Zoolander. While this film may be a zany comedy staring the ever-bland Ben Stiller, it did have one scene that truly made me laugh. Will Ferrell, playing the evil tycoon Mugatu, was brainwashing Stiller into opposing the Prime Minister of Malaysia on that grounds that the Prime Minister was making child labor illegal. He said, nonchalantly: “He is trying to steal jobs away from CHILDREN” (paraphrase). That comment made me chuckle. It was funny. The phrasing, the timing, the manner of delivery. It appealed to every populist instinct, but I felt a cold stabbing in my heart at the same time. Child labors laws do actually impoverish and ruin the lives of the very children they intend to help.
In the classic book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, compiled by Ayn Rand, Robert Hesson articulates this concept in detail. He writes:
…the introduction of the factory system offered a livelihood, a means of survival, to tens of thousands of children who would not have lived to be youths in the pre-capitalistic eras. How did children thrive before the Industrial Revolution? …Locke estimated that a laboring man and his wife in good health could support no more than two children… “What they can have at home, from their parents,” wrote Locke, “is seldom more than bread and water, and that very scantily too.”
Hessen then quotes Mises:
It is a distortion of facts to say that the factories carried off the housewives from the nurseries and the kitchen and the children from their play. These women had nothing to cook with and to feed their children. These children were destitute and starving. Their only refuge was the factory. It saved them, in the strict sense of the term, from death by starvation.
Quite literally, as Mises puts it, children no longer starved to death. Hessen gives us a few numbers:
“The proportion of those born in London dying before five years of age” [quoting Mabel C. Buer] fell from 74.5 percent in 1730-49 to 31.8 percent in 1810-29.40 Children who hitherto would have died in infancy now had a chance for survival.
It is sickening, those who advocate child labor laws. Laws are filled with unintended consequences. Their very purpose is to use force to stop people from performing mutually beneficial activities. These laws, quite literally, “steal jobs away from children.” These children often starve, dig through garbage, or turn to prostitution. It makes me sick when Americans advocate ruining the lives of these precious children.