Why is it that economic laws are the Rodney Dangerfield of natural laws? Like the late comedian, they get no respect.

No one wanting to live would jump off a ten-story building. Why? Because everyone knows gravity will–like it or not–accelerate them towards the ground at 32 feet per second per second and the resulting impact will kill them.

And everyone knows the economic law encapsulated in Milton Friedman’s famous dictum, “There is no free lunch.”

And yet on Friday afternoon, the president of the United States (B.A., Columbia, J.D., Harvard) declared Friedman’s dictum null and void. He ordered insurance companies covering institutions run by organizations morally opposed to contraception to provide it for free to the employees of those institutions who want it.

But birth control pills cost money to develop, manufacture, package and distribute. Doctors must prescribe what are, after all, powerful drugs. Doctors, drug companies and pharmacists expect to be paid. So if the insurance companies are going to pay them, where does the money come from?

Thin air, says the president of the United States. Higher premiums, say everyone who lives beyond the Beltway. And who would pay the higher premiums? Well, partly the institutions who object to birth control and partly other institutional customers of the same insurance company who don’t. If the institution self-insures, however, as most large organizations do, then it will still indeed be paying for a product to which it morally objects.

In other words, the birth control won’t be free, it will cost just as much as it ever did. It’s just that paying for it will, sometimes, be partly shifted away from those who are making a political ruckus and partly toward innocent bystanders.

I’m delighted to see the Catholic bishops weren’t fooled by the White House sleight-of-hand, unlike almost all of the Washington press corps. I suspect this story still has a lot of legs, and not only because the bishops aren’t buying. It also lays bare the dark heart of Obamacare, with its massive shift of power–economic, medical, and, now, moral–to Washington. And his “accommodation” to the moral scruples of the Catholic Church raises troubling constitutional issues as well.

From where, exactly, does the president derive the power to order a company to provide something of value for “free”? If he has that power, perhaps he might be so kind as to tell Subaru to provide me with a new Outback. The one I have, much as I love it, is getting a little old.