Commentary

The World According to Dick Lamm

When reporters start covering former Colorado governor Richard Lamm’s bid for the presidency on Ross Perot’s Reform Party ticket, they probably will focus on the politics of Lamm’s run, rather than on his views. That would be a mistake. Lamm has written widely on his vision of the world — and it’s not a pretty picture.

Among Lamm’s key issues are establishing population control, stopping immigration, raising taxes to reduce the deficit, increasing tariffs for greater trade protection and ending “excessive” medical care for the elderly. His ideology is based on the “lifeboat” philosophy of human existence, according to which a race or nation cannot survive with its own limited resources if it dispenses those resources to others.

A good distillation of that theory comes from ecologist Garrett Hardin, who has written, “If we include freedom to breed as one of man’s inalienable freedoms, and if we accept the obligation to share excess food with those who are starving, then how can any nation, class, or religious group that responsibly controls its numbers survive … ?” Chapters in Hardin’s books are titled “We Need Abortion for the Children’s Sake” and “Were the Luddites Wrong?”

To enforce population control, Hardin has argued for limiting American parents to two children, noting that “a technically simple way to control the number of children would be to sterilize the woman after the birth” of her second child. He asserts, “Only by making parenthood a privilege, to be enjoyed under specified conditions and to a specified extent, can society achieve population control.”

In the acknowledgements of his 1985 book Megatraumas: America at the Year 2000, Lamm cites Hardin as someone who has inspired his own thinking and who has “a foreboding sense of where the world is going.”

In Megatraumas Lamm expounds on his own political philosophy. He writes, “The future, in fact, is much bigger, darker, and more problematical than anything our bright new technology can dominate. I believe that America is heading into an era of multiple traumas.” No one will confuse Richard Lamm with Ronald Reagan.

In the form of cabinet secretary memos to the new president, Lamm makes numerous predictions in Megatraumas about America and the world in the 1990s. Examining his predictions reveals a great deal about his zero-sum view of the world and the population control thinking that dominates it.

Writing in the book as the secretary of the treasury in the year 2000, Lamm says, “I do not like the idea of suspending civil liberties or the imposition of martial law, but the inflation riots of last year left us with no alternative… . Martial law is the least onerous of our choices.” He goes on to comment, “There has also been massive unemployment in the United States, owing to a number of factors. Illegal immigration is one… . [O]ur lack of control of our borders allowed 2 million legal and illegal immigrants to settle in the United States every year. That caused unemployment to rise to 15.2 percent by 1990 and 19.1 percent this year… . [T]he rash of firebombings throughout the Southwest, and the three-month siege of downtown San Diego in 1998 were all led by second-generation Hispanics, the children of immigrants.”

In his book Lamm foresees that “the approaching exhaustion of domestic reserves of petroleum and the rapid depletion of world reserves will have a profound effect on Americans in the cities and on the farms. It is clear that agriculture as we know it has experienced major changes within the life expectancy of most of us, and these changes have caused a major further deterioration of worldwide levels of nutrition.”

The list of doomsaying predictions goes on, but, suffice it to say, the trends of the past 11 years have contradicted virtually every prediction in Lamm’s book. Inflation has decreased from 3.8 percent to 2.9 percent during that period. Unemployment has dropped from 7.2 percent to 5.6 percent. Few serious economists believe that immigration, even illegal immigration, contributes to the U.S. unemployment rate. And we certainly do not see second-generation Hispanics kidnapping whites and issuing political demands, as Lamm predicts in his book. Only man-made famines, caused by poor economic policies, as in North Korea, or by civil war, as in Somalia, have occurred. And world oil supplies are not near “rapid depletion.” In fact, both food and oil, when adjusted for inflation, are inexpensive by historical standards.

Lamm, like doomsayers since the time of Thomas Malthus, was wrong because he relied on a static analysis that views human beings as problems rather than as problem solvers. He and others like him fail to grasp that people, as well as the creation of jobs, the harvesting of food, and the extraction of natural resources, respond to market incentives. If a resource or even a service becomes more scarce, its price will rise, which will encourage people to search for new supplies and substitutes. The price eventually will decline again and the process, by encouraging innovation, will leave us better off than before it started. So long as government does not unduly interfere, the market balances supply and demand and helps ensure human progress. Such has been the history of mankind.

More alarming than Lamm’s dismal and inaccurate predictions are his policy prescriptions. A key solution to America’s health care problems, according to Lamm, is for the elderly to die sooner. Lamm has long been a major booster of euthanasia and in a 1984 speech he spoke of the elderly’s “duty to die.” In Megatraumas, the secretary of health and human services proposes health care rationing, arguing that money should not be spent on transplants, artificial organs and other life-extending procedures for those over 65.

Lamm’s government of the future does not treat citizens of other countries any better. The secretary of agriculture in Megatraumas argues that America’s own “shrinking agricultural base” means we must stop sending grain to famine-stricken countries, even in emergency situations.

A Lamm administration is unlikely to be a big protector of civil liberties. Looking back from the year 2000, he writes approvingly, “The very controversial National Identification Act of 1991, requiring all United States citizens to carry identification, has greatly enhanced the ability of law enforcement officers to identify criminals and terrorists.”

Nor is Richard Lamm likely to promote racial harmony. When he ran for the U.S. Senate, his long-time tenure on the board of the anti-immigration Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) provoked the hostility of Hispanics. Black Americans have little reason to warm to Lamm either. The Detroit News reported recently that over the past decade, during Lamm’s association with the group, FAIR has received $1 million in contributions from the Pioneer Fund, a foundation that supports eugenics, selective breeding and “race betterment.”

America’s future is far brighter than Richard Lamm or those who might share his philosophy believe. The zero-sum view of the world is wrong about a whole series of issues, including trade, immigration and the economy more generally. If it were correct, then with each new person — every time a mother bore a child — America would become a weaker nation, which is simply not the case. Proposals to issue national ID cards, encourage euthanasia for the elderly, end famine relief, block imports and raise taxes would certainly head America in the wrong direction. They’re enough to make even Ross Perot look pretty good by comparison.

Stuart Anderson is director of trade and immigration studies at the Cato Institute.