#122 The Freedom to Work

the christian economist dave arnott

#122 The Freedom to Work

The California Legislature is considering restricting labor in a way that violates five of the ten Biblical Commandments of Economics. They want to limit work to 32 hours a week. 


The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote a column this week titled “California’s French Four-Day Workweek.”   The article says, “A bill moving through the California legislature would shorten the normal workweek from 40 to 32 hours.   Workers who put in more than 32 hours in a week would have to be paid time-and-a-half. And get this: Employers would be prohibited from reducing workers’ current pay rate, so they would be paid the same for working 20% less.

Here’s how the French get mentioned in the headline:  They tried this in the year 2000.  There was high unemployment, so they thought they would spread the work around a little.  My freshmen at Dallas Baptist University could predict the disaster that resulted.  It forced the best producers to work less.  Seems like we want the best to work MORE, not less.  

 LeBron James plays more minutes than the last guy on the Lakers bench.  Would the California legislature require that all 12 of the Lakers play the same number of minutes?  Would they require that all 26 of the Oakland Athletics players have the same number of at-bats?  That they all throw the same number of pitches?  Matter of fact, why doesn’t the California legislature use this law themselves: They could require each legislator to submit the same number of bills for consideration.

When Sergiy Saydometov and I wrote Biblical Economic Policy, we performed a little systematic theology and came up with ten Biblical Commandments of Economics.  The proposal from the California legislature violates at least five of them:



Revelation 3:20 is the key scripture that we found to indicate the Christian idea of freedom.  It reads, Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”  Freedom.  If we are free to accept or reject the invitation of God, then it seems like we should have as much freedom as possible in our economic lives.  Not perfect freedom, because we have a fallen nature.  But we certainly should be free to choose the number of hours we work each week. 

The California legislators have cited Microsoft’s four-day work week in Japan, as support for their proposal.  But notice, Microsoft had the FREEDOM to enact that policy, without being ordered by the government. 

In podcast #113 titled People Should be Free, I unpack more details about the intersection of Christianity and Economics: Freedom.  The California legislature wants to control labor.  That didn’t work out well during slavery when the supply of labor was controlled, and it won’t work out well trying to control demand either.  Control of labor always leads to dependence, and as this guy, Frederich von Hayek points out, it puts you on The Road to Serfdom.

The California legislature is punishing success:  The rule would apply only to companies with more than 500 employees.  Here we go again: If you’re providing enough consumer surplus to your fellow Californians, which causes you to employ 500 people, the California legislature is going to punish you.  We don’t have to imagine the creative ways companies will find to stay under the 500 mark, because we saw it when Obamacare applied to companies with over 50 employees.  Companies purposely reduced the consumer surplus so they could limbo under the barrier.  During a visit to Chichen Itza in Mexico, we learned that the prehistoric Mayans played a version of basketball where the objective was to throw a ball through a vertical ring on the wall.  But here’s the similarity with the California legislature: The captain of the winning team was rewarded by…….wait for it….death.  Ginger astutely observed, “They killed off their best performers, it’s no wonder the culture died out.”  She just explained why companies are moving from California and New York to Texas and Florida.


Work is Good

In his insightful book, Gross National Happiness Arthur Brooks points out the connection between work and happiness.  “Work is an authentic source of happiness, and idleness, especially involuntary idleness, is a source of pure misery.”  So, the California legislature is purposely making their fellow Californians miserable.  

Brooks goes on to point out, “Very happy people work more hours each week than those who are “pretty happy,” who in turn work more hours than people who are “not too happy.  Work brings happiness because it gives our lives meaning.”

In the Christian worldview, we see work as a part of creation, not the fall.  Adam and Eve had work to do, early in Genesis 1.  They had animals to name and the garden to keep.  Folks who don’t follow the Christian worldview, believe that work is a part of the fall.  They see work as burdensome, and painful, and they only see what THEY get out of work, not as a service to others. 

A recent study showed that half of Gen Zer’s would quit a job that didn’t make THEM happy.  Get it?  See who they are working for?  Themselves, while the Christian worldview sees work as for God and for their fellow man. 

The California legislators are denying the Christian worldview of work.


Don’t Steal

Number eight on Moses’ list of commandments reads, “Don’t steal.”  So Sergiy and I stole that one from him, and it became one of our ten Biblical Commandments of Economics.  Forcing people to work without pay steals their labor.  Forcing companies to pay without receiving work is also stealing.  So randomly deciding that a company must pay for 40 hours and receive 32 of labor, is theft of eight hours of pay.  That’s a violation of the 8th commandment.  

Socialists always make this assumption that demanders of labor have power over suppliers.  Of course, this depends on the relative supply-demand relationship.  The best thing you can do for suppliers of labor is to adopt policies that increase demand.  During the Trump administration, Black and Hispanic unemployment fell to record lows.  This moved power from companies who demanded labor and gave that power to employees, who supplied labor.  So the answer is very simple in economics: If you want labor to have power, adopt Policies that Promote Production.  President Trump gave power to workers via freedom, the California legislature is trying to give them power via power.  That never works out well in the end. 


Use Honest Measures

In Biblical Economic Policy, Sergiy Saydometov and I cite Deuteronomy 25:15 as a key scripture about honest measures.  It reads, “You must maintain accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”  For more on that topic, I will refer you to podcast #67 titled Free Scale.

The California legislator’s proposal requires companies to pay their employees the same for doing 32 hours of work as they previously paid for 40.  That’s not an honest measure.  It’s almost laughable.  Talk about inflation!  Inflation is simply more dollars chasing fewer goods.  This absurd proposal would produce 25% inflation in its first week!

Fortunately, the United States is a Republic, where states can mostly do what they want.  So we can watch a continual 50-state competition for the best economic ideas.  Arthur Laffer’s latest book The Wealth of States studies that competition.  The result is very predictable:  People are moving from California and NY to FL and TX.  Because that’s where the jobs are.  This foolish proposal clearly explains why.

Let’s advance this proposal a little further: If 32 hours of work is better than 40, isn’t 26 better than 32?  Where does this end?  Oh, with people being paid for not working.  I explain that economically unsustainable idea in podcast #95 titled Paying People not to Work.   

Some day I will record a podcast explaining how L. Frank Baum wrote the Wizard of Oz as a political-economic allegory.  But for today, you need to visualize only the scene where Toto pulls back the curtain and the Wizard warns, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”  Well, that man is the California legislature.  They think they can pull some strings and create value.  They can’t.


Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

When teaching the chapter on consumer surplus, I play the part of Wal-Mart, and I offer a box of tissues to a student for $1.  We learn that in a competitive environment BOTH parties get richer when the consumer is free to make a competitive choice of suppliers.  Wal-Mart gets richer by producer surplus, and the buyer gets richer via consumer surplus.  The conclusion is contained in my little book titled Economics and the Christian Worldview, “If you love your neighbor, you will provide products and services they demand.  If you love yourself, you will make a profit while doing so.” 

California assemblywoman Cristian Garcia does not seem to love her neighbor, and she’s even more shallow on her economic understanding.  She states, “There has been no correlation between working more hours and better productivity.”  Then why doesn’t the California legislature meet 25% less?  Actually 50% less might help.  Here in Texas, the legislature is limited to 140 days, EVERY OTHER YEAR!  Uh-huh.  You see, this gets back to your worldview assumption.  Are more laws good or bad?  At some base level, fallen people certainly need rules.  But, just like the Laffer curve, more laws tend to harm the economy, not help it.  We make that assumption in Texas, so we don’t want our legislators in Austin making new rules for us.  It’s simple: You restrict what you don’t want: In this case, frivolous rules, and you encourage what you want: Freedom from overzealous legislators.

Socialism is based in power, which the WSJ editorial board clearly explains in the last line of their article, where they observe “Socialists like to order other people around.”  So, I will close with another phrase from The Wizard of Oz.  The Wizard leaves the last scene in a hot air balloon. Get it?  Carried away by his own hot air.  When the munchkins plead, “Come back, come back,” he explains, “I can’t, I don’t know how it works!”  And the California legislature doesn’t know how the economy works.