While most of the world is trying to diminish child labour, Bolivia has become the first nation to legalise it from age 10. Congress approved the legislation early this month, and Vice President Alvaro Garcia signed it into law on Thursday in the absence of President Evo Morales, who was travelling. The bill's sponsors say lowering the minimum work age from 14 simply acknowledges a reality: many poor families in Bolivia have no other choice than for their kids to work. The bill offers working children safeguards, they say.Initial response is ACK! What a dumb move! But it deserves a more careful look. We had terrible problems with child labor in the 1800s, and properly passed laws to control it. As usual those laws metastasized, making it difficult for families to train their own kids in the family business. The real problem in the sweatshop era was not the presence of children in the sweatshops. The problem was the sweatshops, which were hell for ALL AGES. Look through Lewis Hine's photos of child labor around 1900. He focused on mill workers, mine workers and newsboys. The mill workers and mine workers looked unhealthy, stunted in body and mind and soul. Those kids were dying. Those jobs needed to be reformed, and they were reformed after 1900, by major employers like Ford and NCR and Conoco. The newsboys were entirely different. They looked healthy, lively, and businesslike. They looked like what they were: Apprentice leaders. Outside all day, shouting, fighting for territory, perfecting a sales pitch, getting acquainted with important people. Bolivia's child laborers are not in sweatshops. They're a mix of hawkers, small business helpers, and piecework contractors. All of those jobs are comparatively healthy for mind and body. When the law makes it hard for them to work honestly, they will find dishonest work in Bolivia, or move North to find dishonest work. Ahem. Does the last part sound familiar?
Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.