Paul Krugman vs. … um … me. [Updated.]

No, no; of course, I don’t mean that Paul Krugman has expressly disputed something I wrote here on AB.  Or that he has ever read a post of mine.  Or that he knows that I exist.  Those latter two things have happened, but only in my dreams. The first of those has never happened at all.

Well, not directly, anyway.

But on Feb. 6, I posted a piece here that I titled “Republicans and Dana Milbank Solve the Unemployment Problem in Germany, Canada, Taiwan and Australia: Those countries just need to repeal their universal-healthcare laws and tie healthcare insurance to full-time employment at large corporations!”  The gist of which was that the claim that it is a bad thing economically for the country that Obamacare ends (to some extent) the U.S.’s overwhelmingly prevalent access-to-healthcare-insurance job-lock, as a practical matter requiring that one member of a family hold a full-time job at a company that provides access to healthcare insurance for full-time employees and their immediate dependent family members, conflicts with the experiences of every single other advanced economy in the world.  None of which predicates access to healthcare insurance upon a family member’s full-time employment at a company that provides access to healthcare insurance for its full-time employees. Some of which (I believe) are healthier economies than ours.

And today, Krugman, in a blog post titled “Why Do You Care How Much Other People Work?”, answers that question thusly:

The answer is that it’s a story about pre-tax wages. When someone chooses to work less, he or she imposes a hidden cost on everyone else, because he or she ends up paying less in taxes – or in some cases gets to collect more in means-tested benefits.

To which I say: Well, fine. The nature of a progressive tax system is that people or families that make less money, for whatever reason, end up paying less in taxes – or in some cases get to collect more in means-tested benefits.  It’s hardly a secret that large swaths of 30-something, highly-educated, married women voluntarily leave their fast-track jobs in favor of work-from-home or part-time work because their 30-something, highly-educated, husbands have fast-track jobs that enable them financially and benefits-wise to do so. In this country and in other countries. Just as it’s hardly a secret that until about 40 years ago, in this country, the percentage of married women in the workforce whose husbands made a middle-class or upscale living was fairly small.

A key difference between the situation in this country and the other countries with developed modern economies is, y’know, the benefits-wise thing. Specifically, access to healthcare insurance, which in the other countries does not depend upon a family member’s full-time employment with a large or mid-size employer. And the difference between this country now and this country between, say, 1950 and 1980 is that, economically, the country is doing worse now than it was during most of that earlier time period, when labor participation was lower. Right?  (They don’t, after all, call this the Great Recession and its aftermath, for nothing.)

Is there any actual evidence that Germany, Canada, Taiwan or South Korea would be better off economically if those countries started predicating access to healthcare insurance upon a family member’s full-time employment in which that is a benefit necessitated by the fact that there no longer is access to it through laws?  And is there any evidence that this country’s economy would have been better, pre-1980–or, for that matter, now–if employer-based healthcare insurance access was solely for the individual employee and, maybe the employee’s dependent kids, but not for the employee’s spouse?  If there is, then why stop at trying to repeal Obamacare?  Why not also impose tax incentives for employers to preclude healthcare benefits for spouses of employees?

Or instead, we could, say, point out that raising the minimum wage substantially also is a story about pre-tax wages, and that when someone makes money per hour, he or she imposes less of a hidden cost on everyone else, because he or she ends up paying more in taxes – or in some cases gets to collect less in means-tested benefits.  Same with public employees such as teachers, firefighters, police offices, research scientists and untenured university professors, whose numbers have decreased dramatically in recent years; we could point that out, too.

And we could throw in that hedge fund and private equity folks who benefit from the carried-interest tax break to the tune of zillions of untaxed dollars each year is a story about pre-tax income (albeit not FICA-taxable income).  And that apparently some wealthy farmers receive more in farm subsidies than they pay in income taxes.

We could.  And really, we should.  Why is the issue suddenly whether the uncoupling of access to healthcare insurance from full-time employment by an employer that provides it for full-time but not part-time employees–in the only advanced economy in the world that so couples it–because what matters for the economy is pre-tax wages and means-tested benefits?  Why isolate this particular uncoupling, when the coupling itself exists only here in this country?*

My regular readers here at AB–all three of them!–know, first, that I have no background whatsoever in economics, and, second, that I love Paul Krugman, who along with the writers here on AB have taught me almost everything I know about economics.  Such as that is.  (No, I never attended Princeton; I read Krugman’s NYT columns and blog.) While I’m pretty sure that I could beat out Krugman in a contest of understanding the omnipresent, various and sundry anti-ACA litigation–or of federal habeas petitions filed after state-court criminal convictions; or the Supreme Court-created, separation-of-powers-and-Supremacy-and Fourteenth-Amendment-clauses-violating Rooker-Feldman and Younger-abstention access-to-federal-court doctrines that it narrows once a decade, but only at the behest of a mega-corporation; or, more specifically, who actually has access to the 70 annual available Supreme Court case slots–my readers know that Krugman need not fear me as a rival on economic policy analysis.

Not that Krugman would actually offer opinions on the anti-ACA litigation, or of federal habeas petitions filed after state-court criminal convictions, or the Supreme Court-created Rooker-Feldman and Younger-abstention doctrines, or who actually has access to the Supreme Court. Any more than I would post about IS-LM. Even if I understood his explanation of it.  Which, I assure y’all, I don’t.

So obviously, I’m missing something here. But what? What is it that I’m missing, on this narrow Obamacare economic-impact issue?

*Sentence edited for clarity. 2/11.


UPDATE: See conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Lane’s column aptly titled “Will Work for Insurance.”


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