If Barack Obama goes down in history as the "part-time president," it won't be because, as failed GOP candidate Newt Gingrich asserted in September, he keeps a less-than-grueling schedule.
No, it will be because, thanks to Obamacare, his signature achievement, he may soon be leading a nation of part-time workers.
When several large restaurant chains recently announced (both before and after the election) that they will be cutting back employees' hours to avoid the requirement to provide health insurance -- or the fines for failing to do so -- leftist commentators dismissed the restaurant owners as "jerks" whose "fear-mongering" and "whining ... shouldn't be taken seriously."
So what would the same critics make of a public, taxpayer-supported institution doing exactly the same thing?
Last week, here in the Pittsburgh, the Community College of Allegheny County followed Red Lobster's lead. CCAC president Alex Johnson announced that 400 part-time employees will have their hours cut back by year's end because the college cannot afford the $6 million cost for these employees' health insurance.
Is Mr. Johnson a fear-monger, a whiner, a jerk? Or is he, as he told county council, just trying to control costs?
CCAC gets about half of its funding from state and county government -- that is, from taxpayers -- and the other half from tuition and fees. A spokesman said the college is trying to comply with Obamacare "with the limited resources we have."
Those resources decreased in recent years when the economic downturn brought belt-tightening at both state and county levels, reducing government expenditures on everything, including education.
In response, CCAC increased students' tuition during the 2011-12 school year -- not once but twice. Now it is apparently the employees' turn to bite the budget bullet. With 30 hours per week as the Obamacare threshold of "full-time" work, CCAC part-timers will see their hours slashed to 25, and adjunct faculty will teach only 10 credit hours, rather than 12.
As the head of the (unscathed) full-time faculty's union kindly put it, "This is one of those times when the best of intentions do not always end up with the best of results."
That is particularly the case with the "best intentions" of an unelected bureaucracy.
A right-wing conspiracy theorist might propose that more economic upheaval, more Americans qualifying for Medicaid and more people turning to government as the solution to our marketplace problems was the desired result of Obamacare all along -- the slightly obscured path to full-blown nationalized health care.
Those disinclined to such harsh assessments are still stuck with a stark conclusion: that left-wing theorists have no understanding of how free markets work, of how and why jobs are created and sustained.
Just like the presidents of taxpayer-supporter institutions, restaurants and other capitalist enterprises juggle their expenses and revenues to balance their budgets. If one expense rises, in the form of health care costs, either some other expense must decline (whether paying salaries or building a new restaurant) or revenues must increase (by raising taxes, finding more customers or charging existing customer more).
The problem with assessing health care costs -- one big part of modern business math -- is that we haven't known for a very long time what any health service or product ought to cost.
Remember the 1980s scandals over the Defense Department's $600 toilet seat or $9,000 wrench? The presence of "government money" or excessive government regulation always, always skews the market. But we citizens knew how wrong those costs were because any of us could go to a hardware store and buy a private market version of the wrench or toilet seat for far, far less.
But what does an unsubsidized visit to a primary care physician cost? How much should an MRI set you back? How often do you really need dental X-rays?
We don't know, because in modern times, we have never tried a free-market approach to health care. Since World War II, health insurance has been a way to disguise -- and distort -- wages.
How ironic that a method invented to circumvent the federal government's wage controls -- to give workers more than the government allowed -- has now morphed into the primary reason for denying workers full-time work and giving them less than an overbearing government seeks to demand.
If self-described "liberals" didn't see this coming, they have no one but themselves to blame. If they saw it and welcomed it, they aren't liberals in any sense of the word.
They have created a new class of "have-nots" -- the huge pool of people who will work fewer than 30 hours a week and wonder, or stew, over how little, apparently, society values what they have to offer.
Ruth Ann Dailey: firstname.lastname@example.org.