Attempting to shield children from the profit‑seeking entities within the marketplace is both a futile and counterproductive cause.
Of the many evils attributed to human action within markets is that the interest of suppliers to reap profits from their ventures could override the interest of consumers.
That the adult consumer might seem to lose out in the cut‑and‑thrust of market transactions seems sufficient warrant for market critics to call for the strict regulation of goods and services supplies, at the very least.
But if the consumers in question happen to be children, then any profit‑making that transpires is portrayed as a monstrous act which should be admonished under all circumstances.
Those who doubt the merits of markets often take their arguments one step further, suggesting that people who strive to profitably supply products to, or for the benefit of, children, are either wilfully or unintentionally ʻcommodifyingʼ them.
There are alternative understandings, for example Marxian and communitarian notions, as to what commodification is said to represent, but it generally appears to mean that a human being, and his or her interest, is in some way being debased by suppliers as an object amenable to market exchange.
These concerns are invariably accompanied by fears that growth in the scale and scope of market exchange relations is eating away at traditional activities undertaken within civil society, impersonally transforming them into outputs traded among people at prevailing market prices.
For‑profit involvement in education and child care is particularly prone to criticism by people who once were children, for the very obvious reason that millions of Australian children today are serviced in these fields.
Responding to a proposal for a for‑profit schooling chain in Sydney, president of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos, stated last year that ʻour children cannot be seen as a commercial resource, a plaything for companies to make profit.ʼ
As for child care, an example of the anti‑profit sentiment was of a social work and human services academic who said that ʻmuch of Australian child care has become a commodity, a private enterprise where federal child care subsidies are used to fuel the record profits of child care companies. Run for profit and by men!ʼ
Those of us with rather long memories might recall the invective that was often directed toward former child care provider, ABC Learning Centres, with the many claims that the chainʼs efforts to earn a profit necessarily led it to overcharge and skimp on service for kids.
The commodification thesis still remains alive and well, as adjudged by numerous comments on a recent ABC Drum piece, by Trisha Jha, raising concerns that child care deregulation would apparently give operators a green light to rake in profits at the expense of children in care.
The notion that growers, manufacturers, service providers, and retailers see a child as nothing but a consuming unit to push products to runs as an argumentative undercurrent beneath other parts of the economy.
You see shrill charges of child commodification made in relation to childrenʼs clothing, food retailing, toy manufacturing, and even company sponsorship of events in which children are present.
It appears that at the heart of the commodification story is a sense of disquiet, among some, that the producing or retailing parties to a given transaction could earn a profit from the activity.
This disquiet is not dampened by an appreciation that, in the context of the market process, transactions are voluntarily entered into by, and conducted between, willing parties ‑ in this case, the supplier and, in most instances, the parent or guardian acting on behalf of children.
Though there are very limited, yet terrible, exceptions to the rule, it is entirely reasonable to presume that most parents and guardians act with the best interests of their children in mind, and this applies as much to economic decision‑making as it does to the cultural, moral and social decisions adults make for children.
Most parents wisely choose to tap into the know‑how and expertise possessed by others in society, who just so happen to be for‑profit providers, buying the likes of food, clothing, housing, care, education, entertainment, and so on, both for themselves and their young loved ones.
Now, if adults genuinely feel their children are being treated as commodities, subjected to overpricing and being furnished with poor quality products or services, they generally wonʼt hesitate to take their business elsewhere and, in this social media age, let everyone know all about it.
So the onus, then, is always on the supplier to strive against other suppliers to cooperate with the customer ‑ that is, the child represented by their parent or guardian ‑ as best they possibly can.
To put all of this in another way, the market doesnʼt commodify children and other human beings; it serves us and our children.
And the growth of the market is not a conspiratorial supply‑side scheme to transform more of the population into commodified playthings; it is the extension of economic interactions validating the core idea that people adjudge they are being served in better, more effectual, ways over time.
It is a regrettable fact of our modern Western life that government has come in (or, rather, help itself) to deliver more of the sorts of services that children consume.
These developments seem to please anti‑marketeers no end, not least because the haunting apparition of commodification troubles them no more, once government steps in to halt any potential manifestation of for‑profit provision.
But when the profit and loss mechanism is annulled within the sphere of public sector activity, as it must do, how can anyone possibly know if government is providing the best services for our children in education, and the like?
It is nigh on impossible to get an objective answer to this question, because the all‑important gauge of registering economic value is removed from political and bureaucratic decision‑making.
What transpires under the public sector regime is a politicisation of activity, where government officials by force, rather than market participants by consent, make decisions about what, how, when and where to provide goods and services, and who should be compelled to pay for them.
With the backing of brute force behind them, governments need not interact with people justly or with any concern for their preferences or inherent rights, much less arrive at mutually satisfactory terms with them, unlike those allegedly evil profiteers who enable ordinary folks to deposit food in their stomachs, dignify themselves with clothing, put a roof over their heads, and allow them the means to traverse the four corners of the earth.
And pity the poor family with children, who have little or no choice but to have their child receive services from the potentially sub‑standard governmental provider in their local area.
Arguments against the role of the market in the discovery and allocation of resources on the grounds of commodification risk, in favour of a more extensive role for government in our lives, is grounded either in ignorance about the beneficial properties of profit‑making, or worse still self‑interest in favour of the big‑government status quo. And, in short, there is nothing praiseworthy to be stated concerning any of those impulses.