Paul Greenberg

(With apologies to George Orwell)

Pity the poor Congressional Budget Office, which is routinely identified as a nonpartisan source of information about the federal government's budget and maybe the statistical mysteries of economics in general. But it wandered into the usual partisan crossfire when it issued a routine, even predictable, estimate that Obamacare, aka the Affordable Care Act, would cost the economy two million or more jobs over the next decade.

The analysis wasn't surprising, just shocking. Knowing something is coming isn't the same as seeing it in cold print. Reality begins to dawn. Anybody who follows the more-heat-than-light debate over the (not always) Affordable Care Act will soon get used to these recurrent shocks, after-shocks and shocks to come. Much like folks who live along the San Andreas or New Madrid faults. It's the nature of the poli-socio-economic beast. Federalize a good sixth of the national economy and complications will ensue, including the usual string of unintended consequences. Like a massive loss of jobs.

Why? Doubtless because of a variety of factors. But the big one in this case is the perfectly rational and highly predictable decision of workers to become former workers. Because they wouldn't need to be on anybody's payroll to get health insurance. (Except the government's, of course, that is, the taxpayers', that is, yours and mine.)

It's a free country -- so far -- and we're all entitled to choose not to work. It's choosing to work, that is, finding a job, that can be tough. Though maybe not as tough as providing one, which explains why a lot of employers have had to cut their payrolls and a lot of workers have quit looking for work. Now millions who work largely for the health insurance their jobs provide may decide to quit. Why not? Let the government pay for it. That is, somebody else.

This perfectly rational economic decision on the part of citizens perfectly free to make it set off a rhetorical firestorm. Or rather one of those polemical brush fires that will soon burn itself out when folks douse it with a little perspective.

In the meantime, the usual high-decibel voices on the right began their hue-and-cry. "Job Killer!" cried Majority Leader of the House Eric Cantor. "False Claims! Dishonest! Media Malpractice!" replied the ever-temperate Paul Krugman, speaking for any Keynesians still extant.

A colleague of Professor Krugman's on the Princeton economics faculty, Alan Blinder, chimed in with equal condescension to explain that it's all a simple matter of supply-and-demand, and the fewer people who choose to supply their labor, the higher wages those of us who are still working can demand. Eureka!

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.