Child Labour

by Humphrey McQueen
(originally published in The Australian, 18-19 July 1992, p. 22.)

John Hewson’s* plan for a $3-an-hour minimum wage for teenagers is yet another of his betrayals of economic rationalism. Unless market forces are allowed to determined wage levels, unemployment will never again decline to its desired level of 5 percent.

Only a totally deregulated labour market will allow wages to find that natural level. Legal minimums, no matter how low, have no place in the program of a ‘free-market’ party.

The Liberal Party’s threat to enforce a minimum rate of payment is more than a vote-catching device designed to court popularity among an electorate addicted to decades of Menzies-style socialism.

Hewson’s sell-out goes further than the acceptance of a minimum wage. He has said nothing about deregulating maximum hours or abolishing health and safety regulations.

Teenagers are better able than older employees to put in a 16-hour day. If they worked a 96-hour week, some would earn twice the character-sapping dole. Moreover, the longer they work, the sounder they’ll sleep, and the less time they’ll have to moan about not being able to buy a new CD every day.

Of all employees, teenagers are least in need of a nanny state. After a life-time of idleness enforced by compulsory education, today’s teenagers are virile enough not to keel over at the first whiff of someone else’s cigarette smoke. Their bones are young enough to mend quickly should they injure themselves playing around at work.

Come to think of it, why is Hewson not applying the user-pay principle to untrained teenage labour? School-leavers who get their first jobs under his mini-named minimum wage will bring few skills and little experience to their work-places. Employers, already hard-pressed paying wages to adults, should not be loaded with the additional burden of training beginners.

Instead of getting a wage, those youngsters should work for nothing until they prove they can get to work on time and perform repetitive tasks without damaging valuable machines or spoiling expensive raw materials.

The miniscule amount of value that such novices might add to their employer’s profits will never compensate those public-spirited wealth-producers who have taken on the task of disciplining the unemployable into the routines of putting food into their own mouths.

Indeed, if Hewson were not another wimp like Malcolm Fraser, he would demand that parents pay the employer for his trouble in giving their children the chance to learn how to get up before social workers bring them breakfast in bed.

Yet, because the parents of the unemployable are sure to be congenital dole-bludgers, they will refuse to pay McDonald’s or Coles $126 a week to mind their selfishly conceived offspring. We can be equally certain that those parents are now wintering at Surfers Paradise at our expense.

When parents refuse to meet their God-appointed responsibilities, the answer will have to be a tax on the future earnings of teenagers. However, if those degenerates fail to benefit from their first employer’s generosity and not find permanently casual part-time work after they turn eighteen, a levy can be exacted from their unemployment benefit, before it cuts out after twelve months (far too long!).

Right-thinking Australians should be thankful that, for the time being, the traitor Hewson has not endorsed the ultra-Left demand of linking any reduction in youth wages to the provision of competency training by employers. Those proposals constitute an unwarranted interference with managerial prerogatives.

Indeed, the very notion that every child should be educated at public expense is a left-over from the otherwise totally discredited Marxist so-called philosophy.

Marx revealed the communist objective of imposing universal education in his 1848 Manifesto. The last of his ten points for achieving a successful proletarian revolution called for ‘free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production etc. etc.’

The sinister meaning behind ‘etc. etc.’ is now all too obvious.

Another socialist ‘achievement’ was the outlawing of child labour in 19th-century coal mines. That reform continues to exercise its malign effects by preventing Britain from reaping the benefits of a decade of Thatcherism.

Moreover, the evil influence of governments’ meddling with the market has not been interred with the bones of children who killed themselves in willful accidents, but persists in the silly Left-liberal belief that work is bad for children, whom the chatterers define as anyone under 20.

This insidious propaganda is spread by disappointed 1960s radicals for whom the compulsory education system is a make-work scheme which pays for their annual duty-free shopping holidays – never mind about Australian Made. Just imagine how many more of these pot-sodden lay-abouts will get tenured jobs when Keating raises the school leaving age to 20 years.

Overpaid professors of economics are offering excuses for Hewson’s endorsement of the soft option of a $3-an-hour minimum. They allege that, because of the Accord with the mindlessly militant ACTU, Australia’s presently imperfect labour market will not allow for the introduction of a zero of negative wage. The reason given is that teenagers can earn $60 a hour as prostitutes.

Should an employer ever place reasonable demands on a teenager, all she has to do is remind her boss that after hours her labour will cost him twenty times more than Hewson’s minimum.

Hewson’s academic apologists pretend that the invisible hand of market forces in the form of prostitution is thus a more effective protector of the rights of children than legions of factory inspectors, anti-discrimination laws, arbitration awards and compulsory unions.

The academic waffle in defence of Hewson won’t hold water. The impediment to universally lower wages posed by a $60-an-hour prostitutes must be smashed by further freeing-up of the child-labour market. It is high time that the Sex Workers Union got a dose of Troubleshooters.

Unless governments also stop resolving child abuse cases, sufficient children will never be made homeless before freely choosing to take up the oldest profession.

The artificial prices extorted by teenage prostitutes go to the heart of the structural adjustments needed to restore Australia to prosperity through exploiting our comparative advantages. Without 20 million tourists a year there will be no end to our foreign debt: without mass prostitution there will be a no tourists.

Moreover, prostitution is one form of labour with a premium on inexperience. No wasteful training or bureaucrats are required. Virgins attract the highest price of all, and not only from Zegna-suited vampires.

Above all, if Australia does not have a free market in child labour, how will our delegates at international trade talks on beef and sheep maintain the high moral ground?

[*John Hewson, former federal leader of the Liberal Party, lost the ‘unloseable election’ in 1993 against Paul Keating led Labor Party. He lost because he wanted to introduce a GST.]

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