Stephen Moore

As many of my classmates noted, I found Udry's approach to the provocative issue of child labor laws a well thought out economic and social analysis. I found his analysis of how child labor is alleviated particularly interesting. In the United States, there was little enforcement of child labor laws in the agricultural sector. It was not until changes in technology, immigration, and the real wage occurred that child labor on American farms decreased. This relates back to the theme we have discussed in class the past few week about economic modeling versus economic policy. When a politician makes a speech about the negatives of child labor, most people would agree immediate action is necessary to alleviate the problem. The problem is the law alone does not alleviate the problem. These laws are difficult to enforce on a large scale, so if a farmer determines the marginal benefit to be greater than the marginal cost of employing a child (even with the risk of running into legal trouble), he will continue to employ children. While that is a simple example of the child labor issue, it shows that simply enacting policy will not solve a given problem. The paper also points out that child labor often occurs under extreme circumstances. For example, the more extreme poverty a household is in, the more likely they would be to employ their child and the child loses a chance to improve his human capital through education. Issues like this helps put the economic models I have worked on throughout my W&L career in context. Models give us a proper understanding of economic issues, but when we cannot hold the ceteris paribus condition in the real world, enacting policy becomes incredibly difficult. I do not mean to discount the importance of economic models and policy, but draw an important distinction between the two. Policy to eliminate child labor has many obvious benefits, but the issue lies in how to efficiently discourage such actions in a real world context.

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