An alternative to "sustainability"... A Free World

By Henry Lamb


Editor's note: In the last issue, we examined how a "sustainable" world might look. Here is a description of what the world may be like toward the end of the 21st century if the principles of freedom are advanced.

Land, and the resources it contains, are the property of individual owners. Governments - local, state, and federal - own only the land and facilities that fall within the limitations of Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. Consequently, the federal Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture have been dissolved.

States that inherited the vast federal land holdings have almost completely divested the "public" estate, except for Alaska, where some of the land remains unsold, despite bargain-basement prices.

The Supreme Court decision that required government to divest the public land estate, also triggered an avalanche of governmental restructuring. The EPA was striped of all enforcement power, and became a research, educational, and advisory agency, providing information for state governments. The jurisdiction of the Corps of Engineers was limited to the "navigable waters of the United States," defined to be ports, and coastal and inter-coastal waterways.

The decision clearly recognized and stated explicitly that "land use regulation is not a legitimate function of the federal government," and that state and local governments must exercise these powers in order to insure that the regulators remain accountable to the regulated community.

Environmental organizations that predicted disastrous consequences for national treasures such as Yellowstone Park and the Grand Canyon, have been proven wrong. While some facilities still remain under the operation of state governments, most have been acquired by private enterprises, infusing state governments with needed revenues, and relieving those governments of maintenance responsibilities. Natural sites now compete with other attractions for tourist dollars. Yellowstone has not seen a catastrophic fire since the great fires at the end of the last century.

Within a year of the Supreme Court's landmark decision on public land, UNESCO had de-listed seven of the 20 World Heritage sites, and all 47 U.S. Biosphere Reserves, in a note to the State Department that said these sites could no longer be assured of protection at the level required for U.N. Designation. Congress immediately passed a resolution calling on the President to tell UNESCO to remove all U.S. properties from all their lists.

Environmental organizations which once wielded enormous influence are almost non-existent. The legislative ban on third-party law suits, and the severe restrictions on federal grants to not-for-profits, dealt a severe blow to many organizations. Conservancy organizations vanished when they were required to pay property taxes on their land holdings, at the same rate as other land owners.

The transfer of so-called public land into private ownership started the longest period of economic expansion in history. The availability of land reduced the cost of new construction. A sharp reduction in lawsuits over timber sales further reduced construction costs. Demand for new homes, combined with the absence of federal prohibitions, demolished the turn-of-the-century idea of urban limits. What once was derided as "urban sprawl" became a proud badge of economic growth.

Trouble with the U.N. really began in 1994 with the creation of the World Trade Organization. A series of decisions against the U.S. was tolerated during the first several years, but the decision on steel in 2002, that resulted in a $4 billion tariff imposed by the European Union, started real friction between the U.S. and the U.N. The U.S. withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, and from the International Criminal Court began a series of retaliatory decisions by the U.N.

The U.S. decision to prosecute the war on terrorism - without asking the U.N. for approval of its actions - infuriated the Human Rights Commission, and the U.N. Secretariat. When the High Commissioner issued a call for the indictment of Ariel Sharon, and the U.S. Secretary of Defense, followed by an arrest warrant issued by the ICC, Congress stopped all funds to all U.N. agencies and organizations. A resolution was unanimously adopted, calling on the President to immediately begin the process of withdrawing membership from all U.N. organizations.

Headlines in the international press declared an end to U.S. domination of the world. Sarcastic eulogies of the "rise and fall of the U.S. empire."appeared. For a short time, the future was not certain. It took nearly ten years to completely withdraw. The U.S. held the majority of the voting shares of the International Monetary Fund, and U.S. shareholders controlled the majority of shares in the Bank of International Settlements. The U.S. made it clear that other shareholders were welcome to stay and continue participation, but that the institutions would function completely free from any influence by any United Nations organizations.

The European Union seized the opportunity to become the world central bank, and enticed several nations to join them as the world's banker. The U.S. said fine, but each nation that withdrew from the IMF would forfeit their shares to the extent of outstanding debt. The dollar and the euro battled for value supremacy for a short while, before settling down to about their pre-separation ratio.

Many United Nations organizations were consolidated within the first two years after the separation. Despite efforts by the European Union to increase the contributions from remaining member nations, the United Nations continued to decline in both size and relevance.

The United States launched an aggressive Trading Partners campaign around the theme "Let's build our world together." The Department of Commerce ignored the World Trade Organization altogether, and began developing "No-tariff" agreements with nations and groups of nations. The idea was to identify as many products as possible that could be traded with no tariffs. Other products - which one or the other country thought was unfairly subsidized, were put on a separate list and tariffs negotiated. It was a rigorous process, and there were many complaints that the process is exactly what the World Trade Organization was designed to eliminate.

The Department of Commerce, though, saw a different problem, and brought the issue to Congress. CNN, and FOX News joined CSPAN when the Secretary of Commerce appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee. "If you expect the U.S. to be competitive in a world of free trade, you're going to have to do one of two things: either force other countries to meet our production standards, or rethink the value of our standards in the light of lost business." Never before had a Secretary of Commerce put it so bluntly.

With nostrils flaring, a New England Senator asked: "Is it not true," Mr. Secretary, "that we would not be in this dilemma, had we stayed in the U.N., and allowed them to regulate industries engaged in international commerce?"

"No, Senator, it is not true. What is true, had we stayed in the U.N. and allowed them to regulate international trade, is that we would be producing what the U.N. said to produce, and selling it to whomever the U.N. said to sell it, and eventually, at whatever price the U.N. said was fair. Surely you haven't forgotten that the expressed goal of the U.N. was to redistribute the earth's resources on the basis of per-capita equity, without regard for production costs or capital investment."

The Secretary reminded the Committee that the U.S. cannot force its trading partners to pay a minimum wage equal to U.S. wages. Nor can the U.S. force other nations to require their businesses to provide for the disabled, put emissions scrubbers in their smoke-stacks, or any of the other requirements imposed on businesses by U.S. government.

The Secretary ended his explosive testimony by asking the Committee to instruct the Congressional Research Service to perform an extensive cost analysis of every regulation imposed on industries engaged in international trade "so they will know the precise cost in real dollars, for each of the standards they require."

These studies were extremely controversial, and went on for years. Many regulations were ended, along with their attendant enforcement bureaucracies. At the same time, the Commerce Department added incentives to the trading program, offering reduced-rate loans and technical assistance to countries that agreed to upgrade their production standards. The trade deficit was completely erased by 2014, and the surplus has grown at about the same rate as the overall economy ever since.

In retrospect, of all of the tumultuous events of the first decade of the 21st century, none had greater impact on the economy than the five-year tax reform. Both disaster and prosperity were predicted when Congress finally shifted to the flat tax. Surprisingly, most of the debate centered on whether the flat tax should be a sales tax, or an income tax. The winning argument for an income tax prevailed, because Congressmen realized that tax rates could be too-easily adjusted on selected products and industries, in order to effect social engineering, by the political party in power.

The flat income tax applied to everyone, except the people at-or-below the current poverty line. No deductions, no exceptions. Congress finally realized that it made no sense at all for the federal government to take money from taxpayers, send it to Washington, only to be returned to the states, less a significant administrative fee, and with strings attached to force social engineering. The Department of Education was completely eliminated. The Department of Transportation's horns were sheared as well, with authority limited to the interstate system, air, and rail travel.

The tax reform may well be the bloodiest political battle of the century. Attorneys, accountants, financial planners, federal employee unions, and non-government organizations coalesced to wage a relentless public relations and lobbying campaign against the reform. In the end, the reform was adopted when the Vice President cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

The five-year phase-in strategy prevented the dislocations predicted by the opponents. Not surprisingly, state governments adopted similar flat-tax plans which simplified payment procedures for both employers and employees. Federal revenues increased immediately, despite predictions to the contrary. Not-for-profit organizations, though, did show a rather dramatic decline. Organizations that delivered humanitarian services, saw an increase in revenues. Think- tanks and advocacy groups, however, did not fare very well.

Advocates of the flat tax defended their stance, claiming that the elimination of federal grants, and tax subsidies, would force the NGOs to compete for contributions based on the real value of their services to society.

Historians will argue for another century about what caused the transformation. At this point, we can only speculate as to the influence the events in the United States had on the rest of the world. We can observe, and let the historians argue about the whys.

The transformation of Afghanistan after the Taliban was dislodged made the rest of the world sit up and take notice. After a half-century of wars and oppression, and unimaginable poverty, Afghanistan emerged as a major regional economic power in less than a generation. The post-Taliban government was plagued, for a few years, with aspiring war-lords, but with schools accepting all students, and markets welcomed in every community, the war-lords had difficulty recruiting. Massive assistance from the U.S., Britain, Japan, and even Russia, had Kabul, and some other cities rebuilt, within less than a decade.

Electricity-generating plants, highway construction, and the construction of water and sewer facilities provided employment for thousands of people, who were eager to work. With incomes they had never even imagined, they were eager to experience air conditioning, a real home, and an automobile. Supermarkets and theaters flourished. Time Magazine wrote a feature about Afghanistan entitled "A century of progress in a generation."

Pakistan, too, underwent a similar transformation, though not as quickly as Afghanistan. Private media outlets in both countries reached Iran and Iraq, which many attribute to the downfall of their dictatorial governments. The fundamentalist Islamic revival apparent early in the century faded away, primarily from lack of interest. Given the opportunity to own their own land, and start up their own businesses, people were too busy pursuing their own happiness to be sidetracked by war-lords or dogma.

Africa and South America are in neck- and- neck competition for the most exciting investment opportunities. Electrification and transportation projects on both continents, pioneered by U.S. firms, unleashed a flood of development activity. China is Taiwan's largest trading partner.

Europe is showing signs of recovery from the remnants of the European Union. The euro is about all that remains, which most European countries continued to use as the national currency.


These events have not yet happened, but they could, and they may well happen. The future of a managed society must result in the same pattern of failure that history has repeatedly recorded. The future of a free society can only be imagined, based on the success of the only nation where freedom has been tried. No one can fully comprehend the power of free people to solve problems, create solutions, and construct new realities. The world is poised at the dawn of a new millennium. The choices society makes within the first decade of this new century will either condemn future generations to the failures of the past, or empower posterity to build the future of their dreams.

These are our choices; we choose at each election.


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