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Vertical disintegration

By Henry Lamb
web posted August 13, 2001

Vertical integration may be a wonderful strategy for business, where a central corporate headquarters controls every facet of the stream of activity that produces revenue: from acquisition of the natural resource; the processing; manufacturing; sales, and distribution. The strategy seeks to squeeze out extra profits that might have been earned by other businesses that supplied these services to the corporation.

Then why don't we run the government like a business?

Increasingly, we are. But we should not be. The object of government is not to maximize profit; it is to protect our freedoms (or should be).

Since the New Deal of the 1930s, government has grown increasingly proficient at squeezing - not extra profits - but individual freedoms from the very people they are empowered to protect. By first taking our money in the form of taxes, the government then offers to return some of it, but only if it is used for the purposes dictated by the government.

This is accomplished quite effectively by every department of government. More than half the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency is spent in grants to schools, cities, environmental organizations, and individuals - all with strings attached - which force the recipients to do the bidding of the government.

Case in point: The EPA, and other federal agencies, want to expand the Southern Appalachian Biosphere that already stretches from Birmingham, Alabama to Roanoke, Virginia. "Expansion," in this case, is not necessarily the addition of more geography, but the transformation of the geography within the area to higher and higher levels of "protection."

The EPA announced to the appropriate department within the Tennessee State government, that it would like to see the purity standards elevated in a particular stream within the Biosphere Reserve. Since the EPA provides a significant amount of money to this department, state officials set out to raise the purity standards.

The new proposed standards would prohibit certain activities near the stream, activities such as logging, that might disturb the landscape. Many area residents rely on the logging industry for their livelihood. Should their sources of income be prohibited, the folks would have to move off the land, and into communities such as Chattanooga, which are being transformed into "sustainable communities," also at the behest of federal agencies using federal dollars.

Add to this vertically-integrated chain of command the fact that the Biosphere Reserve was established to comply with a request from UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Program, and we see clearly that public policies that directly affect the lives of American citizens are made at the International level, implemented through agencies of the federal government, down to the state government, and all too often, on to county and city agencies.

What is not unique in this example, is the fact that no elected official voted on this policy at any level of government. The Man and the Biosphere Program was cooked up in the international community. The United States got involved through a Memorandum of Agreement between the U.S. State Department and UNESCO. The EPA (where no one is elected) initiated the "request" for an elevated standard on its on. The state agency simply wanted to comply with the request of the agency that provides much of its funding. Elected officials were completely unaware of the initiative until local landowners appealed to their elected officials for help.

Vertical integration of government is not a chance happening. It is the result of strategic planning and careful implementation from the international level, with cooperation from our federal agencies which have the power (with their budgets) to coerce state and local governments into submission.

Administrative agencies of government are staffed with professionals, who are supposed to know how to do what they are hired to do. What they often forget, is that their job is not to make policy; their job is to implement policies that are made by elected officials.

You don't have to talk very long to a professional urban planner, or any other professional bureaucrat for that matter, to realize that they think their view of how things ought to be done is far more valid than the view of any elected official, especially at the county and state levels.

Because elected officials have the authority to veto ideas, plans, and policy proposals of the professionals, the professionals have devised a strategy to bypass the possible veto. It's called "stakeholders councils."

Stakeholder councils entered the world through Agenda 21, and matured under the guidance of Bill Clinton's President's Council on Sustainable Development. Participants in these councils are carefully selected, not only for their expertise in a particular area, but for their political and financial clout as well.

These councils are used to generate support for a particular policy proposal, which, when approved by the council, intimidates elected officials into acquiescence. Woe be unto the lone county commissioner who says no to a proposal that is supported by the bank president, Pastor so-and-so, chairman of the board of the county's largest employer, and other big guns in the community.

The big guns are added to the council of professionals for just this reason. Often they are too busy to study the proposals; they accept a position on the council to add their prestige, or in hopes that their prestige may be enhanced by association. The policies they eventually advocate were developed long ago by professionals, way up the vertically-integrated food chain.

Incidentally, a stakeholder, according to Webster, is someone who "holds the stakes when a wager is made, and pays it to the winner." In a very real sense, private property rights are the stakes at risk in the battle over who controls the land. Stakeholder councils are often selected to assure that the stakes are turned over to the right party - the government.

Public policy must be made only by elected officials. Otherwise, the idea that "government is empowered by the consent of the governed," has no meaning at all. We consent to public policy through the officials we elect. When policy is made by appointed bureaucrats, and imposed through the political intimidation of stakeholder councils, the "governed" have no recourse; appointed bureaucrats cannot be turned out at the next election.

We're swimming against the tide here. Almost every community, every watershed, every bioregion already has stakeholder councils in place. They are becoming entrenched into the system. Some elected officials see them as a way of diverting political heat, and welcome their involvement. County plans and state "Smart Growth" legislation are writing into law, some form of appointed council or commission to oversee the development and implementation of public policy.

This is a dangerous detour from the destination envisioned by our nation's founders. The function of county and state government is not to become subsidiary administrative units for the federal government. And the agencies of federal government are certainly not meant to be administrative units for UNESCO, or any other international body.

But the strategic plan set forth in Agenda 21, and so skillfully implemented by its proponents is, nevertheless, vertically integrating our governments.

There are no additional profits, nor even greater efficiencies, to be squeezed. In fact, more bureaucracy costs more money and always results in a reduction in efficiency. What is to be gained is tighter control at the top, and less freedom at the bottom.

We need a strategy to vertically disintegrate our government, and realize once again the inefficiency of debate and disagreement between the various levels of government - once known as checks and balances. ESR

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization, and chairman of Sovereignty International.

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