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Different Perspectives on Child Labor at the State and Federal Level


Two stories in the news this week point to the difference in philosophy regarding child labor between state and federal officials.

In Iowa, a jury returned a verdict of acquittal in favor of Sholom Rubashkin, the former manager of Agriprocessors, a kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa. The state had indicted him for knowingly hiring people under 18 years of age to work in the slaughterhouse. That’s a crime in Iowa. The minors were Guatemalan illegal-immigrant teenagers who had provided false documents showing that they were 18.

The criminal charges arose in the context of an immigration raid that U.S. officials conducted against the slaughterhouse in 2008. Hundreds of illegal immigrants, mostly from Guatemala, were working in the business.

The feds secured a criminal indictment against Rubashkin for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. But perhaps sensing that they might have trouble securing a conviction on that charge, as the state has had with its prosecution for knowingly hiring children, the feds also indicted Rubashkin on bank fraud charges.

After securing a conviction on the bank-fraud charges, for which they’re seeking a 25-year jail sentence, they dismissed the immigration charges (which, you’ll recall, was the reason they raided the business in the first place).

Of course, one cannot help but wonder whether the feds, after sensing problems with an immigration prosecution, didn’t go searching for a “gotcha” based on a violation of some banking regulation. After all, as Ayn Rand pointed out inAtlas Shrugged, that’s the real “benefit” of the regulated economy — it provides the authorities with the power to indict and convict anyone they want anytime they want.

Soon after the immigration raid, Agriprocessors, which had been in operation since 1987, filed for bankruptcy. Just another federal immigration “success” story.

After all, here’s a company that has obviously been providing a product that satisfies consumers. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been able to stay in business for so long. Additionally, it has used its own money to enter into mutually beneficial economic relationships with people who have chosen to work there. The company is providing employment to hundreds of people, including the immigrants, who are desperately poor, and those people in management as well.

Along comes the federal government and interferes with all this mutually beneficial, free-market activity by engaging in conduct that ends up shutting down the entire operation. Hundreds of people are put out of work. Consumers are denied a product they like and, not surprisingly, prices of kosher beef go up.

But I digress. Back to the original point: the difference between the feds and Iowa state officials with respect to child labor. Undoubtedly, U.S. officials would condemn Iowa’s prosecution of Rubashkin for knowingly hiring children in his slaughterhouse.

How do we know that? Easy, by pointing to what the U.S. government is doing in Somalia. According to yesterday’s New York Times, the Somali government is using monies provided by the U.S. government to hire young boys to serve the government as soldiers. The boys, who are as young as 9, carry fully loaded Kalashnikov assault rifles and brutally enforce military edicts in the country.

The Times stated: “Officials also revealed that the United States government was helping pay their soldiers, an arrangement American officials confirmed, raising the possibility that the wages for some of these child combatants may have come from American taxpayers.”

Never mind that the Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits the use of soldiers younger than 15. Somalia and the United States are the only two countries in the world that have not ratified it.

I suppose U.S. officials could argue that the children working in that Iowa slaughterhouse were doing more dangerous work than those children that the U.S. government is paying to serve as well-armed soldiers in Somalia. My hunch is that a jury would spurn that argument too.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.