Law uses some people’s money to trap others in place

Remember when Obamacare proponents said the law would help some people spend less time at work while other taxpayers worked harder, increasing dependence on the government and discouraging poor Americans from climbing the income ladder?

Yeah, me neither.

But that’s the upshot of a new government estimate of the continuing impact of the health law. The Congressional Budget Office this week reported Obamacare would reduce the number of hours worked by Americans by as much as 2 percent by 2017, equivalent to the loss of 2 million full-time jobs.

These figures have already become political footballs, so let's acknowledge what the CBO did not say about the effects of Obamacare. It did not say 2 million fewer people will have jobs. It did not say the unemployment rate will rise. It suggested a lot of people will work a little less.

Let’s also point out something obvious: It is not necessarily a bad thing to be able to work less and maintain the same quality of life. That’s a big benefit of living in a free-enterprise system. Free enterprise affords more people the luxury of choosing to earn more money or have more leisure time. It gives entrepreneurs an incentive to create goods and services that help people enjoy their money or time to the fullest.

But let’s also be abundantly clear about one thing: Obamacare does not help people work less by harnessing the power of free enterprise. Quite the opposite.

The CBO does not estimate people will work 2 percent fewer hours because Obamacare has “bent the cost curve downward” for health care, in the White House’s famous phrase. Nor will people work less because health insurance generally has gotten cheaper. This is not the result of market forces or innovation.

Instead, they will work less because other taxpayers will cover part of their health-insurance tab, in the form of Obamacare’s subsidies. Worse, those subsidies are higher than they might’ve been, because Obamacare raises the price of health insurance for many people.

So, some people will have more time because other Americans will have less time, or money.

For every young mother who doesn’t have to work as much to keep insurance because of those subsidies, as one liberal example has it, other mothers and fathers must work more because their insurance premiums went up and they don’t get subsidies.

And for every older worker who gets a break from Obamacare and can choose to work less, to take another liberal example, some 20-somethings will struggle even more to make ends meet because the law requires them to buy insurance or pay a tax.

Worse, the CBO didn’t even try to estimate the employer mandate’s effects on work. But we have already heard numerous examples of companies cutting workers’ hours to avoid the employer mandate — and that’s even before it takes full effect later this year (assuming the White House doesn’t lawlessly delay it again for political reasons). So the CBO’s report surely understates Obamacare’s effects on work.

It doesn’t stop there. One of the main reasons the CBO expects this decrease in work is that under Obamacare the more money people earn, the less they get in subsidies. Conversely, the less they earn, the more subsidies they get. Working could become far less valuable for some people.

If some people aren’t inclined to work a little more because they might lose some subsidies and end up no better off, they probably won’t be likely to work a lot more to become much better off.

Many of the same people who promote Obamacare, from President Barack Obama on down, also spend a great deal of time talking about income inequality and the inability of many poor people to climb the income ladder. How does giving people a reason to work less help to reduce inequality and increase their mobility?

It doesn’t. If Obamacare frees people from “job lock,” as Democrats claim, it also locks people into their current station in life — bound by handcuffs made with other people’s gold.