If you think that Kailash Satyarthi—and his Bachpan Bachao Andolan (ROTFL)—deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, consider this: You have bronchitis. The doctor examines your symptoms and writes a brilliant report. The doctor is very “sincere”, fraudulently so. The report is evocative and accurate. The doctor thinks that the general public should be warned of the trauma of chronic diseases. He thinks that they should be enlightened. After all, it never occurs to the healthy that there could be a horrible thing such as a “disease”! They are from planet Mars. His views are considered an injection of hard reality into our otherwise hedonistic lives. He has a simple cure for your ailment: “To shoot you”. And more: He wants his cure to be enforced through legislation, because it would create paradise on earth. Would you seek the service of such a doctor? He does not lack passion or empathy. He is sincere. He is a hero by the virtue of raising awareness. Is it possible at all that something else can matter?
Economically ignorant liberals might claim that this is not a reasonable analogy, but that doesn’t change the issue. There is nothing wrong with child labor. The economist Ludwig Von Mises observed many decades ago:
“The factory owners did not have the power to compel anybody to take a factory job. They could only hire people who were ready to work for the wages offered to them. Low as these wage rates were, they were nonetheless much more than these paupers could earn in any other field open to them. 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.”
Robert Hessen argues in “Capitalism-The Unknown Ideal”:
“The result of legislative intervention was that these dismissed children, who needed to work in order to survive, were forced to seek jobs in smaller, older, and more out-of-the-way factories, where the conditions of employment, sanitation, and safety were markedly inferior. Those who could not find new jobs were reduced to the status of their counterparts a hundred years before, that is, to irregular agricultural labor, or worse—in the words of Professor von Mises—to “infest the country as vagabonds, beggars, tramps, robbers and prostitutes.” Child labor was not ended by legislative fiat; child labor ended when it became economically unnecessary for children to earn wages in order to survive—when the income of their parents became sufficient to support them. The emancipators and benefactors of those children were not legislators or factory inspectors, but manufacturers and financiers. Their efforts and investments in machinery led to a rise in real wages, to a growing abundance of goods at lower prices, and to an incomparable improvement in the general standard of living.”
This is not a malicious view which only Twitter trolls would believe in. This is elementary social science which the journalists and activists would have known if they had read an elementary text on economics. They would have known this even if they had only a superficial understanding of human history.
If Kailash Satyarthi’s cause is fundamentally flawed, even if it is true that he is doing a wonderful job, he is inflicting enormous harm. He is probably sincere, but when you judge someone by sincerity, you are setting the bar way too low. People can do pretty much anything, and convince themselves that their motives are noble. What does that even prove? If his motives were truly noble, he would have tried to find out whether his cause is fundamentally flawed or not. The fact that is has never tried to find out is enough proof that he is a fraud.
The pursuit of truth is a reflection of great character strength. Convincing yourself of something or the other and posing as a messiah of underprivileged children is a reflection of weak character—of poor personal standards, of greed.
Of course, there are allegations of corruption against this fellow, but the liberals want to conveniently ignore this. But, if they truly care for truth and morality, wouldn’t they try to find out whether these allegations are true? They claim that someone is innocent until proven guilty, and that we should give him the benefit of doubt (as long as he can hit back or hand out favors?).
Megha Bahri writes in Forbes:
Satyarthi, and his BBA, is a flawed hero and I have first hand experience of it. While reporting the story for Forbes I met with BBA representatives (not Satyarthi, but a deputy). BBA had some credibility, for sure. It had busted a subcontractor of Gap Inc. using child labor just a few months earlier and the incident had made a huge splash. The BBA representative told me that apart from the garment sector, one area that had one of the worst problems of child labor was the carpet belt in Uttar Pradesh. I remember the guy’s words to date: each house, each village is filled with children making carpets for export.
I said, show me.
We set off from Delhi and drove around a few villages but I only saw adults weaving carpets. As my suspicion became more obvious, and my questions more pertinent, the guy finally took me to one house and told me to wait in the car while he went in first. That, itself, was not a good sign in my book so I immediately followed. In the verandah of the house I was shown two boys, 6 years old or so, who were sitting before a loom. When I asked them to show their weaving skills, they didn’t have a clue what was expected of them. More importantly, they were wearing steel grey shorts and shirts–a typical school uniform in India.”
The problem is that the more children you show “rescued”, the more funds you get from foreign donors. That’s not to say that child labor isn’t a vast, and severe, problem in India. It is. And the fact remains that every time you buy an imported handmade carpet, an embroidered pair of jeans, a beaded purse, a decorated box or a soccer ball there’s a good chance you’re acquiring something fashioned by a child.
His ex-colleagues too have made corruption allegations against him:
“Having worked with Kailash Satyarthi in 1999 and surely having loved working there, i (Indu) feel he still didn’t deserve the award. For what he did with his one of the oldest colleague, Ms. Suman Srivastava, is condemnable. He and his team did a total character assassination of her. And anyone who came against this rot setting in, were slapped criminal defamation cases. We’ve one such case against us in the Rohini Court.”
This sort of thing happens in almost every non-profit. It would be surprising if this is not true.
Robin Hanson of Overcoming bias brilliantly observes:
“School seems useful for basic training and for socializing folks into industrial workplaces. But how much schooling do we need – closer to eight or to sixteen years? You might think the more school option has clearly proven its superiority by now. But it wasn’t exactly a fair fight – we forbade kids to work, and then required them to school. Watching some young girls sitting for hours in front of a grocery store selling girl scout cookies recently, I wondered, “Why isn’t this child labor?” People often talk as they feel revulsion at the image of a miserable child, working at some hard tedious job, and so they are glad child labor laws prohibit such cruel scenarios. But in fact our society is full of kids working away at hard and/or tedious jobs. Kids work hard at school, housework, sports, practicing music, supporting clubs, etc. and none of this cruelty is prevented by “child labor” laws. Such laws only prevent getting paid to work; they don’t even stop kids interning for free. If child labor laws come from our revulsion at miserable kids, why are there no laws preventing tiger moms from making their kids practice music for hours straight without a bathroom break, or against parents who make their older kids work full time taking care of younger kids? If job safety is our worry, why not just regulate that more directly? The history of child labor law is closely associated with unions seeking less competition for adult labor. Like minimum lot sizes for houses, child labor laws also helped to keep out poor folks. And today self-righteous indication about foreign child labor supports protectionism, to keep out foreign products that compete with local firms. Alas, keeping poor kids from working for money not only unfairly biases the work vs. school competition, it needlessly impoverishes poor kids and their families. While we claim to care so so much about kids forced to do hard and tedious tasks, we only actually prevent doing such tasks for money – many kids around us end up doing such tasks anyway, just not for money, and we hardly care. And yet somehow we’ve used all this to tell ourselves how morally superior we are to the cruel poor folk who might even consider having their kids “work.” Hypocrisy can be amazingly shallow.”