Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Crook: Obamacare discourages work, still makes sense

First Published Feb 06 2014 10:56 am • Last Updated Feb 06 2014 10:56 am

The discussion over the employment effects of the Affordable Care Act has taken a strange turn. It’s come to this: We’re arguing about whether somebody who chooses to work less because of the health-insurance subsidy is behaving rationally.

In case you haven’t been following, back in 2010 the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the ACA would reduce labor supply by around 800,000 jobs. That’s the net result of several different effects, but here’s one: Some people would work fewer hours and some would quit work altogether because the insurance subsidy would make it an affordable option. A new CBO report has fiddled with the assumptions and says the reduction will actually be equivalent to a little over 2,000,000 jobs.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

A common first response was, "What? The CBO says the ACA costs jobs?" Apparently that first estimate hadn’t received the attention it deserved.

After a pause for partisan sorting, the second responses arrived. Conservatives said, "See, we told you ACA was a job-destoyer." Liberals said, "It isn’t a problem. The point is, people will be choosing to work less. That’s a good thing." Matthew Yglesias at Slate calls it a reduction in avoidable suffering.

On to stage three. Tyler Cowen agrees with liberals that that the people working less will be choosing to do so, but questions whether that’s a good thing. In choosing to work less, he says, people might be making a mistake. Ross Douthat agrees. A lot of people don’t know what’s good for them.

Here’s my take. The ACA subsidies don’t "kill jobs," they cause work to be abandoned. Let’s give liberals that vital point. I’d say they’re also right in thinking (for once) that people mostly know what’s good for them. At least, it’s a fair working assumption that people are the best judges of their own welfare.

That just leaves one thing — the small and strangely neglected matter of who pays for the subsidies. As a taxpayer, I’m more than happy to finance a subsidy that guarantees access to decent health care for all. I’m not so happy to subsidize your early retirement or improved work-life balance. Health care is, or should be, a basic entitlement. Your lifestyle choices aren’t.

On the whole, people do need to work: not just for income but also for self-respect, to stay engaged with others, for all kinds of self-interested reasons. On the whole, people understand this and act accordingly. But society is also entitled to expect something of those who aren’t too young, too old or too sick — that people who can work will work.

If you’re receiving transfers and services financed out of taxes, as we all are, you have an obligation. I can respect a person’s choice not to work, but if you’re going to opt out of that avoidable suffering, I wish you wouldn’t do it at my expense.

The larger point is that a shrinking labor force is a problem regardless of the cause, because the bills still need to be paid. The ACA isn’t that badly designed from a work-reduction point of view, and any scheme that guarantees access to health insurance regardless of income will discourage work to some degree. That doesn’t make discouraging work a good thing. The ACA is a good policy despite the fact that it will discourage work to some extent. Liberals, is that so hard to say?

story continues below
story continues below

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.