It now seems possible that no one will be paying the mandate penalties in 2014. Having exempted some groups from the mandate already, it will be politically difficult to start enforcing it on others. And, looking further into the future, why should we think Democrats will suddenly crack down and enforce the mandate in the run-up to the next presidential election?

This part of the law is like an unpopular, insecure person at a family reunion, who is walking on eggshells and making concessions right and left for fear of offending anybody. In the age of the Internet, people are used to decentralized systems and maximum personal choice. The mandated elements of Obamacare may look good on paper and they may be necessary to get the plan to work, but they probably can’t survive the public sense they are illegitimate.

Governing in an age of distrust is different than governing in an age of trust. Government now lacks the legitimacy to impose costs on losers, so politicians face unprecedented pressure to create situations in which everybody looks like winners. Government lacks the legitimacy to coerce. People like Social Security, but I bet you that Congress could not pass a Social Security law today. If people were unfamiliar with the concept, you couldn’t pass a bill that said: Government is going to confiscate money from each paycheck and spend it on other things, but don’t worry because you’ll get it back decades from now when you retire.