Where this ends and that begins

From Geoffrey Nunberg’s new book Talking Right page 134.

In the 1920s, the [Wall Street] Journal warned against the threats to freedom that were implicit in minimum wage laws [and] the child-labor amendment to the Constitution (“an assault upon the economic independence of the family…”)

I’ll get to my point, but first I’ll clear up a detail. I frowned in puzzlement when I read that, thinking ‘The – ? I didn’t know there was a child-labor amendment to the Constitution. Ignorant me.’ So I looked it up, and there isn’t; Nunberg apparently meant attempts to pass a child-labor amendment, which (no doubt with the help of the WSJ) failed.

But my point is that that is another example of the kind of thing I was talking about in that comment on Michael Bérubé’s book (What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts). It’s another example of tensions among the freedoms, entitlements, rights, wants, and needs of different people; another example of the fact that a protective law for one person may be an interference with the freedom of action of another person; and that this situation isn’t even all that rare or hard to find. We don’t think about the child labor example much in the US now, because even reactionaries mostly don’t want to defend child labor any more; like slavery, that idea is pretty dead. But there was a time when the WSJ framed child labor laws as an assault upon the economic independence of the family, which of course it is. And a good thing too, but not everyone thinks so and not everyone has always thought so.

Michael replied to my comment last week, at the end of a longer reply to a review by Jodi Dean. He found my point (cough) reasonable (that’s his cough, but I’ll cough too, because I might as well). We agree that it is a problem, indeed the problem.

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