I have already touched on this before, but I think it’s just too damning to gloss over. “Child poverty” as a concept is, in and of itself, a complete refutation of both capitalism and childism.
In our daily lives, the concept of “child poverty” is little more than a statistic. In 2014, UNICEF announced that 32.2% of children in the United States live under the poverty line, and that this is one of the worst levels of child poverty in the Western world, only trailing behind Greece, Latvia, Spain, Israel and Mexico.
But if we analyze this concept of “child poverty,” what does it really mean? What does it mean for us to say that a child is poor?
We are told that in a capitalist system, we need some people to be rich and some people to be poor, because we need to reward good decision-making, hard work, and so on and so nauseatingly forth, and we need to punish bad decision-making, laziness, failure to contribute, and so on and so nauseatingly forth. It’s a complete propaganda line that has no connection to reality, but I understand it. But what does it have to do with children? Children aren’t making economic decisions, and they don’t have any opportunities to be hard-working or lazy at a job.
One attempt at rationalization I’ve actually seen in some Austrian economics-affiliated book (probably by that disgusting little troll, Hans-Hermann Hoppe) was that the defects of character that make someone poor will be transmitted by the parents to the child, as they will raise their children to be lazy and bad at decision-making, and therefore we should expect children of poor families to be poor as well. In essence, the fact that the children are poor is basically economics cutting to the chase: you are an inferior child and therefore do not deserve a chance.
I absolutely reject this rationalization as anything but pure bigotry. Even if it was true that poverty arises from personal failings (which is nonsense), there is no reason to expect that a child would inherit those personal failings. There are plenty of hard-working people who had lazy parents, lazy people who had hard-working parents, smart children with dumb parents, dumb children with smart parents. Genetics is not destiny.
It seems to me that this alone destroys capitalism, if we accept the premise that capitalism is a fair system. Even if it was fair in general (which it isn’t, not by a long shot), it certainly is not fair to the children in poverty. And children who start poor have a lower chance of being able to escape poverty later in life, which means that the merit argument for capitalism necessarily fails. Pre-existing inequality nullifies the “free market.”
Capitalism is an inherently elitist system and, in order for that elite to reproduce itself, there must be a distinction between it and the rest of the population. That distinction is in the schooling system: the families with the most money can send their children to the best colleges, which are the breeding grounds for the next generation of elites.
But let’s continue further. What does it mean for a child to be poor? It means that the child lives in a family that is under the poverty line. But the child did not choose to be born to a poor family. This was, purely and simply, an accident of birth. Was it not? What justification can there be for this?
Technically, this is not a criticism of the family structure as such, since a society can have families and keep child poverty low by redistribution, like Finland and Norway (where child poverty is below 10%). But the root cause of child poverty is still the family structure. We believe that it makes sense to make a child’s financial, emotional and physical well-being depend on the social status of two individuals, the two individuals who had sex to give birth to it. That’s the best case scenario, of course: often it’s dependent on just one individual.
The only justification offered for this state of affairs is that the child is, after all, property of the parents: they don’t use that word, but that’s what it amounts to. The child must be tied to the status of those two individuals because they own it. It is not A child, it’s THEIR child. This is the tradeoff we’re making: we’re “gaining” this ownership of children, this possession of another human being, the “right” to indoctrinate it, and in exchange we admit that up to more than a third of children will live in poverty.
Is that a good tradeoff, you think? Do we need to be making it? Is it worth all this child poverty? I don’t fucking think so.