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 transformed.

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 people live.

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 scenic highway.

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.

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