The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

It’s Tuesday, April 19, 2022.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

How Many Hours a Week Should a Worker Work? Who Should Decide? Legislation Proposed in California Points to Lunacy of Government Overreach

How many hours should you work in a week? Who should say how many hours you should work in a week? Who should say how many hours a company or an employer might require employees to work? When do you have a normal work week over which hours are counted at say something like time and a half? Who decides any of these things? But as it turns out, those questions are among some of the most basic in economics, but they are also some of the most basic as we think about the worldview implications of our economic lives.

Now, as you think about forms of economic theory, you can think of, say on the far left wing, forms of collectivism, that is to say it is a denial or a restriction of private property and the right of individuals to establish private contracts. On the other side, you have laissez-faire, absolute free market. And that means that human beings, at least in theory, are economic actors able to enter into whatever mutually satisfying contracts that might be arranged. Now, as you think about those two you recognize that in the 20th century, we did see some people making the argument on the far left of collectivism, we saw not only that the horrifying social experiments of communism, Marxism and state socialism.

We’ve also seen what happens, in economic terms, when you have a denial of the right to private property and a denial of private contractual economic relationships, and you try to have an actor, the state, make all these decisions in the name of the people. Yes, that is the far left, and the 20th century showed us a great deal about just what happens when those leftist economic ideas are put into practice.

Now on the far right, that absolute laissez-faire, absolute libertarianism has almost never existed, at least not in terms of modern society. By the time you reach the late 19th century, in the United States, there is at least some understanding that there have to be some limitations upon legal contracts. Now, just to state the most obvious, contracting someone for murder is an economic transaction. It may be consensual, but it is deeply immoral and any sensical government makes it a crime. It’s an economic transaction, it is a contract freely entered into, that’s why after all professional killers are often called contract killers. But that is an illegal contract because it is an absolutely immoral contract.

Well, what about other contracts? There are some economic and moral libertarians who actually argue that prostitution should be legal, other forms of consensual sex trafficking, as it is known. But in most places in the world, even as there is some trafficking and prostitution, it also remains illegal. And usually on both sides of the equation, both sides of the contract, it is considered illegal even if there is an imbalance in the actual prosecutions, even if the laws on the books and the laws basically aren’t prosecuted at all.

Well, what about something that’s far less controversial? What about, say, contracting with the teenager down the street to mow your lawn? How restrictive should that contract be? Who should be able to say, no, you’re paying too much, you’re not paying enough, here are the labor conditions that are absolutely necessary? What about your employer who may have, say, 5,000 employees? Obviously, at that point it has to be far more technical, it has to be far more driven by a policy. But at the same time, it comes down to a basic question, and this is what separates the right from the left, who gets to decide, in the main, say in matters of employment, what are rightful or wrongful labor relationships or contractual arrangements?

You have those on the left who want to make everything a matter of not only government supervision and government oversight, but even government intervention. You have those on the right, and I believe that the Conservatives are right in this, that the more the government intervenes, the more it restricts human liberty, and also does so at a great cost to our national economy, and to the economy, say, of an individual or an individual family. But you have a headline coming right now, The Wall Street Journal reported on it yesterday, the story is coming from California, and the headline is, “Companies Face Push for Shorter Workweek.”

Now, wait just a minute, if you have employees, say, on the other side of the experience of COVID and the lockdown who are saying, we want to make new arrangements about our employment, well, employees and employers should have the right to negotiate that. That is not what this headline is about. This headline is about those in the Democratic majority, in the California General Assembly who are moving to use the power of law, the power of the government to tell corporations that employ more than 500 people that they must reduce their workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours and keep paying people as if they are working 40 hours.

Katherine Bindley reporting for The Wall Street Journal begins by asking a question, “Which is better, a four day work week or five?” She goes on and reports, “Companies and governments around the world have been debating that question recently driven by a tight labor market along with workers seeking flexibility.” But then this, “A proposal in the California State Legislature would define the workweek in the state as 32 hours, not 40 for larger companies.” And we are told by the end of next week, the California State Assembly’s Labor and Employment Committee is expected to decide if the bill will move forward, “While the proposal is many steps away from becoming law, if passed, the bill could affect more than 2,000 businesses.”

Elsewhere in the media, it is reported that the legislation would cover only employers who have more than 500 employees, and that’s a minority of employers in the state. But get this, those companies employ a majority of the workers in California, which is to say this would affect most workers in California. Now, if you’re listening to this, you might think, well, this is a good time to be in California, because I’ll get paid for 40 hours and only have to work 32. The employer will be prohibited from me working more than 32 hours a week unless I’m going to be paid time and a half, which currently kicks in only at 40 hours. What a deal!

One of the coauthors of the bill is a Democratic California State Assembly member named Evan Lowe, and his name comes up again and again and again with some of the most outlandish ideas from the left. But at the same time, this legislation is being seriously considered. And furthermore, as you’re thinking about the Overton Window, that is the window that is used to theoretically predict how ideas move from the margin into the mainstream. The fact that this is now on the front page of the business section of The Wall Street Journal tells you that you’re going to be seeing this idea crop up here and there, eventually everywhere.

And right on time, it has been announced a similar legislation is going to be at least initiated by Democrats in the House of Representatives. But as you look at this you recognize this is the government intending to tell employers and employees how they must contract for their workweek. And this is not an example of something that, say, brought about the progressive movement in the 19th and 20th centuries, in which you had people who were working 80, 90, 100 hours a week. No, the 40 hour workweek means eight hours per day, only five days per week.

Now it’s important to recognize how that came about. In one sense, it came about because of industrialization. It came about with the development of industry and factories, and particularly the collection of workers into cities. And as masses of workers moved into the workplace and into cities like Chicago and New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and elsewhere, they also brought the opportunity for mass movement and for collective pressure, collective bargaining, even with employers. Employees have a voice, employers have a voice. But in 1866, there came in the United States the formal proposal that an official workweek of 40 hours per week, or at that point eight hours per day be recognized. It could have been six days a week, but nonetheless, it basically came down to about 40 hours, or in some cases 44 hours.

In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant adopted a 40 hour workweek for federal employers. Again, that’s 1869. You fast forward to 1926, and Henry Ford, for the Ford Motor Corporation, created a 40 hour workweek as a standard. And that provided predictability for workers and it also meant that the 40 hour workweek became standardized, and eventually even in the law as the standard amount of hours that a worker should be expected to work for what would be defined as a full time position that would deserve full time pay.

By the time you get to about 1940, The Fair Labor Standards Act has come along basically to say this is going to be true nationwide. And there have been many different efforts, and some of them have been successful, both by regulation and by legislation to further define what is an acceptable contract when it comes to an employer and employee. But as you’re looking at this, you recognize this is a huge step. This proposal in California is a huge step towards the government basically deciding exactly what contracts employers and employees must establish between themselves. And this means that you have a legislator, and this is gaining traction, make no mistake, a legislator saying, here’s the deal, let’s give workers 40 hours of pay for 32 hours of work.

You might be thinking to yourself, well, that’s cool, I will get 40 hours of pay for 32 hours of work. But what is missed here is the fact that every time the government intervenes in this kind of extreme way it generally tends to mess up the economy. Furthermore, there’s something else missing from that picture, and that is that jobs can move. And if you’re talking about the state of California just mandating by legislation all of a sudden that people who had to work 40 hours of work for 40 hours of pay, now only have to work 32 hours, well, you can see where this is going, and going is the right verb, an awful lot of jobs will just move. And for that matter, all they would have to do at this point is just move across the border to a state like Nevada or Arizona where you could just have companies move their jobs across the state line.

And as you’re looking at the federal legislation there people say, well, let’s solve that problem by making it a matter of federal legislation for all 50 states. But that doesn’t solve the problem either, because at that point companies can simply take their jobs and move them not only from state to state, but outside the United States. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board responded to the California proposed legislation by describing it this way, “A bill moving through the legislature would shorten California’s normal workweek to 32 hours from 40 for companies with more than 500 employees. 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 will be paid the same for working 20% less.”

Now the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal is just pointing to a basic issue of reality here. If you say the government is going to tell employers employing more than half of a state’s population of workers, you’re going to have to cut the work week back by 20%, but you’re going to have to pay these people the very same thing as if they were working 40 hours a week, you are basically going to create an incredible injury to your state’s economy. But at the same time, you might win some votes in the process, because this certainly will sound good to people who would rather get paid the same thing for working 32 hours as for 40.

The Wall Street Journal editorial also pointed out something that’s very important, and that is that France has enshrined a 35 hour workweek, it did so back in the year 2000. And by the way, France also has a mandatory retirement age, neither of these is working. Unemployment remains high in France, and the French economy is actually suffering by these regulations. But nonetheless, these regulations in France are popular because the people who have the jobs liked the new rules, there’s less concern for those who don’t have the jobs. But that should be the concern of a national government.

In political terms, the editorial board is right when they say, “While the bill may not pass immediately, California is an incubator of progressive ideas that are often taken up by Democrats elsewhere.” They conclude, “Why do progressives think any idea they come up with has to be imposed by political coercion? You know the answer, because they believe in their superior moral virtue and they like to order other people around.” There’s an incredible amount of truth in that.

Here’s the insight we need to think about, if indeed this move would be advantageous to employers, employers are free to make this move. Not only that, if indeed this move is advantageous in economic terms for employers, say they get more out of people working 32 hours a week than 40 hours a week, then employers will be free to offer this kind of arrangement. And if it is indeed superior, the companies that adopt to this policy would have an economic advantage over those who do not, attracting better employees, keeping them longer, having greater productivity. But the point is, the economy, economic experience, the free relationship between employers and employees should determine this reality, not the California Legislature, not the United States Congress, not government, period.

It’s this kind of economic management coming from the elites in our economy that have made it very difficult for teenagers to get a job, that have made it very, very difficult for people to enter into the workforce at the lowest levels and then work their way up. It is this kind of regulation that doesn’t make sense. Certainly, even most libertarian conservatives in the United States recognize that there have to be some limitations, there has to be some government role. We do not want people free to hire contract killers. But at the same time, the limitations upon government involvement in the economy should be very, very significant. And the instinct, the impulse in a population should be, let people freely contract with one another because they will argue for what is in their own best interest. The government’s policies are likely to end up in a very different place with bad economic results for virtually everyone, except maybe for the politicians who can say, look what we have given you, without ever pointing out to the population what it has cost.

Part II

‘Adam and Eve Were Not Commanded to Lounge in the Garden of Eden’: The Dignity of Work from the Biblical Worldview

But now let’s turn entirely away from the matter of economic policy, and think about this, as we think of these issues through a Biblical worldview. And that gets down to the dignity of work, it gets down to the fact that human beings are made to work. As the assignment is given to Adam and to Eve, our first father and our first mother in Scripture, as they are given dominion and responsibility, they are put in the garden to till it. Work is not a part of the curse, work is a part of the kingdom. Now, the difficulty of work, even the difficulty of tilling the ground, in Genesis 3 we are told that is a part of the curse. But Adam and Eve were not, before the Fall, given the responsibility merely to rest in lounge chairs in the Garden of Eden. They were given work to do, and it is the Christian worldview that understands the dignity of work.

Now, that being the case, how many hours should an individual work every week? Well, the very fact that we’re asking this question implies a very modern condition. As you’re thinking about most previous generations and previous centuries of human experience, you worked as long as you had to in order to be able to feed yourself and your family, put clothing on your back, keep the thatched roof from leaking or for that matter falling in on your head. A part of the problem in our modern asking of this question is that we assume that the condition of most people living in a city, working for a formal employer, clocking in, clocking out, and for that matter, being paid if not an hourly wage, a salary, is just the biblical norm. The reality is, that is one form of work, but the bigger reality is there is work that has to be done and human beings were actually made to work.

I’m going to conclude this consideration by just asking a theoretical question, and maybe it’s one you want to think about for a bit, should the normal condition of humanity be resting or working, or you might put it another way, playing or working? Or as you’re thinking about this, what should be the normal state of humanity, working or being at leisure? Well, as you’re thinking about however many hours in a week might be worked, or for that matter, in a day, the reality is that human beings providing for ourselves and for each other, actually should be found in the normal situation working a very significant part of our day. As a matter of fact, the Sabbath command is emphatic and remarkable precisely because it calls for a day of rest. The shocking reality is that there is a day of rest, it’s not shocking that there are six days of labor.

Part III

Federal Judge in U.S. Blocks Masks Mandates While Chinese Government Exercises Autocratic Control Under COVID: The Tragedies of Totalitarianism

But next we’re going to shift to a very different issue, we’re going to do a compare and contrast between modern Western free societies and forms of totalitarianism, autocracy, dictatorship, or the rule of a single party. And what we’re looking at here is seeing very much as you think about national or government policies related to COVID-19. Which is better, let’s just put it this way, democracy or autocracy? Now in using the word democracy here, we mean a constitutional form of government. But it still raises the issue, which is the superior response, that which comes from an autocratic totalitarian government which is able simply to establish a policy and to enforce it with force, or is the superior policy that which is undertaken in a more democratic form of government where the consent of the governed is absolutely essential?

Consider the headline that came yesterday, no one knows that this is going to last or not, but a federal judge in Florida has struck down the federal transportation mask requirement on airplanes and in airports. Again, we don’t know if this is going to last or not, frankly, politically, we don’t know if the Biden administration is going to offer much of a challenge or an appeal to this. It does give the administration something of a way out. But nonetheless, here you have a federal judge striking down a policy that wasn’t adopted by Congress. It’s not striking down legislation, it is striking down a policy that was put in place by the executive branch and continued and continued and continued by the Biden administration.

These days, you don’t have to wear masks much of anywhere, but you still, at least as of yesterday, had to wear a mask in an airport or on an airplane in the United States of America. In this case, the federal district judge, Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, said that the mandate by the administration, “Exceeds the CDC’s, that’s the Center for Disease Control’s, statutory authority and violates the procedures required for agency rulemaking under the APA, meaning the Administrative Procedure Act.” Is the judge right or is the judge wrong? Clearly the judge is right.

We have seen similar kinds of victories in the courts. We’ve also seen many, many states, we’ve seen a considerable number of more conservative states take policies that are radically different than the policies state by state taken by more liberal states. Just to point to a difference over the course of especially the last year, whether you lived in California or in Florida had a great deal to do with where and when, if ever, you had to wear a mask, or for that matter, follow any number of restrictions that had been put in place by California and were not put in place by Florida.

What you see there is a mixture of American federalism and constitutionalism, a basic instinct on the part of Americans towards liberty. But contrast that with China, the big news coming out of China is a continuation indeed a crackdown of the Chinese totalitarian government attempt to trying to control COVID by shutting down virtually all human liberty. This now involves, we are told, hundreds of millions of people in cities such as Shanghai. Shanghai is three times the size of New York City and it is basically right now in a state of military control in which people who are diagnosed as either having COVID or at risk of having or carrying COVID are being locked in their apartments, sometimes with doors sealed by the government, they are not allowed out. There are people who are right now reaching unparalleled points of despair. There are people whose lives and health are endangered by this government policy, but there’s no one to tell the government it can’t do this.

The very fact that we are looking at a totalitarian form of government, one party rule, and in Xi Jinping, basically a dictator in China, what you’re looking at there is that there is no court such as the court in Florida that struck down the Biden administration transportation mask mandate yesterday, there’s no such court in China. There is no Congress that is anything other than the People’s Assembly as a rubber stamp for the totalitarian government. Because after all, there’s only really one legal party in the whole country.

There are many people looking at the situation in China and also noting that the Chinese Communist Party has taken on this incredibly rigid policy, and right now it is doing untold damage to its own economy. So you ask, why would a government act in such a way against its own best interest? And the answer comes back, because if you are a totalitarian system, then there is no one in your country to tell you, this is a really stupid policy and you need to stop it.

Our experiment in representative democracy is often messy, it’s loud, it is sometimes contentious. Our experiment in having the freedom of the press and the freedom of public discussion often means that really bad ideas and really bad sentences get said sometimes with really bad intentions in the public square. But contrast that with a totalitarian form of government and the repression of all things, including speech. And even if the government could mandate control of thoughts, you are looking at the breakdown of totalitarianism in the face of a virus that doesn’t have a political affiliation.

Li Yuan writing for The New York Times reminds us that before China’s zero COVID policy, China back in the year 1958 mobilized a policy known as the zero sparrow policy. Why? Because the Chinese Communist government thought there were too many sparrows in China. As Li Yuan reports, “All over China, people banged on pots and pans, lit firecrackers and waved flags to prevent the birds from landing so that they would fall and die from exhaustion. By one estimation, nearly two billion sparrows were killed nationwide within months. Nearly two billion sparrows in the zero sparrow policy. But guess what? If you have zero sparrows, you end up with billions and billions of mosquitoes. Not just mosquitoes, by the way, but also insects that destroyed crops.” As the Times tells us, “The near extinction of sparrows led to insect infestations which ruined crops and contributed to the great famine, which starved tens of millions of Chinese to their death in the next three years. Zero sparrows, zero COVID, zero freedom.”

All of this comes down to reminding us that worldview really matters. Worldview matters regardless of where you live. And the worldview that is embodied by your government, that has a great deal to do with whether or not you might even live or die. Worldview matters. It matters everywhere, it matters all the time, and as it turns out, it matters as to whether you live or die, whether you are a sparrow or a human being.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For informational Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).