The Transformation of America
By Henry Lamb
March 1, 2001
We have to come
to grips with a reality nobody wants to admit: America is being
It's not that America is simply changing. Our history is one of
constant change. In the past, change has come spontaneously, the
result of new ideas and new products shaping and reshaping the way
In the last twenty years or so, change has not been
spontaneous. It has been planned. With increasing effectiveness,
the way people live is being determined by government policy,
rather than by new ideas and new products, which people accept or
reject in a free and open market place.
America is becoming a managed society, and individual freedom
is the victim.
The simple notion that in America, free people should be able
to live anywhere they choose - and can afford - was taken for
granted for centuries. No more. Someone has determined that people
should not live beyond "growth boundaries" arbitrarily
drawn around sustainable communities. Someone has determined that
people should not live in certain rural areas which should be left
in "open space." Someone has determined that people
should not even enter vast stretches of "wilderness"
which must be preserved for nature.
These decisions were not made by the people who are affected by
them; they were made by people who believe they know best how
other people should live. These decisions were made by those who
believe a managed society is better than a free society.
Because these policies - developed by non-elected bureaucrats -
have been wrapped in Madison Avenue descriptions, and implemented
piece-meal around the country, there has never been a full and
open debate about the consequences of the resulting managed
society. It is time to engage in this debate.
Those who would manage society envision sustainable communities
in which people live within walking or cycling distance to their
work places. These communities are surrounded by "open
space," in which the necessary agricultural and industrial
activities required to support the community may occur - with
government approval and supervision. The rest of the land area is
"protected" for the benefit of biodiversity.
To achieve this vision, there has been a steady expansion of
land area designated officially as "wilderness," which
severely restricts human activity. The rash of National Monuments
created by the Clinton/Gore administration, and the recent Rule to
virtually close another 58 million acres by an administrative
"roadless" policy, further expands the area where people
may no longer choose to live.
For more than a decade, government policies have been developed
and implemented that are designed to drive cowboys off their
ranches, loggers out of the forests, and miners off the land all
together. Someone - not those affected - has decided these people
should not live where they choose to live.
It's not just in the west. In Ohio, nearly 500
families are threatened. Families whose land was payment for
serving in the Revolutionary War, are now told they should no
longer live on that land, which should be left as "open
space" for the people who live in Columbus.
In West Virginia, people who own property along the New River,
are threatened because the government believes their homes are an
eye-sore, that the area should be "pristine" to provide
an unspoiled "viewshed."
In the Columbia Gorge, a
special commission has been appointed to decide whether or not an
individual may build a home within the "viewshed" of the
Similar restrictions are being imposed by government in every
community - and it is getting worse.
Proponents of this managed society are convinced that the vast
natural resources of America must be preserved. People must be
cajoled, coerced, or forced, to consume less, to travel less, to
want less - in order to preserve and protect biodiversity. For a
decade or more, the proponents of a managed society have been
extremely successful in shaping government policy to bring their
vision to reality.
At best, this vision of a managed society is misguided; at
worst, it is utter stupidity.
Natural resources should not be "preserved." They
should be used - wisely. Who can determine what is, or is not
"wise use" better than the owner of the resource? The
Sierra Club, and similar environmental organizations, believe that
government should make such determinations - assuming, of course,
that government policy makers are individuals who graduated from
their ranks, as was the case during the Clinton/Gore
administration. Now that their graduates are no longer in power,
their position is changing to one which condemns government action
that impedes their vision.
Government does not own the land or the resources it contains -
nor should it. The land and the resources belong to the American
people. The American people should determine what is, or is not
"wise use" of the nation's resources. As the trustee of
America's resource wealth, the government should provide no more
than a fair and open mechanism through which the American people
decide how to use its wealth.
In recent years, governments at every level, have been
persuaded to acquire more and more land, expressly for the purpose
of "preserving," or "protecting" the land and
its resources. This is precisely the wrong direction for
government to take. Government already has title to more than 40
percent of the nation's land area - and is grabbing more each day.
Government should be actively working to get land into private
hands, not taking it away from private land owners.
If America is to remain the land of the free, the land must be
owned by free people, who are free to use their property for their
own benefit. If the land, and its resources continue to move from
private ownership, into the hands of government, to be protected
from use by the people who really own it - how can any semblance
of freedom survive?
The transformation has occurred because elected officials - at
every level of government - have allowed non-elected bureaucrats
to usurp their policy-making function. The responsibility,
however, lies with private individuals who have let their elected
officials acquiesce to the non-elected bureaucrats. If the
transformation is to be halted, and reversed, it will be the
result of ordinary citizens who get informed, involved, and
in-the-face of their elected officials.
Once the land and its resources are locked away behind
government title, it will be far more difficult for our children
to get it back. This transformation can be stopped, and reversed,
but it will take the best efforts of all Americans who want their
children to live in a land of freedom, rather than in a society
managed by government.