Attacking Wage Employment

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I don’t know what the optimum ratio of employees to independent contractors would be. No one does. But we can be pretty certain that the current skewing of the economy towards less wage employment and more independent contracting by Obamacare is not a good thing.

You see, “one consequence” of the health reform package, writes economist David Henderson on EconLog, “is an increase in contracting out to avoid the 50-person threshold.”

Now, if there were a general shift towards part-time employment and professional contracting as a result of businesspeople and workers appraising their advantages on the open market, we’d just note this with interest or a shrug and say, “whatever the market decides.”

After all, people might substitute wage contracts for performance contracts (or vice versa) for reasons given by Nobel Laureate R.H. Coase, who figured out why firms exist at all: contracting out isn’t costless. It takes time to negotiate each deal, each task, etc. My friend Dr. Henderson will correct me, I hope, if I’m wrong, but employing labor full-time — by bundling numerous tasks together — is usually easier and cheaper than seeking out specialists and consultants for each task you want done.

In recent years we’ve seen a rise in consulting professionals, in part because the Internet has reduced the costs associated with working from a distance. But today’s switch to independent contractors (as well as to part-time employment) is a result of Obamacare raising the cost of keeping full-time employees. Of course businesses will seek to . . . economize.

And we know such substitution is suboptimal because people are doing it under duress, the threat of force behind Obamacare.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Jan
    23
    11:12
    AM
    James

    This is reminiscent of the Free Labor movement, which Lincoln spoke about in 1859:

    “The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This, say its advocates, is free labor — the just and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all — gives hope to all, and energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all. If any continue through life in the condition of the hired laborer, it is not the fault of the system, but because of either a dependent nature which prefers it, or improvidence, folly, or singular misfortune.”

    I consider the rise in independent contracting to be a good thing for freedom in the long run, even though the short-term effects are painful. The string-pullers playing Sim-Country up in D.C. might’ve made a blunder here.

  2. Jan
    25
    12:47
    PM
    MoreFreedom

    Businesses that convert employees into contractors will be getting notices to appear at State goverment offices that are attempting to collect unemployment revenue. And the State will be ruling that many of these independent contractors are employees after all. Forcing business owners to cough up taxes after the fact.

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