I was reviewing my notes on national income accounting as the great debate about whether the payment under that Affordable Care Act that forces citizens to buy health insurance is a tax or a penalty raged. Although I would bet dollars to doughnuts that the Department of Commerce has worked out most of the particulars, what follows is my musings on how these payments will fall.
My analysis uses definitions from Greg Mankiw’s and my favorite principles text. The income approach starts with gross domestic product, and through the deletion and addition of accounts, is reduced successively to gross national product, net national product, national income, personal income, and finally, disposable income. Important to this post are national income, the income households receive from wages, profit, rent and interest, personal income, which is defined below, and disposable income, the sum that households have at their disposal to consume or save.
Personal income and disposable income are defined in equations (1) and (2)
(1) Personal Income (PI) = National Income (NI) – retained earnings – indirect business taxes – corporate income taxes – social insurance taxes + interest on government debt + government transfers,
(2) Disposable personal income (DI) = PI – personal taxes – nontax payments.
Substituting equation (1) into (2) and regrouping terms yields equation (3) which contains the accounts that will be affected by the ACA.
(3) DI = NI – indirect business taxes – retained earnings - corporate income taxes – social insurance taxes – personal taxes – nontax payments + interest on government debt + government transfers.
I believe that the benefits of the ACA will be part of government transfers, in this case, subsidized medical insurance payments. The costs will show as social insurance taxes or nontax payments such as parking tickets and other penalties. From an economic accounting perspective, there is little difference between a tax and penalty. They both reduce disposable income. In the long-run, payments and penalties will exceed the subsidized insurance payments because it is costly to collect taxes. The income does not leave the economy. This cost will consist in part in wages to new government employees that administer the ACA bureaucracy and those who interface with them in the private sector.