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The ancient namesake of our first calendar month is a Roman exclusive; Janus has no Greek equivalent. A god of beginnings, transitions and endings, Janus was depicted as having two faces: a youthful countenance always looking ahead and an older, bearded one always looking back.

Thus January is a time for retrospect and forecast. As the future is best approached from a solid assessment of the past, it's worth stretching old Janus' eyesight a little further rearward as we ring 2018 out.

It so happens that 1968 closed out as a milestone year of its own, and from our perch 50 years hence, there are a wealth of observations with potential lessons.

A good place to begin is with basic counting and accounting. The U.S. was a nation of 200 million people in 1968; our population is nearly 330 million now, representing a living body count growth of 65 percent.

The federal budget in 2018 was $4.4 trillion, which compares to a 1968 budget (in inflation-adjusted dollars) of nearly $1.3 trillion.

An increase of 340 percent in federal spending, matched against a much smaller increase in population, translates to two things: a much higher taxation demand of the citizenry, and a much higher average per capita expenditure out of Washington.

The smaller federal dollar per citizen in 1968 was divided up much differently as well. Defense consumed 53 cents to lead all categories, as Vietnam was ramping up. Education only got a nickel, as did health care. Pensions got 12 cents, transportation 4 cents. Interest on the much smaller national debt required 6 cents of every dollar.

The twin towers of the 2018 federal dollar were health care and pensions, each representing 27 cents. Of the remaining minority, welfare got 8 cents and interest got a dime. Education only got 2 cents worth, and defense accounted for 21 cents.

Massive migrations in spending among state governments have also occurred. In 1968, the leading spending category for collective statehouses was education at 25 percent. Transportation at 22 percent was a close second, followed by welfare and health care at 14 and 13 percent respectively.

But in 2018, health care had become the largest category by more than double of any other. Health care's 38 percent dwarfed education (18 percent), transportation (7 percent), welfare (7 percent) and pensions (15 percent).

Spending represents government priorities, and some conclusions with accompanying conundrums are all too clear. The share of government dollars that can be considered investments--things like education, transportation and infrastructure--is significantly smaller. That contrasts with steep spending trajectory boosts in the more reactive categories such as health care (a function of wellness or its lacking) and interest (a function of overspending).

In a technology-driven world, how to explain the imprudent pruning of education's share? And what reasonable expectation should we as a free, self-governing nation derive from that decline?

With smoking rates at an all-time low, and nutrition information and regulation at an all-time high, what accounts for the inordinate increase of health care's percentage? It's true Americans are living longer--life expectancy is up 7 years for women and about 10 years for men since 1968--and with old age comes more chronic illness.

But the math is still awry. The percentage of Americans over age 65 was 10 percent in 1968, and only 15 percent in 2018. The number of older Americans hasn't grown nearly as much as the dollars spent on health care.

Surely part of education is teaching kids about health and wellness. Indeed, when it comes to what our kids are learning in class, a long gaze backward is insightful.

The high school dropout rate, which is generally linked to social ills ranging from joblessness to drug abuse to criminal activity, was nearly three times higher in 1968. But unemployment then was 15 percent lower than today, marijuana use was in its infancy, and violent crime was 25 percent lower.

Policymakers in 1968 probably assumed compulsory education laws would improve all those statistics. That those figures all worsened over the ensuing decades, despite drastic reductions in dropout rates, strongly indicates they and we have missed something--or several somethings.

A couple of glaring examples immediately come to mind. Five years before Roe v. Wade, births to unmarried mothers in 1968 were still very much the minority. The highest percentage was among black women at about one in four.

Today, after countless millions of abortions, the rate for black mothers is seven in 10, and among white women the growth is larger, from roughly 4 percent in the late 1960s to almost 30 percent today.

Inexplicably, in light of explosive illegitimacy, the total number of adoptions annually in the U.S. is lower now than in 1968.

Next year isn't just a new year, it's the first step in our next 50 years. Many political and policy assumptions born or gestating in 1968 wound up delivering contrary consequences, some of which are unequivocally unsustainable.

2019 would be a great year to truly analyze, revise and start reversing them. Here's a New Year checkpoint: a whiff of too much Sixties on any politician's breath can lead to impaired governing.

------------v------------

Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.

Editorial on 12/28/2018

Print Headline: Janus upon us

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  • WhododueDiligence
    December 28, 2018 at 9:23 a.m.

    "But the math is still awry. The percentage of Americans over age 65 was 10 percent in 1968, and only 15 percent in 2018. The number of older Americans hasn't grown nearly as much as the dollars spent on health care."
    *
    The percentage of Americans over 65 is not the most relevant factor in the math formula. More relevant is the fact that cost of treatment has risen faster than inflation since 1968. That's largely due to expensive diagnostic and treatment technology which didn't exist in 1968 and which grows more complex. Also, factoring population growth into the percentage of Americans over age 65, today's number of older Americans is quite high in comparison (20 million in 1968 and near 50 million now). Obviously as we age we're more likely to require expensive health care, but the rising costs of health care are spread across all age groups. Specialized intensive care for newborns for example is much much expensive (with better outcomes) than in 1968.
    *
    In the long run costs which rise faster than inflation are economically unsustainable. That's what health care reform was all about. Obamacare had some flaws which could have been fixed, but instead Republicans smeared it, sabotaged it, and the House voted dozens and dozens of times to abolish it. And in 2017 when Republicans had control of the House, Senate, and presidency, at long last what was their health care plan? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Other than returning to their old way of letting insurance companies sell cheaper--and therefore more worthless--insurance policies.
    Maybe that's why old backward Janus looks so glum.

  • WhododueDiligence
    December 29, 2018 at 6:39 a.m.

    The rising costs of Medicare and Medicaid are sometimes used as an argument against Medicare for all, but since the country failed to unite around the ACA that might be where we're headed. Insurance costs for individuals and for employers providing health insurance benefits are likely to rise faster than inflation too which takes a toll on the overall economy.
    *
    One of the frustrating aspects of health care reform (aside from the silly death panel claims that they're pulling the plug on grandma) was the conservative/Republican rejection of the individual mandate which was originally a conservative/Republican idea. It's a good idea since even young healthy people can suddenly require expensive health care or suddenly have a child requiring expensive health care. Rising costs will likely force another health care reform debate, and next time hopefully it will not be derailed by misleading political-circus side shows.

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