by James D. Veltmeyer, M.D.
(May 8, 2019) – 1965 was a portentous year in American history, with a long-lasting impact on
numerous aspects of American life decades down the road. For example, it
was the year that President Lyndon B. Johnson committed the United States to
a ground war in Southeast Asia with the unfortunate result of radicalizing an
entire generation of young Americans and provoking riots and civil disorder
throughout our nation.
Johnson, who had ascended to the presidency after the tragic assassination of
President John F. Kennedy in Dallas in November 1963, had just vanquished
Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election, sweeping in
commanding Democrat majorities in both Houses of Congress. LBJ believed he
had the electoral mandate to enact his cherished “Great Society” vision of a
paternalistic Federal government at home while waging war on Communists
thousands of miles away.
It was an ambitious agenda.
Yet, the consequences of much of LBJ’s domestic policy agenda legislated in
1965 are concluding in the near-collapse of many of our most important public
and private institutions in America today.
Health care, for example. In that year, the federal government injected itself into
the lives of physicians and patients on a level never before imagined. Medicare
and Medicaid were born, promising health care coverage to the aged and poor.
While no one doubts the sincerity of the authors of these game-changing laws,
there is a good reason why the American Medical Association ( AMA ) fought so
hard against their passage. No, it wasn’t because doctors were greedy ( the truth
is Medicare reimbursements to doctors are about the same as they were twenty
years ago ). It was because the AMA was prescient enough to see the effect on
costs and demand that would result from the federal government pouring
billions of new dollars into the health care system as well as the inevitable
diminishment of the doctor-patient relationship.
The fact is indisputable that the enormous rise in the cost of health care in the
United States can be largely traced to 1965 when LBJ and the federal
government jumped in in a big Texan way. Simple charts prove this and Medicare
is now within six or seven years of complete insolvency as it did what most Big
Government programs do: overpromise and underdeliver.
Education is the other victim of the 1965 “Great Society” fantasy. Prior to
that year, schools were primarily a local responsibility, controlled by local
school boards and answerable to local voters. Funded mostly by property
taxes, America’s public schools largely adhered to traditional models of
teaching and discipline and were — if not the envy of the world– certainly
respected. As liberals can seldom let a good thing stand, LBJ launched a
massive federal intervention into our nation’s schools through the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the Higher Education Act of 1965.
Both bills promised massive new federal resources to assist schools, teachers,
As in health care, the results were predictable but even more negative. Despite
Medicare and Medicaid, the quality of medical care in America remains high even
if the delivery system is faulty. In education, however, the arrival of federal aid
led to a quick collapse in standards, curriculum, and test results. Despite huge
infusions of federal dollars, our nation’s public schools became infested with
crime, drugs, poor teachers, lax disciplinary standards, and embarrassing test
scores. Students graduate from high school unable to read and write basic
English. Entering college freshmen would flunk a grammar school history and
geography test from a century earlier. Many can’t name the three branches
of our government or identify a fraction of the fifty states. Many are placed into
remedial classes when they go to a university.
The situation in higher education has drawn much of the most contemporary
political attention, with vote-buying politicians falling all over each other to
promise “free” college tuition at public colleges and universities. Alexandria
Ocasio-Big Mouth has supposedly even promised to make the Electoral College
Yes, it is true that the cost of higher education has soared over the last several
decades and millions of students graduate carrying tens of thousands of dollars
of college debt and can’t find jobs for their degrees in Renaissance Theology or
Hegelian Philosophy. However, is the answer really having a federal government
that is already adding a trillion dollars to the national debt every year offer
anything more that is “free?” For if government ever offers you anything “free,”
be prepared to hold on to your wallet.
The cost of higher education in the U.S. has climbed more than 538% since
1985, twice as high as medical costs and almost five times more than the
Consumer Price Index. This increase correlates to two factors: 1. The increased
availability of student loans and other assistance offered by the federal
government, and 2. the increased demand for a college education caused by the
ready availability of such financial aid. Let’s remember the truism that if you
subsidize something, you will get more of it. By massively subsidizing the cost of
higher education, we have greatly increased the number of students and greatly
increased tuition and fees because when more money is sloshing around, prices
go up. That’s called inflation. Colleges and universities have gone on extravagant
building sprees, massively expanded bureaucracies, and have handed admini-
strators salaries that even touch seven figures! Yes, parents, that’s where your
tuition payments are going.
About the time LBJ launched his Big Government programs, the idea was
hatched that everyone deserved a university education. It’s similar to the Clinton
and Bush Administration’s belief that everyone should own a home which led
directly to the subprime mortgage crisis and the economic collapse of 2008.
The reality is that not everyone does deserve or need a four-year university
degree. Not everyone is destined to be an anthropologist or a sociology
professor. As a nation, we need skilled mechanics, truck drivers, plumbers,
painters, welders, and electricians. Many of these good-paying jobs go begging
because too many young people are chasing degrees that have no relevance in
today’s job market. We do a grave disservice to millions of young Americans by
persuading them that they should embark on careers in obscure professions
instead of learning a trade hands-on as we used to do with apprenticeships.
There remains more of a need for trade schools and vocational education than
If we are to fix the crisis in higher education today, we need to determine as
a nation the inherent value of a four-year degree compared to one from a two-
year community college or trade school. Where are the jobs of the future and
what skills are needed to fill them? Are some degrees worth incurring a debt bill
of $100,000 or more? We need to stop having government use its taxing and
spending powers to engage in central planning of our lives, whether it’s the
kind of health care that’s right for you or the type of education your son or
daughter should receive. The free market has historically been the best vehicle
for allocating talent and resources that man has ever devised. Let’s give it a
Dr. James Veltmeyer is a prominent La Jolla physician voted “Top Doctor” in San Diego County in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017. Dr. Veltmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org