On the Other Hand...

Kids' Rights

by Jim Davies

The natural way in which humans of all ages associate is called a "free market", which can be defined as a society in which no obligations exist except those voluntarily undertaken.

The sole business of all governments is to destroy or distort such free societies, and the American ones have been so successful that it's not easy to visualize how one would function - especially, perhaps, with regard to its children and their rights. We Libertarians and anarcho- capitalists have a pretty good handle on the rights of adults, and the Bill of Rights is a valiant attempt to define the Utopian, oxymoronic state of "freedom under the law" for adults; but what about kids, specifically?

Kids are a bit different, for they are not simply small adults.

They are far superior to adults in several ways, most obviously in the astonishing rate at which they learn (they start from zero and within three years can communicate in a language... from zero!) and in their delightful absence of inhibition.

But in other ways they lack important abilities. They have the right to earn a living, but not the ability to exercise it. They have the right to eat, but at birth cannot find food unaided. They have the right to choose those with whom they will associate, but while young lack the ability to change parents. And if, a bit later, they want to swap them for a better pair, Nanny Government steps in with all manner of complications.

So imagine if you will that that Nanny were 100% missing. How, then, might the market care for children?

Prenatal Adoption

First, every baby will be wanted. In a free society it isn't feasible that a couple would produce a child without wanting to bear it; for if they were "surprised", they would quickly arrange for it to be adopted at birth - there being no Nanny to strangle the prenatal adoption market and grossly inflate the cost of adopting, so making that option available only to the well-off or well-connected. Nanny wouldn't be there to forbid abortions either, but those would be unusual because it would be so profitable for the Mom-to-be to carry the fetus to term and auction off the baby.

So, as soon as the unwanted pregnancy were discovered, Mom (with Dad if he's around) would jump on eBay or one of its rivals and invite offers. She would truthfully describe the coming baby's lineage, name the ETA and perhaps the gender, and await the highest bidder. She might not necessarily accept the highest in cash terms; she might choose the buyers for their non-cash attributes too - see below under "Bugaboos". But in short order, a price would certainly be found (free markets always clear a price) and a contract signed.

Both parties would fulfil its terms and away goes Babe to a caring family. The only occasion for a third party to enter the scene would be that one party alleges that the second party failed to honor the terms agreed; and a well-drawn contract would name the third party, in advance, whom the first two choose to render judgment.

How high might be the prevailing price, in such a prenatal baby market? - I have no idea, except that total costs would be far lower than at present. But I am very satisfied indeed that, being free, that market would cause a perfect level of prices to prevail. Perfect, because both parties to each contract would be equally satisfied with its terms; the very definition of a "fair price". That's what a free market does. Always.

And thanks to the refreshing degree of free commercial speech that has followed development of the Internet, that price would not be inflated by inefficiencies in its operation; for the search for a baby, or for parents for one, would be far less expensive than at any time in history.

Postnatal Adoption

Children are so delightful to have around that I believe this will be a far smaller market than the wordwide prenatal market. But circumstances will arise, that create a need for a change of upbringing parents.

Most obviously, the initial parents may encounter a major difficulty. A divorce perhaps, or a crippling or fatal accident, that leaves Junior without care. While aunts, uncles, grandparents and other family members may well want to step in at such times and take over, there will be some cases where they won't, or can't, or don't exist.

Such cases would be served by a postnatal adoption market that would, again, spontaneously arise. Its shape would be almost identical to the prenatal market outlined above, with a few interesting differences: the child will be part-grown, so his or her photo will feature in the Internet advertisement, placed presumably by a family member or friend - or, in their absence, by a broker in the business of profiting by placing such bereaved or unwanted children in suitable homes. "Good parents wanted for the adorable cutie shown below", etc.

Once again, that market will maximize the probability of bringing together parents and children who want each other and who will bring each other happiness. No harsh uncaring gray-faced bureaucrat will "place" a child in a loveless home, as tragically happens so often in the kind of case regularly portrayed on the TV series "Unsolved Mysteries."

There's another way in which the postnatal market will differ: the child him- or herself will have a say in the matter, and that "say" will increase with maturity. I visualize that it's not at all unlikely that a ten-year-old, or a teenager, will advertise himself for adoption, if thoroughly dissatisfied with his existing parents!

See, as a child grows, his "kids' rights" become his to use. When he understand he has them, he can exercise them! He or she is a human being as well as a child, and not a possession.

I've no idea how often this may occur, and suppose it will be rare; but whereas today there is little choice open to an unhappy teen but to run away from home and end up "on the streets" so contributing to prostitution (on the one hand) and crime (on the other), in a free market the option to auction himself off to a more suitable parent would be his to choose.

As well as providing a safe, peaceful "safety valve" for the frustrated child, knowledge that this option exists will provide parents with a powerful motive to respect their growing child's rights properly - so tending to reduce the frequency with which such a step is taken. But, human failings being what they are, sometimes it will take place. It's interesting to imagine how.

"Bright, loving but ill-treated 14-year old girl seeks parents able to finish her upbringing with proper care and affection" an ad might read; along with an e-photo of course. And yes, she might seek the help of a professional broker, paid by the buyer, since young kids may have a hard time evaluating parents. Notice though that the child would have to "sell herself", ie to think and say why anyone would want to adopt her; to smooth off rough edges. She would have to think whether part of the reason she fell out with her natural parents might be her own bad behavior. Such would be hard to conceal from potential adopters. All this market discipline would have an enormously beneficial result for all in the free society.

Who would pay what to whom, in such a transaction? - obviously, the child would seldom have cash to offer. What he or she would offer - and it would be spelled out in the contract - would be the affection and consideration that any loving child gives his parents; they would gain the enormous pleasure of helping him grow up and succeed while he would gain the benefit of education and care. So little if any cash might change hands, unless a broker or professional "matchmaker" provided counsel and/or search services for a fee.

Education

What "rights" does a child have, of his parents - natural or adopted? Is there some natural right to a free, six-year med-school education, for example? - I hardly think so. Is there a natural right to food? Clothing? Shelter, warmth? Love? How does one specify "love" in a contract?!

Not all such questions have easy answers, and for sure they are not to be settled by majority vote, as today's prevalent theory provides. However, since most of them can be specified in a contract for adoption as above, the child will have a proper, individual recourse if he is not satisfied with what he has - from his natural, or presently adoptive parents. He can offer himself to better ones! - and that's a constraint that will never hit unsatisfactory parents until the market is freed of the dead hand of government. Knowlege that their son can quit on good terms will be a factor added to the powerful natural one to do the very best they can for him.

And knowledge that parents are doing the best they can, in a loving way, will be a powerful disincentive on the youngster prematurely to jump ship.

Education is perhaps the most important thing a parent can provide for a child, so we should pause to notice how a free market would maximize the quality of this in particular.

Notice a couple of key factors.

First, education will certainly take place unless it is actively prevented. Humans learn; that is part of what makes us human. All the teacher can do is to suggest interesting subjects to consider, await questions, and provide answers. Learning happens only when a question is answered. To "educate" is only to "draw out", literally by the word's Latin root; to help the child's natural curiosity to develop and be rewarded.

So, a good upbringing parent will do what any good parent does with a baby: show, stimulate, and answer questions. Baby points to rubber duckie, Dad says "Duckie". Little by little, the shape of a duck in the child's mind is associated with the sound and spelling "d-u-c-k." Exactly the same is the case when discussing, a few years later, the complexities of nuclear decay rates inside a reactor shield. If and when the parent runs out of answers, he or she will (because he loves the child) run elsewhere for answers; to the education market, of course. And when that market is rid of government regulation, those answers will come remarkably cheap.

The second factor, therefore, is that a free market in education will not necessarily look anything like today's substitute for it. The present classroom-ridden indoctrination factory is pretty well the exact opposite of all that "education" means, which is why government schooling has proven, in its century and a half, to be such an abject failure. Even the teacher who teaches, rather than indoctrinates (who helps the child TO think, instead of telling him WHAT to think) has a near-impossible task to stimulate interest in one subject, for the current hour, for 25 different kids; and then to await their questions on it and furnish answers. In a classroom, learning (see definition above) happens only by coincidence.

True education will replace all that; the student-teacher ratio will drop from 30:1 to 4:1 (in a large family) all the way to 1:1 (for an only-child.) The parent will be the teacher, with almost every child home-schooled; and the Internet will be the teacher's resource when he or she runs out of answers. In fact, increasingly the Internet will quite largely replace the parent, as teacher, as interactive for-fee lessons in everything from domestic science to rocket science become available to the stay-home student. Results: a fabulously well-educated society, with all that means for future prosperity and health; a huge compression in elapsed time (kids who want to learn can do it five to ten times faster than kids who have to sit bored to distraction in a classroom getting "taught") and a cost-of-education that drops like a rock.

Bugaboos

When kids' rights are honored by the abolition of government, the human race will have an unimaginably bright future. But these remarks would be incomplete without an answer to common objections raised by Statists.

Notably with respect to the free prenatal adoption market, would not unhealthy race and gender distortions take place? Might not adoptive parents choose boy babies over girl, white over black?

My answer is: yes, of course they may; and so what?

"What" is that the market will automatically and swiftly compensate. If (for example) Asian babies command a higher price than Aryan ones, the free market will for certain respond with a larger supply of Asian babies. That's how markets work; supply responds to demand. I do not like the way that in India, the culture favors boy babies over girls; but a free market would respond by lowering the worldwide price for girls and so satisfy all parties. Indian girls would be adopted outside India, so in due course Indian fecundity would fall. The population imbalance would be corrected - without coercion. I fancy that in due course little Indian boys would wonder what to do without little Indian girls, and so accelerate a reform of that culture.

Additionally and even more important, "what" means that demand is satisfied. You and I might deplore the choices some adopters make; too bad. The choices are theirs and freedom demands that they are the ones to make them.

A further objection is potentially more serious: if a free "baby market" developed, might not adopted children have rights violated by ruthless buyers? - visions of swarthy Sultans buying and growing white-slave harems might be used to persuade us of a need for Nanny.

My answer to that is that such malfeasance could take place only in the absence of a free market; for if one prevailed, the growing child would soon enough opt-out, as above. So if some country continued to be government-infested and had laws to protect the formation of harems, that would certainly be a failure of government, not a failure of the market; precisely the inverse of what our Statist objector claims. Pregnant "suppliers" located where the market is free, meanwhile, would set the price for such adoptions very high indeed, out of a natural concern for the child's welfare; as above, the contract price would not specify payment in cash terms only.

A third bugaboo would be the screeches sent up by former employees of "Child Protective Services" as they struggle to find honest work. Surely, they will say, Nanny is needed to guard kids from cruel parents?

No, Nanny is not. The incidence of actual parental cruelty is grossly exaggerated by these bureau-rats ever seeking ways to justify their miserable existence; the incidence of real cruelty caused when they rip children away from parents even when the latter have been less than perfect is infinitely greater. With its savage power to destroy families - to say nothing of its power to imprison children in an indoctrination camp for twelve years - government is today's prime source of cruelty to children.

Those few cases where parental cruelty did occur would be handled as above by the child herself advertising for better ones; should the problem happen when she is too young to know how, the same neighbors who notice it today would do it for her and a private, for-profit court would adjudicate any resulting dispute.

Absent the curse of government, kids will enjoy freedom, rights and responsibilities for the first time in recorded history.

Summary

When government is replaced by a free market, kids and adults will all experience a vast benefit from the resulting establishment of childrens' rights: All this and more will come, after you work for it. Will you?

© Copyright Jim Davies 2002

Jim Davies lives in New Hampshire,
and enjoys contemplating which way is up.

The above is Edition # 320

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