Much of the political debate surrounding the ‘Obamacare’ legislation has focused on the potential disincentive it could offer to the US workforce. The financial assistance that the healthcare legislation provides is, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), likely to cause around 2.5 million Americans to decide against participating in the labour market. Republican opposition to the bill has eagerly alluded to these figures as proof of its effect on disincentivising work – that most treasured of meritocratic ideals – and stunting individual economic opportunity (and naturally, national economic recovery). Small businesses, Republicans argue, will suffer as employees possess more choice in whether to leave their occupation, hindering current entrepreneurship and dissuading prospective entrepreneurs.
But what of certain benefits that ‘Obamacare’ may induce in innovation? It is widely considered that entrepreneurs require a sufficient financial safety net in the process of setting up a business and this legislation, at least to some level, provides more robust support than what was a prior scenario of job uncertainty leading to workers with pre-existing conditions becoming left at risk of being uninsured. Those who are in state of “job lock” may very well feel more inclined to resign from their position, and in some cases, seek self-employment due to the assurance of an affordable healthcare plan. Moreover, allowing young workers to remain attached to their parents’ insurance until they are twenty-six may create an environment in which greater entrepreneurship is encouraged. The elderly, with access to Medicare, have been shown to be far more disposed in becoming entrepreneurs compared to those who are under sixty-five.
The CBO acknowledges that there are potential productivity benefits from freeing up the employment options which ‘Obamacare’ generates – although they are unable and unwilling to quantify it. If free-enterprise Republicans are willing to appreciate the open-ended possibilities of these effects then they may find something more closely aligned with their settled advocacy of entrepreneurship. Rather than maintaining a crude denunciation of the Obamacare effect on enterprise, the GOP could imaginably do worse than publicly consider its benefits in this regard. This is of course politically impossible. No less however does it make their stance ideologically inconsistent as well as inadequately reconciled with their supposed dogmatic faith in the American entrepreneurial spirit.