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Acton Notes - President Message

Imagine a law that states: You may serve and cooperate with others six hours per day but no more; if you do not obey, penalties will apply.

Does this sound crazy? Well, add money and wages to the mix and you have the absurd workweek limitation laws that vex most industrialized country to one degree or another.

France has finally taken the sensible steps to dismantling its 35-hour workweek law. Other European countries are rethinking their limitations on work. While there is no movement in the U.S. to liberalize overtime pay and wage floors laws—there should be.

Such laws can only harm people. Employers hoping to enlist the services of others are prevented from doing so or made to pay too high a price. Workers who want to make more money and gain experience are prevented from doing so. What could be gained by forcing parties who want to trade to do nothing instead?

The state that enforces such regulations says that it does so for our own good. Government, we are told, is preventing us from being exploited and imposing on us the leisure we need so that we can have a break from the competitive forces of the marketplace. While this sounds noble, what we really have here is an old Marxian fantasy at work.

It sounds good until you consider that the laws are mostly supported by labor unions that are seeking to keep out non-union competition. The restrictions inhibit the ability of people, who know their own interests best, to make their own contracts in their own best interest. For that reason they also tend to harm economic growth.

Labor markets are simply the commercial arena in which people serve each other by striving toward excellence. The wage is but a proxy for the appreciation others have for your contribution to that cause. As with any exchange, all parties benefit and all parties are free to walk away.

It is a beautiful system, one consistent with morality and prosperity, two values that the Acton Institute, with your assistance, also strives to defend.