There were many thoughtful comments on my child labor post. Let me engage some of them here.
Some talk about the unsafe and unhealthy working condition that working kids often suffered a century ago. But we can and do regulate such things without needing to distinguish kids. Similarly some express concern about kids working too many hours a day, but we can also limit work hours without prohibiting work.
Some say we ban child labor mainly to encourage school. But laws requiring school seem sufficient for that purpose. We let kids devote lots of energy to after-school sports, clubs, music, housework, sibling-care, etc. It isn’t clear that after-school work distracts from school or invests less in the future than these.
Some say employers are easier to police than are sports, clubs, music, and parents. This suggests that we would ban hard/tedious kid work of any sort if only enforcement were easier, which seems unlikely. This might explain our less often enforcing rules against hard housework, but it doesn’t much explain why we don’t even have such rules.
Some say kids are more easily exploited and therefore need more protection. But we aren’t talking about making kids autonomous – parents must still approve of kid jobs. So only parental exploitation could be the issue.
Some say yes, we must protect kids from their parents, since job wages make it easier for parents to gain from kid suffering. But the conflict between kids and parents is just as strong when kids do housework, care for younger siblings, or work at the parent’s farm or store. There’s also a big risk of parents pushing kids to work at sports, music, acting, etc. more for parent than kid benefits – this may be a bigger problem than parents stealing kid wages. Working kids at least get work experience; what do overworked kid violinists get?
Some say parents fear kids with the resources to leave those parents at will. But a parent veto on kid work seems sufficient for that – why also forbid parents from letting their kids work?
The fact that anti-child-labor laws actually only target working directly for money still seems better explained to me by unions once seeking to avoid labor competition, and others later piling on to show concern and to push upper class behaviors on everyone.