98: Sixties sentimentalism
6/19/98:Dumbing down anti-trust
6/15/98: A changing of the guard?
6/11/98: Presidential privileges
6/8/98: Fast computers and slow antitrust
6/3/98: Can stalling backfire?
5/29/98: The insulation of the Left
5/25/98: Missing the point in the media
5/22/98: The lessons of Indonesia
5/20/98: Smart but silent
5/18/98: Israel, Clinton and character
5/14/98: Monica Lewinsky's choices
5/11/98: Random thoughts
5/7/98: Media obstruction of justice
5/4/98: Dangerous "safety"
5/1/98: Abolish Adolescence!
4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1999, Creators Syndicate