Those whom the gods would destroy, they first turn into bureaucrats

Farm injuries among youths have been declining for more than a decade, according to Barbara Lee, senior research scientist at the National Farm Medicine Center in Marshfield, Wisc.

But more than 15,000 youths under the age of 20 were still injured on farms in 2009, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Most of those injuries involved routine farm chores, according to Nancy Leppink, deputy administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division — though some involved kids riding four-wheel-drive vehicles and the like.

In July 2010, two boys, 14 and 19, died in a corn bin they were trying to clear in Illinois. A few months later, a 3-year-old Michigan boy died after falling from the combine his father was driving.

So the federal government now proposes to race to the rescue, naturally, with proposed new regulations that would:

— Prohibit children under 16 from being paid to operate most power-driven equipment, including tractors and combines. (Some trainees would be exempted, but only if the equipment has rollover protection and seat belts.)

— Bar those under 18 from working at grain elevators, silos, feedlots and livestock auctions and from transporting raw farm materials, and

— Prohibit youths 15 and younger from cultivating, curing and harvesting tobacco to prevent exposure to green tobacco sickness, which is caused by exposure to wet tobacco plants.

The current legal age for children to be employed on a farm, 16, would not change. The proposed regulations would also not apply to children working at farms owned by their parents, though they would prevent youngsters from doing some jobs for pay at the farms of neighbors and relatives, including grandparents

“It’s just more government trying to get in the middle of our lives” and could “change the whole (rural) lifestyle,” U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., who operates a 160-acre farm, tells USA Today. “Farming is a very dangerous occupation, and you have to be aware of what you’re doing, but I’m a whole lot more concerned about the safety of my kids and grandkids on the farm than the government.”

Mark Vagts, 53, a dairy farmer in West Union, Iowa, tells USA Today he first sat on a tractor when he was 5. He taught his son and daughter, now adults, to use caution around farm animals and equipment when they were very young. Farm work, he says, “builds confidence and teaches kids to be responsible.” He now hires local youths to help on his farm, and he opposes the proposed limits.

“Number one, they take away our liberty. That really bugs me,” he says. “I’m sick of regulation. My answer to regulation is education.” He believes youngsters who work on farms should take safety courses through the FFA or other organizations. He wouldn’t object if young workers were required to take such courses.

In a comment he submitted to the Labor Department on the proposed rule changes, Vagts wrote, “We often need help with baling hay and straw, chopping hay and hauling manure. It is an opportunity for young people to earn money and develop good work skills.”

Illinois farmer Darren Walter, 39, says if his 14-year-old son can’t work on his grandfather’s farm to save money for college, he’ll have to find other work. “We’re going to basically regulate rural youth into forcing them to go get jobs in town,” he says. “Where are our future farmers going to come from?”

The American Revolution was fought for reasons that went far beyond the relatively minimal tea tax and stamp tax. Those were visible symbols of something Americans had learned the hard way: that a corrupt parliament thousands of miles away in London — colonists routinely called it a “cesspit” — could never understand and respond appropriately to local problems and conditions. That government sought and encouraged not American self-sufficiency and prosperity, but rather dependence and subservience.

That’s why the founders stressed over and over again that — in their new union of 1787 — local matters would be left to the judgment of local people in the sovereign states, never subjected to a Bonapartist “one size fits all” regime, that the new central government would have limited powers sharply delineated, that it would mostly concern itself with international affairs, that the average American could expect to go months or years between any contact with or interference in their lives from Washington City, at all.

Yet not only will they tell us what kind of light bulbs and toilet tanks and shower nozzles we’re allowed to buy, now the great Washington nanny state insists deskbound regulation-writers thousands of miles away can do a better job than local authorities or even their parents at regulating what farm kids can do on their own grandparents’ farms … even if those “safety rules” break the intergenerational links of the farm culture, and thus dooms it to extinction.

No impact on us urban folk? Not only are there still plenty of family ranches in Nevada — ranches that could have trouble surviving if every local lad had to be replaced by a salaried adult — but these steps come at precisely the time when many urban residents are starting to question the nutritional completeness of the “factory food” in their supermarkets, asking whether it isn’t possible to get healthier produce by re-introducing competition from smaller, family-run farms.

The bankrupt federal government will soon be unable to enforce all the regulations — the wise as well as the absurd — it already has on the books. President Obama bragged in his State of the Union address this week that he’s so far signed fewer new regulations into law than his predecessor — only a few tens of thousands.

At least that acknowledges there can be such a thing as too many. But in fact, Washington should be weighing its priorities and repealing regulations a thousand at a time, in hopes that it can afford to maintain the ones it considers most vital.

Instead, it now wants to ban farmers from teaching their grandkids how to drive the tractor. That’s nuts.

One Comment to “Those whom the gods would destroy, they first turn into bureaucrats”

  1. Howard R Music Says:

    My father was a welding contractor in the sixties. I helped him build a quarry operation, and after it was in operation I worked there on week-ends and summers. I serviced and ran heavy equipment and worked with explosives before I was legally able to drive. I remember taking off work to go and take my driver’s test. This was normal for youth who did not live on farms. As an adult I do my own mechanic work, maintenance on my house and property, and build much of what I need.