Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child?


I've been thinking about the legitimacy of spanking lately. Before, I had lazily concluded that although I probably wouldn't spank any future herd of little monsters I might have, maybe spanking is legitimate in some cases and if others spank their kids, so what. I now question this completely.

Some say it's a parental right, even a duty. Some say that it's God's Law. Not surprisingly, Bible-huggers are the most vehement in the promotion of child beating. After all, the 'Good Book' is full of these expressions of tenderness and love:

Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying (Proverbs 19:18).

Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him (Proverbs 22:15). Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die (Proverbs 23:13).

Hmmm. Child beating is mandatory, as far as the Bible teaches. Which explains their zeal for war, capital punishment and theocracy, come to think of it. And some Christians wonder why they are held in so much disdain.

Most seem to credit its absence in the Publick Skools for the decline of the public morality and conformity idealized in the visage of 1950's America . Is it really credible to credit the absence of corporal punishment by teachers with the collapse of discipline and order inside government schools, as many totalitarian conservatives claim? Or might it have been merely coexistent with other trends and influences, such as the growth of central planning and the inculcation of an entitlement culture?

Nevertheless, is spanking really effective?

Surely, spanking wouldn't work well with an adult (has Michael Fay broken any of the government's laws after he was caned in Singapore for defacing cars? Yup. Twice.) If a judge ordered that an adult be spanked as punishment for a crime, surely, this would be embarrassing for the adult, but it would be equally humiliating for the "justice" system itself, which in the West is based in brutality, after all. Which is why it likes to impose vicious punishments instead ' to vividly demonstrate the pain and discomfort it can inflict, that is, its aim is to terrorize those subject to it.

Which brings us to the point. What is the State, but a system of corporal punishment? The state deems us its dependent children and punishes any who defy its authority. Challenge its authority to monopolize life decisions and be punished. Challenge its claim to own every person and thing in society by being a thief, and be punished. Call the state a thief and refuse to allow it to steal your property and your life, and be punished. But it seems to work, they'll say. Criminals are punished, even if the state is itself criminal. But is that what we want, a utilitarian defense of aggression and violence?

If the great monster is distinguished by the regularized, systemized use of corporal punishment for various infractions of its arbitrary whims and desires both large and small, can we in good conscience emulate its example when we seek to punish misbehavior by those who are dependent on us for rules we impose as parents?

Enacting pain is only a short-term solution to the longer-term problem of self-discipline. Putting a recidivist thief to death is not the type of society I think we would want to live in. A libertarian society should, hopefully, be better than the fundies in Saudi Arabia . Should we expect that the application of force will cause a child that has not learned self-discipline to mature faster?

Recently, a study on spanking by Statistics Canada that has followed thousands of Canadian children since 1994 claimed to find that parents who are less aggressive with their children (don't yell and hit when disciplining) raise children who in turn, are less aggressive themselves and get along well with others. And conversely, aggressive parenting produces aggressive children. Now, obviously a study produced by the State, even a mildly homicidal one like the Canadian regime, must be taken with caution. Anyone can have a survey or poll find whatever they want, (after all, 14% of people know that).

When we libertarians look out backwards and forwards in time, learning from the past and trying to prevent a darker future by offering alternatives to the present humiliation, we have suggested that the alternative to using violence to correct misbehavior or crime is through the use of monetary disincentives. By attaching costs and responsibilities to behavior, namely in the order of punishment and restitution to the victims, in place of the current regime of punishment for its own sake, we believe that we can discourage state-created anti-social behavior.

Could replacing coercive punishments with monetary awards for damages and restitution work with children? Instead of spanking as the tool for encouraging discipline through fear and behavior correction through pain, could a system based on restitution work? A child, even small children, could be given a small sum of money, even just 50 cents or a dollar, each day or week that they can use the next day to buy a small amount of candy or something, but only if they behave. If they misbehave, these funds provide a source of income that can be used to pay a fine or restitution, say 25 cents that day, if the misbehavior took place on your property (presumably it would), and if the misbehavior involved another child, your child could pay restitution, even if it is only a dime or a quarter to the other child that he wronged (say for starting a fight or using his toys without his permission).

This might sound strange to some, and an unlikely system for children to understand. However, by early on placing a direct cost to the child in lost candy income or whatever for his misbehavior, justly defined, of course, perhaps this would successfully begin their understanding of property rights and ownership, and teach them the value of a dollar.

In our libertarian vision for society, isn't it better to encourage children to behave by introducing children early on to the checks and balances inherent in the system of property ownership, instead of resorting to the model of the State, and imposing physical pain?

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Adam Young's picture
Columns on STR: 26