Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Obamacare and the duty to work

The effect of Obamacare is supposed to be that health insurance is made affordable in some way such that working less or not working will become a realistic option for people.

See, for example:

If you are Democrat, this is an expansion of social welfare benefits, and a good thing. This is ostensibly a simple premise, but I see conflicts, and I have questions about that.

Over several years I evolved from a Rand-ian, Horatio Alger bootstrap libertarianism. I accepted taxes and the social safety net, which I came to comprehend and appreciate with the onset of age and wisdom. As I grew older, my empathic senses sharpened. My wisdom was then derived from “there but for Grace go I” experiences. You know… I became more worldly as an adult, and encountered people who could not fruitfully work. I was moved by their material impoverishment. I understood I should be happy to pay for that out of my taxes.

And this is how it works. People who can’t work are enrolled in social benefits, and the money that pays for that is taxed from people who work or are in commerce. In addition to being logical on its face, it also complies neatly with that old truisim “to each according to his needs, from each according to his needs.”

I don’t know if there are more people on benefits now. It seems like it, though I am mindful to note “things have always (or often) been thus” and “the more things change the more they stay the same.” In any event, I don’t really care if there are more people on benefits, as long as they need them. And my definition of need is very liberal. At the extremes it encompasses chemical dependency or merely some sort of inability to hold a job.

Include those people or not, there are a lot of people on benefits, right? Which requires a broad tax base of people and businesses to throw off money to fund the social safety net.

Going back to “job lock”… The benefits of Obamacare eliminating job lock are illustrated by saying, well someone might be needed as a care giver. So here they’ll be able to quit their job and be a caregiver. Or, with ObamaCare they might be able to quit or retire early so they can pursue their “dream job.”

First illustration you might grant as a positive goal of public policy.

Is the second illustration not extravagant, given limited tax-paying resources?

I go back to contrast that “there but for Grace go I.” What is with this encouraging people to go on benefits when they have an avenue where they do not need them?

More so, I am piqued by the conflict with “to each, from each.” Thing is, the welfare state is very expensive. What is with this thing where we encourage able bodied people to drop out of the value producing sector so that they can move to the value consuming sector? We’re ostensibly going to make the from eaches into to eaches, with fewer from eaches to pay for all of this.

Now I know there’s an answer for this: tax the rich. But they only have so much money, and they don’t make up the broadest part of the tax base. So my question is, what gives with turning middle class taxpayers into net tax receivers? Is that constructive?

Insofar as we talk about income inequality, there’s the rich and the rest of us who work, for which there is an enormous material chasm. But there’s also the rest of us who work, and those on social benefits, for which there is an enormous material chasm.

If you can work, do you not have any obligation to avoid being on the social welfare rolls? So that you can both contribute to its funding and not contribute to its depletion? If you can work, aren’t you obligated to act in a manner that mitigates the income inequality of the welfare enrollee by contributing to the safety net as a tax paying worker? Isn’t that how you act in a manner that conforms to “to each, from each?”

What gives people the temerity to think they can drop out, take their benefits, and pursue their muse before their time?

This post was written by Erik Petersen and originally published on Zingy Skyway Lunch.

If you blog and would like your work considered for Minnesota Blog Cabin, please submit our registration form.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Lauren Hebert on 02/11/2014 - 11:08 am.

    Its the ACCESS that matters…

    Not the subsidy. With access to guaranteed issue insurance, couples can choose to be one-worker families and care for children at home, which most of us would prefer to day care. With one parent at home, the other parent may have more freedom to increase income. This is a good thing, sounds very traditional; a conservative choice, no? Not all of them, perhaps few of them, will receive substantial subsidy. Focusing on the subsidy rather that the freedom of access reveals that many of us are still trying to assign moral judgments to economic functions. The title alone reveals this; “…Duty to Work.” Does this imply that parents raising kids at home or caring for parents etc. are somehow NOT doing useful work that needs doing?

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/11/2014 - 06:39 pm.

      Freedom of access?

      What, you need special permission to buy health insurance on the individual market now? I don’t understand your point.

      It’s always been a choice to have one spouse working and one staying home. When did that change?

      And it’s always been an option to buy health insurance on the open market. Check out ehealthinsurance dot com sometime.

      The writer’s attempt at satire has too much truth in it to be very funny, I’m afraid.

  2. Submitted by steven gray on 02/11/2014 - 11:53 am.

    The truism is not “to each according to his needs, from each according to his needs” as quoted. It is “to each according to his needs, from each according to his ABILITY.” Makes a big difference in the context of this editorial.,_to_each_according_to_his_need

  3. Submitted by Mark Snyder on 02/11/2014 - 03:08 pm.

    This helps the unemployed

    We still have millions of Americans who are unemployed, many of them for an extended period. If Obamacare allows some people to retire or work less, that creates opportunities to employ more of the people who do want to work, doesn’t it? Isn’t that a good thing?

  4. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 02/13/2014 - 11:55 am.

    Obamacare is not “social welfare”

    except for the insurance companies. It guarantees them a captive customer base, subsidies for whatever they choose to charge, permission to charge people over the age of 50 as much as three times more than younger people, explicit permission to spend 20% of their take on “overhead” (where they used to get by with 10%), and no remedies for their “customary charges” method of forcing the uninsured to pay more than the insured for the same service or for their practice of imposing high deductibles.

Leave a Reply