This week marks the 32nd anniversary of the Roe V. Wade decision. Since 1973, the lives of 40 million babies have been extinguished.
The anniversary of that Supreme Court decision also marks the anniversary of the discovery of a new "right" that was central to the reasoning of the decision _ the "right to privacy." This right, the source for which legal scholars continue to search far and wide, plays a key role today in thinking about abortion and other social issues.
The right to privacy provides a rationale for all individuals to set their own agendas and to rationalize away any sense of common values and standards that previously formed a common social fabric. Through this mysterious new right, the Supreme Court created a new overarching value that might be called "doing your own thing."
The only possible social dimension to the "doing your own thing" society is social engineering. We have left it to policy wonks to figure out tax and social programs to link us all together as a society as tradition once did.
The displacement of traditional values with the "do your own thing" agenda puts perspective on the problems with which we're now wrestling on Social Security and Medicare.
The conventional explanation for today's Social Security and Medicare problems is demographics. Our population is "graying" as a result of longer lifespan and fewer babies. When Social Security was passed in the 1930s, there were more than 40 working Americans for every retiree. Today this ratio has dropped to three to one. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2025 our elderly population will have increased by 80 percent whereas our population of working age adults and children will have only increased by 15 percent.
Compared to the 1930s, today the average American lives 25 percent longer and the average birthrate is 35 percent less.
This is not a sanguine portrait for a government program that finances care for the elderly through payroll taxes. As the proportion of the elderly population grows, tax increases are the only possible way to maintain benefits.
But it's worth noting that demographics don't just happen to us. They reflect the cumulative results of individual decisions. Individual decision-making today is driven by far different values and attitudes about work and family compared to the early part of the last century.