The Independent Institute


Will the Workday Shrink to Four Hours?

Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Chinese firm Alibaba, anticipates that in 30 years the workday will shrink to four hours. He cites as evidence the continual decline in the number of works hours of the average worker. But while average hours worked has declined, some people work 60 to 70 hours a week and more, and for many of them a reduction in hours worked isn’t likely.

Workers engaged in manual labor, or whose jobs involve following the instructions of their supervisors, a reduction in hours worked is feasible and perhaps desirable. For knowledge workers, hourly productivity is higher the more hours they work (up to some limit), because they accumulate knowledge as they work. People who want to get ahead in those professions have to work longer hours.

For cashiers and assembly line workers, an eight-hour shift could be shared by two individuals, each working four hours, with no loss in productivity. And if fatigue on the job was an issue, productivity might even rise. A job like corporate CEO could not be divided in two and remain anywhere near as productive. The CEO makes decisions that have huge impacts on the direction of the company, and the more time the CEO spends gathering information and assessing alternatives, the more productive the CEO will be.

The same idea holds for many knowledge workers. Even secretaries will be more productive in the afternoon if they understand what went on in the office in the morning.

A Kind Word on Behalf of the Mexicans

“The immigration problem” or “the border problem” has been a heated topic of debate and politicking in recent years. (This recent spurt is only the most recent in a series that goes back for centuries in U.S. history.) In large part this debate pertains to the entry of Mexicans, especially undocumented Mexicans, into the USA. For those who support a strong “closed borders” or “secure the border” position, the debate often involves claims about Mexicans—what sort of people they are, what one may reasonably expect them to do if they become residents of the USA, what crimes they have committed or will commit in the future, and so forth. Anyone who is familiar with Mexicans is struck repeatedly by the sheer ignorance and the false claims that immigration opponents marshal in support of their position. The president himself has trotted out howlers about Mexican rapists and drug traffickers as important, standing problems of even the existing flow of Mexicans into the USA.

I have a working familiarity with the social science literature on immigration. (In the past I have written articles for economic history and demography journals that dealt with various aspects of immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.) More to the point for present purposes, I have considerable personal experience with Mexicans. I grew up on the rural west side of California’s San Joaquin Valley in the 1950s in a place with a population composed of about two-thirds Mexicans and their native-born children. In October 2015, I emigrated from the USA, and since then I have lived in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. I speak Spanish, though not with the fluency I would like, and in one way or another I deal with Mexicans nearly every day. So when I think or speak about Mexicans I do so with some personal as well as scholarly background.

In this light, I am stunned by how many Americans have a false impression of Mexicans. Of course, any generalization about them will be subject to qualifications. Mexico is a large, diverse country with a large, diverse population. And obviously from individual to individual great variations exist. No population consists of nothing but good people (however defined) or nothing but bad people (however defined).

Review: Wonder Woman’s Anti-War Theme Elevates Superhero Action Film

Wonder Woman is already one of the year’s most successful films just three weeks into its U.S. box office run, and for good reason: It’s a smart, well-executed action film. Despite acting that is just above average for superhero films—probably no Academy Award performances in this movie—the directing is top notch, special effects scaled to serve the story, and the screenplay holds the story together despite a few significant plot holes early on.

Wonder Woman is Diana Prince (Israeli actress Gal Gadot, Batman v Superman, The Fast and the Furious), the daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen, Gladiator, One Hour Photo) who rules over a race of Amazon women warriors. Ancient Greek Gods created the Amazons to protect humankind from their own corruption. Hidden on the island of Themyscira, Queen Hippolyta forbids Diana, the only child on the island, to train as a warrior, while the queen’s sister, General Antiope (Robin Wright, The Princess Bride, House of Cards, Moneyball), recognizes the child’s natural abilities and begins training her in secret.

In 1918, American spy Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, Star Trek, Hell or High Water, The Finest Hours) breaks through an invisible shield protecting the island and is pursued by a German warship. A grown Diana saves Trevor whose plane has crashed into the sea. A German landing party attempts to recapture Trevor, but they are defeated by the Amazon warriors at great cost to the women warriors (including the heroic death of General Antiope).

Crowdsourced Redistricting

The Ohiomander
(Ohio 2002-2012 Senate District 1, slightly embellished)

Last Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear a Wisconsin case that would overturn a highly gerrymandered State Assembly redistricting map that heavily favors Republicans. The Court plans to hear arguments next fall, and it is expected that it will be closely divided. (New York Times, “Justices Take up Gerrymandering Based on Party,” June 20, 2017)

Gerrymandering gives those in control of the redistricting process the power to enhance their representation by means of what is known as “packing and cracking”: The ruling party “packs” opponents into a few carefully shaped districts where they will be an overwhelming majority. Then the remaining opponents are “cracked” or divided among numerous districts where they may be a large, but ineffectual minority. Thus, in Wisconsin in 2012, Republicans received only 49 percent of the statewide votes for Assembly members, yet ended up with 60 out of 99 seats. In 2014, they won 63 seats with only 52 percent of the vote. When Democrats happen to control the redistricting process, they do the same thing in reverse.

My own favorite gerrymandered district is what I call the “Ohiomander”—Ohio’s 2002-2012 Senate District No. 1, a monster so bloodthirsty that is actually craning its neck around in order to bite itself on the rear end! In a democracy, voters are supposed to choose their politicians. As has often been noted, gerrymandering instead allows politicians to choose their voters.

Gerrymandering can easily be kept in check by means of a constitutional requirement that state legislature and Congressional districts be as compact as possible in terms of number of county fragments created and total district perimeter. Here’s how crowdsourcing could be employed to achieve this result entirely through voter input:

Playing Offense: Defeating the Assault on Free Speech

We live in times of hypersensitivity. One way in which collectivism acts against individual freedom is by declaring morally reprehensible—and oftentimes prohibiting—what is deemed “offensive.” The expression “political correctness” has come to define this assault on free speech that hides behind the mask of respect for the sensibilities of others.

Any attempt to deviate from this hypocritical abuse of power should be welcome. Which is why we should rejoice at two recent developments.

One is the courage shown by Kara McCullough, Miss USA 2017, a young scientist who works for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in answering two questions during the pageant. She was asked whether affordable health care for all Americans is a right or a privilege. She said that she sees it as a privilege because her own insurance comes from her employment; in order to obtain coverage one should get a job, she added, and we should cultivate an environment in which people can have jobs and therefore health care. When asked about feminism, she stated that she was more for “equalism” and associated the other term with not caring about men. Of course, she was massacred in the social media and part of the mainstream media (which, realizing she was not going to back down, subsequently tried to present her comments on the controversy as a retraction).

The second development is the decision by the Supreme Court to side with the Asian-American rock band The Slants against the Patent and Trademark Office, which has refused to register a trademark for the group on the grounds that the name is offensive to Asians. This is not the first time the Patent and Trademark Office, armed with a provision against offensiveness in the federal trademark law, has made decisions based on political correctness. They canceled the Washington Redskins’ mark in 2014 on the grounds that the name offended Native Americans.

“The Slants” Win on Free Speech

In Matal v. Tam, the Supreme Court handed down an important First Amendment decision. This case dealt with a band’s application for federal trademark registration of the band’s name, “The Slants.” The Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) denied the application based on 15 U.S.C. 1052(a), which prohibits the registration of trademarks that may “disparage . . . or bring . . . into contemp[t] or disrepute” any “persons, living or dead.” The PTO denied the application because “Slants” is a derogatory term for persons of Asian descent. All the band members are Asian-Americans and believed that by taking that slur as the name of their group, they could “reclaim” the term. The group draws inspiration for its lyrics from childhood slurs and mocking nursery rhymes and has given its albums names such as “The Yellow Album” and “Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts.”

The Court ruled for the Slants and held that the statute “offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”

Considering all the efforts underway on college campuses and elsewhere to silence offensive speech (i.e., speech with which the progressives disagree) Tam is much needed good news!


William J. Watkins, Jr. is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and the author of the Independent book, Patent Trolls: Predatory Litigation and the Smothering of Innovation.

Death by Government Housing (Policy)

The AP reports that “grief turned to outrage” yesterday, as survivors of the London high-rise inferno learned that their government landlord’s “green” retrofitting of the building last year included the installation of exterior insulation panels that fueled the quick spread of fire from floor to floor.

Survivors’ outrage is now directed at the current government, the individuals who may or may not be the same as those whose policies produced the housing shortage that made the building’s tenants dependent on government housing in the first place—or those responsible for the climate models feeding “green” building theories leading to the retrofitting—or, most proximately, those who chose to use non-flame retardant insulation panels.

Nevertheless, at least their turning their outrage against government as the agent responsible for their plight is a step in the right direction.

Protestors angry with a lack of affordable housing in “progressive” cities such as San Francisco ought similarly open their eyes to government as the proper object of their anger. For, contrary to the popular narrative parroted—that “gentrification” is driving rents and home prices out of reach for all but the very rich—San Francisco’s median home price now reaching $1,672,100, and its streets filled with the homeless are the direct result of decades of government policies deadlier than the London fire.

“Smart” growth, “affordable housing,” and other regulations suppress private housing construction by an average of 30 percent. In one area studied, affordable housing laws resulted in a decline of new units from 28,000 in the year before the legislation, to 11,000 following its passage: a decrease of 60 percent.

Meanwhile, the homeless are three times as likely to die in any age group than the general population, while working families endure greater risks from commutes growing longer and longer between housing they can afford and jobs.

Governments depriving those they rule from access to low-cost housing is neither new nor confined to “developed” nations. In the 1960s, my father built extremely low-cost housing developments, providing for first-time home ownership for the poor, in developing nations from Peru to India. In country after country, he was driven out by governments hostile to private property rights, hostility fed by the collective wisdom of Western “development” experts.

It’s time for those victimized by these policies to stop being duped and rise up: You’re not being kept down because “the rich are getting richer.” You’re being killed and dispossessed by your rulers “protecting” you from housing you can afford and the opportunity to make a better life for yourself and your families.

Can Christians Serve in Bernie Sanders’s Amerika?

Bernie Sanders does not believe that orthodox Christians should be able to hold high office in the government of the United States. Sanders made this clear when voicing his opposition to confirmation of Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. Sanders took umbrage at an op-ed Vought wrote surrounding a controversy at Wheaton College. The comment Sanders focused on is as follows: “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”

A little background helps. Back in 2015 Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor at Wheaton, donned a Muslim headscarf to show solidarity with Muslims and then declared that “Muslims and Christians worship the same God.” For this comment she was suspended because it was contrary to the College’s statement of faith, which in pertinent part declares, “WE BELIEVE in one sovereign God, eternally existing in three persons: the everlasting Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life; . . . all who receive the Lord Jesus Christ by faith are born again of the Holy Spirit and thereby become children of God and are enabled to offer spiritual worship acceptable to God.” Hawkins and Wheaton eventually agreed to part ways.

Vought is a Wheaton alum and took up his pen to support his alma mater’s stand on salvation through faith in Christ alone. It is simply orthodox Christian teaching that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God, and because of Muslim rejection of the atoning death and resurrection of Christ, Muslims are still at enmity of God and can lay no claim to the penal substitutionary work of Jesus. Reformed scholar and pastor Richard Phillips has this helpful article on the matter.

Back to Sanders. Here’s what he says about Vought’s defense of orthodox Christian teaching:

In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world. This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms ... we must not go backwards.

Ultimately Sanders concluded: “I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about. I will vote no.”

In other words, if you hold to orthodox Christian teaching, you are unfit to hold an appointed office in the US—at least in Bernie Sanders’ Amerika. And remember that over 13 million folks voted for Sanders in the Democratic Primary.

The Atlantic points out that “Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,'” and implies that Sanders is flirting with violating this basic tenet.

It seems to me the test Sanders wants to impose is one that is congruent with modern, secular humanism. There is no real truth, all religions point in the same direction, and true worship is only due to the god of diversity.

Christianity’s claim that Christ is the only true way to the Father offends Sanders just as the ancient Romans were offended by followers of the Way who refused to accept that there were many gods who were equal with Jehovah. These early Christians eventually faced massive persecution and many lost their lives because of adherence to Christ alone.

Of course, modern America is not ancient Rome, but Bernie Sanders and his comrades are certainly pushing us in a familiar direction. In his desire to “overcome discrimination,” Sanders would discriminate and push orthodox Christians out of public service.

These are scary times for religious liberty.


William J. Watkins, Jr. is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and the author of the Independent book, Crossroads for Liberty: Recovering the Anti-Federalist Values of America’s First Constitution.

How Soviets in 1960 Imagined 2017, and the Biggest Changes They Missed

A 1960 Soviet filmstrip surfaced earlier this year depicting a vision of life in 2017. As Russia prepares for the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, it is interesting to reflect on the filmstrip to see what Soviet propagandists got right and what they got wrong.

The 45-frame filmstrip, found in a family collection of St. Petersburg resident Sergei Pozdnyakov, depicts a day in the life of Igor, a boy living in 2017 Moscow. Titled “In the Year 2017,” it was created by V. Strukova and V. Shevchenko and produced at the Diafilm Studio in Moscow. The creators got a few things right.

Igor chats live with his mother, who is onboard a ship on the Black Sea, using a videophone, which foresees the emergence of today’s mobile connectivity via Skype or FaceTime. Another frame depicts scanning technology that reads handwriting on a note to know what a person wants to eat and then automatically cooks the meal. And another frame depicts what appears to be a self-driving car.

Young Americans and Hope for the Future

Bob Higgs, in a recent post on all the foolishness in American higher education, reminds us of what a danger we face as our colleges attempt to mold students into young Jacobins. In light of the state of American education, we need some bright spot on what is a dismal landscape. One bright spot I have found is the blog America Restored, which is operated by several high school students. In trying to rekindle a respect for liberty in modern America, these students advise “the key to accomplishing this is to stop asking the world for approval, and begin doing what you know is right. Once you do this, you will feel happiness and joy, rather than discomfort and nervousness. Read the words from the men and women who came before us, who loved and cherished liberty, and you will see that they knew these things to be true.”

This is a good point for us all to remember. Rather than seeking approval from those in power or those enthralled with our current welfare-warfare state, we should do what we know is right whether it causes discomfort or chastisement. It encourages me to see young folks devoted to liberty in a world that prefers to focus on power and intervention. Check them out.

* * *

William J. Watkins, Jr. is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and the author of the Independent book, Crossroads for Liberty: Recovering the Anti-Federalist Values of America’s First Constitution.