The Congressional Budget Office’s recent analysis of the Affordable Care Act concludes that it will result in the equivalent of 2.3 million full-time workers leaving the work force to preserve their taxpayer-financed subsidies for health insurance.
This is troubling on several levels: In terms of fiscal impact, it will exacerbate the federal budget deficit, both on the revenue side (fewer taxable hours being worked) and on the expenditure side (Obamacare’s new subsidies). Economically, our country will be poorer than it otherwise would be. Work produces wealth; less work means less wealth, and also less upward mobility for those who drop out of the labor force. Politically, as the number of unproductive citizens dependent on government increases and the number of productive citizens whose taxes finance government decreases, the unproductive may achieve a permanent majority—a political hegemony—as happened in ancient Rome with dire consequences.
News of fewer Americans working should come as no surprise with the current administration running the show. Whether it be the unproductive “stimulus plan,” increasing the minimum wage, suffocating regulation, increasing unemployment subsidies (miscalled “compensation”), adding record numbers to the disability rolls, etc., the Obama presidency has been a job-destroying machine from the start, as I noted four years and two-and-a-half years ago. Even as the heroic efforts of industrious Americans manage to keep our economic nose above water, the labor participation rate has fallen.
What is remarkable about the all-too-predictable loss of jobs resulting from Obamacare is the administration’s response. Jason Furman, the chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, tried to spin the projected net reduction in productive labor as a positive. He said, “This is not businesses cutting back on jobs, this is people having new choices they didn’t use to have.” Team Obama’s attitude seems to be that it’s bad for society when businesses reduce jobs in the face of increased cost burdens—as if the primary reason businesses exist is to “give” somebody a job rather than to produce wealth and serve consumer needs—but it’s good for society if individuals cut back their work hours and increasingly live on government support. Note the double standard: If businesses respond to Obamacare’s disincentives to employ people by reducing employment, that’s bad (and the IRS, without statutory authority, will play the grand inquisitor, and demand to know if Obamacare was the reason they cut employees’ jobs or workweeks) but if individuals respond to Obamacare’s disincentives to work by reducing their hours of work to qualify for larger government subsidies, that’s good.
Referring to a record number (over 100 million) of Americans not working, White House spokesman James Carney hailed this lost economic production as a wonderful development. Or, in other words, “a milestone on the path toward the ultimate complete liberation of the American worker from the drudgery of work,” to quote Lewis K. Uhler and Peter Ferrara. This utopian vision of a world without work is uncomfortably close to the economic irrationality of the Occupy Wall Street crowd.
At their 2012 May Day rally in Chicago, the Occupy Wall Street members prominently displayed signs saying, “If you have to work to live, is it a choice? If you have no choice, are you free?” Sorry, people, but, we aren’t born with a lifelong supply of sustenance accompanying us, and so we are not free from the necessity to produce what we consume—that is, to work. Those who lament that they aren’t free if they have to work seem remarkably unconcerned about the freedom of their fellow citizens. To reword the slogan on the Occupy Wall Street sign: If you don’t work, and you expect your fellow citizens to work to support you, can your fellow citizens be free?
This administration’s desire to make it easier for people not to work and to live at taxpayer expense makes no economic sense. It reduces the amount of wealth produced and keeps people from ascending the ladder of individual economic progress. Politically, though, it makes a lot of sense to Obama and his progressive allies. By continually increasing the number of citizens economically dependent on the political process, Obama comes that much closer to achieving the Curley Effect and securing a permanent Democratic majority over an increasingly shrinking productive sector. Should that happen, the war on producers, and therefore on wealth, will escalate, resulting in a poorer America. The longer Team Obama’s war against work continues, the more they cripple the wealth production upon which our standard of living depends.
[Editor’s note: this article first appeared at forbes.com.]