Teaching Johnny to be dependent
By John D. Turner
27 Apr 2012

Did you ever have a job when you were a kid to make some extra spending money? I did. Money was tight in my family growing up, so if I wanted some extra spending cash I had to find some way to raise it on my own.

I am a military brat. My dad was in the Air Force, and I grew up on various military installations in various places in the States and overseas. My first real job was bagging groceries in the base commissary for tips. I did that at Hahn AB in Germany in 9th grade, at Holloman AFB in New Mexico in 10th grade, and at Lajes Field in the Azores in 11th and 12th grade. I won’t say it was a lucrative job, but it enabled me to buy stuff I would otherwise have been unable to buy.

In addition to those “real jobs,” I spent some time in Germany as an “entrepreneur.” Mostly I did this when we lived on base, as there wasn’t much I could do on the local economy. I did quite well washing people’s cars. In fact, I was the only one doing so in the dead of winter, so I had a bit of a monopoly that disappeared when better weather rolled around. I used to charge a variable amount, depending on the size of the vehicle. It was tough work, but I was very careful to do a good job and had many repeat customers.

The other “business” I ran while in Germany was the making and selling of “Kool-Aid straws.” These were a mix of Kool-Aid and sugar, contained in a straw stapled shut at both ends. I sold them for two cents each. After the first batch, where the sugar, Kool-Aid, and straws were subsidized by my parents, I was on my own, purchasing my supplies out of my gross. I still made money. In fact, I was so successful that another kid tried to cut in on my turf, selling his straws at 1 cent each.

This turned out to be an interesting lesson in business practices and economics. We both soon discovered that it was impossible to turn a profit at 1 cent each. In my case, I continued to sell at two cents and saw a lot of my customers go to him, at least at first. He continued to sell at one cent; losing money was immaterial to him as his “business” was subsidized by his parents. They purchased his supplies and he kept the proceeds. Pretty sweet deal for him; he was able to undercut the competition (me) and never have to worry about turning a profit.

I had to survive on my merits. Because he was cutting corners, he used much less sugar in his straws than I did. Hence, his didn’t taste as good as mine. There were those who, after trying his straws were willing to pay a “premium” price for a better tasting product; I got that business. Additionally, I featured multiple flavors, and delivered via bicycle. He had a single flavor and you had to go to his house in order to buy. I hung in there with a small core of loyal customers. Eventually, his parents got tired of supporting his business and he quit.

These businesses provided me with a bit of additional spending money. They were also, I believe, good learning experiences for me growing up. Could I do the same if I were a kid growing up today? I’m not sure.

Since then we have put all sorts of laws and regulations into effect, with the supposed purpose of “protecting” children. I am sure that today my Kool-Aid straws would be considered a “food item.” In order to sell them now, I would no doubt need some sort of license, training, and certification that my straws were being made in accordance with whatever health code laws were in effect at my place of business. I don’t know how many articles I have read in the past few years about kid’s lemonade stands being shut down across the country for this very reason. When I was young, selling lemonade was a time honored tradition for kids. Now such stands are viewed as possible sources of food poisoning, public nuisances, and/or an attempt to defraud “legitimate” businesses out of their rightful revenue.

The latest move by government busybodies to “protect” children and insulate them from the horrors of work comes from the Department of Labor, which is about to issue a new regulation that would apply existing child labor laws to any children hapless enough to be working on family farms. Yes, the federal government is stepping in to tell children and families what they can and cannot do on their own property in support of the family business.

Prohibited places of employment include country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions. These places are simply too dangerous for young Susie or Johnny to even approach. In fact, these new regulations mean that there will be places at home where kids will no longer be allowed to go. Parents will have to keep a close watch to make sure that Junior doesn’t somehow wander to those locations. If he does I am sure stiff fines will be the result, if not jail time. In the worst case, I can envision children being taken away by child protective services because parents were negligent in allowing them to enter the barn.

So how, pray tell, is young Johnny or Susie then supposed to do 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America) projects? Many children living in the country learn about the family business by working on the family farm. They learn about livestock by being around them and tending them. They learn about farming and ranching by doing 4-H and FFA projects, and earn money for college by raising and auctioning off horses, cows, sheep, and other livestock.

Sorry kids, but the Federal Government has decided that you can’t do that anymore. Children under 18 will no longer be able to work “in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm product raw materials.” That pretty much means that you can’t do much of anything anymore except lounge around the house and watch TV, play on the Internet, or amuse yourself with your cell phone like your citified peers do.

Many parents are up in arms about these new regulations. Many family farms are balanced on a knife’s edge of profitability now as it is. If little Johnny or Susie can no longer do farm chores, the work does not go away. It simply means someone will have to be hired to do the job instead; something that many family farms will not be able to afford. But it goes much deeper than that; one of the biggest complaints is that parents will be unable to teach their kids the values of working on a farm. It’s all about losing the work-ethic.

Farming is hard work. There is a lot to learn, much of which is learned from experience, not studying a text book in college. There is a great fear amongst farmers that if this work ethic is not passed on from generation to generation that before too long there will be no one to do the work. How many people who were not raised up in the culture abandon “city life” to go work on a farm? Not many. And of those who do, how many are successful? Again, not many.

But not to worry; I am sure that if we don’t have enough farmers to raise our food that we can outsource that too, to China or somewhere else. Food production will just become yet another job that “Americans are unwilling to do.”

After all, how can you expect kids to grow up being good little socialists, dependent on government largess, if you let parents inculcate them with a work ethic? Surely, they should grow up thinking that the way to get money is for someone to give it to them, rather than going out and actually earning it; something their citified cousins have no problems at all figuring out.

If kids need money, parents are supposed to give it to them, not make them work for it or suggest they get a job. If adults need money, the government is supposed to provide it to them if they can’t work or find a job. The lessons are learned young.

And here comes the government to ensure the process by making it impossible for the kids to get a job. I remember the frustration my kids had when they wanted to get a job to earn some extra spending money, and were told that they had to wait until they were 16 because the child labor laws were “protecting” them from having to work. They didn’t feel “protected;” they felt frustrated because the federal government was not allowing them to make some money so they could buy an iPod or a new video game.

About the only thing they could do was babysitting. And even that is becoming problematic. If a person wants to qualify for the child care tax credit, they need to provide the social security number of the person providing the child care on their federal tax return. The IRS then matches that against the return of the person providing the care to make sure they are reporting the same income. How many babysitters do you know that report their babysitting income?

Don’t think that this will stop with farms. I am sure there are many “chores” around the house that families have kids do that are not “safe” and should be regulated. Things like washing dishes (might cut themselves on a knife or drop a glass or something), doing laundry (possible back injury from heavy lifting; possible exposure to harmful chemicals), sweeping the floor (what if they have allergies), etc. And what about those chores that the government does deem acceptable to be done by children (making their bed perhaps?) I am sure that the government will at some point institute a mandatory “minimum allowance” required for parents to pay their kids. In fact, they may do that without requiring any chores to be done at all. This would prepare them for life on welfare – getting a handout without having to work. This is a very important socialization skill in today’s society.

Of course then again, keeping their room straight and making their bed might also be unacceptable. I am sure there are adult maids who could be paid to do the work that children are depriving them of doing. If they don’t have a union yet, perhaps they should consider forming one.

But its ok isn’t it? We will do anything “for the children.” Except of course, it isn’t “about the children” at all; that is just an excuse. Any time the government wants to do something it’s “for the children” because the government knows that people will do anything for their children. No, it’s really about expanding the scope of government, molding the public into acceptable government-regulated paths, and pandering to the people responsible for getting them re-elected; big business and big labor – the unions. The government gains control, the kids get socialized into understanding “the proper role of government,” and jobs are created for adults to do those things that the kids used to do.

The next step will be installing CCTV cameras in homes to monitor parents and ensure that they aren’t violating government regulations prohibiting certain work activities. Sound farfetched? They are already doing this in some parts of England. Ah, England, the mother country; a place where, on average, a citizen is videotaped over 300 times each day simply going about their business. But why worry? As long as you aren’t doing anything wrong, why should you care?

And how do you know you “aren’t doing anything wrong?” Are you intimately familiar with all the laws and all the government regulations on the books? Ignorance is after all, no excuse. According to Boston civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate, the average American commits three felonies each and every day. That’s felonies; crimes of “high seriousness,” not simple misdemeanors. This does not include federal regulations that carry criminal penalties. Do you really want your activities captured on tape?

Keep in mind too, that there is nothing currently done by the private sector that the government cannot do better. If you don’t believe me, just ask them. Case in point, having to do with the current regulations being discussed here; in addition to making it impossible for farm children to help with chores around the farm, the same regulation would also revoke the government’s approval of safety training and certification currently taught by independent groups like 4-H and FFA, replacing them instead with a 90-hour federal government training course.

Because no one can bore people more thoroughly than a government trainer can. And besides, if the government isn’t performing the training, who knows what might be taught?

So if 4-H and FFA can no longer teach classes, and the kids can really no longer do projects, what will happen to 4-H and FFA? With no reason for existence, I guess they will just have to close up shop. But that’s ok, because any number of government jobs will simply spring up in their place. And those folks that used to work for or run 4-H and FFA can either get spiffy new government jobs or go on unemployment, or stumble off and die for all the government cares. They have been replaced by those with the proper message and credentials.

Kids learn young. In fact, many doctors and child psychologists say that by the time you are eight, the type of person you will turn out to be is pretty much set. There can be changes, but change becomes progressively more difficult the older you get. What sorts of things do we want our young children to learn? Entrepreneurship? Self-reliance? A good work ethic? Or would we rather have them learn dependence, self-indulgence, and sloth?

It is ironic that Obama’s slogan in the last election was “yes we can,” but since his election, his administration seems to be hell-bent to tell us instead “no you can’t.”

Apparently, the administration has decided to backtrack on this one, at least for now, and has withdrawn the regulation. The article linked expands in detail what would have been contained in the rule over what was in the previous article I had cited. We will see if it makes a comeback in a second Obama administration. I stand by my comments.