Parenting for Freedom article series: This is the fifth in a series of articles that analyzes how freedom-loving people can align their parenting with their political philosophy, and how doing so will allow ideas about personal liberty to carry on to the next generation.
For a long time, the issue that held me back from being a full-fledged anarchist was the question of children. In a truly free society, adults would not be able to demand goods or services from others using the violence of the government. And I was OK with that. That was simple for me to reconcile. Rights are negative. Society doesn’t “owe” anyone anything except the right to be left alone.
My original philosophical dilemma was why my kids have a right to demand care from me. But after reconciling that, I struggled with society’s obligation to children in general.
Children aren’t going to be self-sufficient in their care for many years. That’s why parents are in it for the long haul. No one disputes that parents ought to provide food, clothes, medical attention and shelter to their own child. But what if the parents can’t or won’t do so? Do those children cease to deserve these necessities of life? If they do deserve them, then we needed an entity — the state, I assumed — to make sure they got what they needed.
Over time, I came to realize that I was approaching the issue all wrong.
The real question isn’t whether we should help children when they need it. The question is whether we can give that help without the government.
The answer? A resounding yes. Here are six ways children would not only survive, but thrive in a completely voluntaryist society.
Children would be free to find a living situation that best worked for them. That could mean living with someone other than their parents or trying to live alone. Currently, children must petition a court for emancipation from their parents and prove their maturity. In a voluntaryist society, a third party would not have that power.
“Regardless of his age, we must grant to every child the absolute right to run away and to find new foster parents who will voluntarily adopt him, or to try to exist on his own. Parents may try to persuade the runaway child to return, but it is totally impermissible enslavement and an aggression upon his right of self-ownership for them to use force to compel him to return. The absolute right to run away is the child’s ultimate expression of his right of self-ownership, regardless of age.”
Even without SNAP benefits and free school lunches, children would not be starving in the streets. In a voluntaryist society, we could meet the needs of children in many ways. Ideally, a child’s parent would care for him. But charitable individuals and organizations could also pick up the slack. Furthermore, parents could transfer their responsibilities to a party who is more able or willing to care for the child.
Just as children could choose to leave their parents, a free society would allow for a parent to sign over their duties to someone else. Rothbard points out that while we might cringe at the idea of “a flourishing free market in children,” it has better outcomes than our current system:
“[It] would allow for an allocation of babies and children away from parents who dislike or do not care for their children, and toward foster parents who deeply desire such children. Everyone involved: the natural parents, the children, and the foster parents purchasing the children, would be better off in this sort of society.” (LINK: )
There would be no compulsory school attendance. Children would be free to attend school or not without fear of truancy charges. Of course, a society without government does not mean a society without governance. People could come together to establish schools that look very much like the public schools of today. The difference is they couldn’t shake people down for the operating costs. In fact, all schools would have the same burden of finding voluntary funding. Those schools with the most attractive models would have the best funding. A society accustomed to freedom would likely have many self-directed education options. These could take the form of homeschooling or what are currently “alternative” schools.
In a voluntaryist society, aggressing against another person is still a crime. So parents who abuse their children could still be arrested by private security companies. Private arbitration agencies could help abused children get restitution for their suffering. Who would cover the child’s arbitration costs? Perhaps certain arbitration companies would specialize in abuse cases and take them with no upfront cost. They could take payment based on the settlement with the parents. High-profile cases could be pro bono, since they would benefit from the publicity.
The absence of taxation would allow people to put their money toward causes they deem worthy. For example, most of my $4,000 in property tax goes to fund the public schools my kids aren’t attending. I often daydream about what sorts of educational resources I could offer my kids with an extra $4,000 a year.
And that’s only local property tax, not sales tax or income tax or anything else. I would also give more to charity, as I’m sure many people would. Some of our tax savings would go toward replacing services currently monopolized by the government: trash pickup, security, etc. But with competition between companies — and individuals picking and choosing what services they can live without — the cost for an average household would decrease.
Children would benefit from a home with greater wealth. Even people who currently rely on government benefits would likely do better. Companies could spend their tax savings on additional employees, charitable giving, or more goods and services, which would further stimulate the economy.
It is difficult to predict all the ways society would change for the better once government coercion is out of the equation. There would be a whole new set of incentives for a free world, which would affect children as well. Society would encourage independence and hard work rather than dependence and entitlement.
Some might argue that some of children’s freedoms I have listed above are meaningless. The freedom to leave one’s parents or not attend school isn’t helpful if a child is being emotionally or physically manipulated. He or she might not be aware that they have a choice. But that type of manipulation is more likely to happen in a society built on coercion, rather than one built on freedom. In a culture of self-determination and non-aggression, children will glean the message that they deserve respect and choices.
Failures of the current system
Of course, all the above predictions are just that, predictions. There is no guarantee that things would go as well for children in a free society as I hope. There would still be many problems, I’m sure.
Then again, things aren’t perfect for children now. Far from it.
The state can miss horrible cases of abuse despite numerous reports that a child is in danger. The story of Gabriel Fernandez is one example. On other occasions, the state intervenes unnecessarily. They take children away from parents who did nothing wrong.
As far as basic needs are concerned, there are shortcomings here as well. About 12.9 million children in the United States lived in “food-insecure” households in 2016, according to FeedingAmerica.
The list goes on.
So a voluntaryist society doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be better than what we have now. We deserve better, and so do our children.