No, Cato isn’t conservative. Libertarians are not conservative.
While I was growing up, I got to hear lots of stories about how hard my parents worked on the farms while they grew up. The United States had child labor laws in those days, but they still had to get up, work the farm, go to school and then work the farm. I’ve known many with stories of working hard as children to help pay the family’s bills. Someone has to, and circumstances often won’t spare the children. This isn’t so evil a concept as you might feel it is.
Maybe an 11-year-old girl working 8 hours a day for 53 cents is a travesty. Then again, her parents are probably working for 61 cents a day. Plenty of folks want to prevent both from working because “sweat shops” are terrible places, and no one should have to work for 61 cents a day or 67 cents an hour or any other positively weirdly low wage.
So when the incredibly poor want to work in order to survive and they do it for so much less than an American can imagine, what do you think we ought to do? Take away the opportunities? Demand American standards? Or just eliminate their means of survival?
Paul Krugman summarizes what happened more bluntly: “The direct result was that Bangladeshi textile factories stopped employing children. But did the children go back to school? Did they return to happy homes? Not according to Oxfam, which found that the displaced child workers ended up in even worse jobs, or on the streets—and that a significant number were forced into prostitution.”
Is this just? If you want that for Bangladeshi children, what do you propose instead of allowing them to work?
Why you dismiss this next comment is confusing to me.
The main reason children do not work in wealthy countries is precisely because they are wealthy. The relationship between child labor and income is striking.
The solution is free trade. That’s built on trade not on regulation and limiting opportunities for people to trade. When a country is wealthy, the kids don’t work. Our teen employment levels are in the basement these days. Kids are graduating from high school never having worked a day in their lives beyond school. This is a luxury (or a curse depending on whom you ask) that is a direct result of regulations and culture that are sustainable because the United States is wealthy. Economic development is key to solving third-world problems.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that you find Cato’s positions odd. They are odd in context of a nation fixated on slowly eroding the freedoms of its citizens. Calling Cato PC is rather odd too. Cato is clearly politically incorrect based on the values of Democrats, liberals, conservatives or Republicans.