The Philosophy of Noose Tightening

Providence Journal opinion columnist M.J. Anderson offers a fascinatingly candid look at the thought processes of those whose preference for expressing concern for people is through government programs, and at how it ultimately makes a cheap trinket of freedom.

The bulk of her column describes the terrible dynamic of ObamaCare that is leading employers to shift their emphasis toward part-time workers so as to avoid the choice that the federal government has given them: pay for expensive health plans or pay a penalty. ObamaCare sets a threshold of 50 employees working 30 hours or more per week before the mandate kicks in. As with minimum-wage laws, the rest is basic math and economic incentive.

Folks who share my philosophical view of the world look at this situation and see an argument against ObamaCare. Folks who share Anderson’s philosophical view see an anticipated need for “tweaks” required to make the system work:

With rules still to be finalized, no one can predict exactly how the health-care overhaul will unfold, and what kind of tweaking will be necessary to make it work.

It seems a good bet, though, that health care will appear more connected to labor laws, and the basic treatment of workers, than it may now seem.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act established a minimum wage (today a woeful $7.25 an hour), but it did not address minimum hours. Maybe now it will have to.

The consideration apparently lost in this sort of technocratic adjustment of the economic dials is that every requirement brings the cost of an employee closer to the economic threshold at which the labor of an employee costs more than the value to be gained by hiring him or her.  Some employees don’t want to work full time, so there must be allowance for that possibility, which will lead to further distortions, as employers adjust to exploit that reality.  But supposing the perfect, un-gamable system, forcing employers to hire full-time workers where the economics only allow for part-time workers will result in decisions not to hire at all.

When businesses do decide that they must hire new employees, Anderson notes that offering only part-time jobs may cost them the best candidates, but employers know this. That’s already factored into the decision to reduce hours.  And from my perch on the other side of the ideological center line, this is not evidence of businesses’ miscalculation, but of the terrible lengths to which ObamaCare is forcing them.

Contrary to the insinuations of our nation’s storytellers (among whom columnists and journalists count), owners and managers typically enjoy the experience of making their employees happy and loathe the opposite.  Especially in modern America, economic decisions aren’t made as cold calculations of class warfare, and it is an egregious error to force them into that mold for political gain.  The government should let people judge how to maximize their own contributions to society.

  • helen

    Never in my life have I had an employer or manager who cared about my happiness. It was always about the bottom line of much production they could get out of me for the lowest possible price.

  • justinkatz

    I'm sorry to hear that, Helen. I didn't mean to imply, though, that business owners aren't in business to make money. All things being equal, though, I've found that most would prefer to have happy employees than angry ones, and to feel as if they are giving employees a good deal rather than taking advantage of them.

    Perspective can make the same thing look different to different people, but the point in this post is that employers aren't reveling in the difficulty that ObamaCare is pushing down to the employee.