Cooperation Over Coercion: The Importance of Unsupervised Childhood Play for Democracy and Liberalism
35 Pages Posted: 23 Jun 2015
Date Written: June 22, 2015
Unsupervised childhood play is how children learn the sort of informal rule-making and rule-enforcing that is so critical to a liberal society’s attempt to minimize coercion. It is a key way that children learn the skills necessary to engage in social cooperation in all kinds of social spaces within the market and, especially, outside of it. We learn how to problem solve in these ways without the need to invoke violence or some sort of external threat, which enables us as adults to cooperate peacefully in intimate groups as well as within what Hayek called the Great Society. A society that weakens children’s ability to learn these skills denies them what they need to smooth social interaction and undermines their ability to participate in what Tocqueville called “the art of association.” Losing the skills learned in unsupervised play makes coercion more likely by threatening our ability to create and sustain the rule-governed relationships that are at the core of liberal societies. If we parent or legislate in ways that make it harder for children to develop these skills, we are taking away a key piece of what makes it possible for free people to generate peaceful and productive liberal orders.
Keywords: liberalism, democracy, childhood play, Vincent Ostrom, Elinor Ostrom, Hayek, spontaneous order
JEL Classification: P16, Z13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation