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Principled Ideas from the Centennial Institute Volume 5, Number 5 • May 2013
Publisher, William L. Armstrong Editor, John Andrews
I HAVE A PLAN TO DESTROY AMERICA
By Richard D. Lamm
I have a secret plan to destroy America. If you believe, as many do, that America is too smug, too white-bread, too selfsatisfied, too rich, let’s destroy America. It is not that hard to do. History shows that nations are more fragile than their citizens think. No nation in history has survived the ravages of time. Arnold Toynbee observed that all great civilizations rise and they all fall, and that “an autopsy of history would show that all great nations commit suicide.” So here’s my three-part plan. As you will see, it merely extends trends already operating in America. ONE: ECONOMIC DISSIPATION First, I would get America addicted to debt. Debt is economic cocaine, and the addiction is deep in the nation’s life. The beauty of my plan is that we don’t have to initiate any additional nation-destroying dysfunctions; they are all in place. We need only to stand back and watch them complete their Debt work. Look, if you will, at how America is undercutting its own economy and prosperity by debt. It is easy to get a nation addicted to debt. America has only balanced its federal budget eight times since 1935. She has lost the internal strength to restore economic discipline. Few societies can resist the temptation to pre-spend their children’s money.
invented the credit card, and the average American now has over six credit cards and daily adds to the consumer debt. We have successfully built a debt bomb ready to explode. Remember, debt at some indeterminable point of ceaseless borrowing creates economic chaos—and economic collapse preceded Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Lenin’s Russia. Squandering Our Inheritance Look at the results of just this one nation-destroying factor: debt. I graduated from high school in 1953 and I inherited the world’s largest creditor nation. The rest of the world owed us money. I am leaving to my children the world’s largest debtor nation. I inherited an exporting nation, but I am leaving the next generation an importing nation. I inherited a saving nation, and I am leaving my children a spending nation. I inherited a nation that produced more than it consumes, and I am leaving a nation that consumes more than it produces. I inherited a nation of delayed gratification and I leave a nation consumed by instant gratification. I inherited a new interstate highway system and a modern infrastructure, and I am leaving the next generation an infrastructure that the National Society of Civil Engineers estimates would cost $3 trillion to bring up to date. My mother and father fought a war and a depression but left me with a very small federal debt. Today the official federal debt is over $16 trillion, but that is almost a deliberately false figure. It does not consider the unfunded liabilities that America has incurred. If we ask what are the “gross national promises,” which includes obligations like future Social Security and Medicare payments we are obligated to pay, the amount is closer to $50 to $60 trillion—a staggering amount that is likely beyond our ability to repay.
Richard D. Lamm was Governor of Colorado, 1975-87, and a candidate for President in 1996. A University of California law graduate and prolific writer, he currently directs the Institute for Public Policy Studies at the University of Denver. This essay is adapted from his lecture at Colorado Christian University on Feb. 22, 2013. Centennial Institute sponsors research, events, and publications to enhance public understanding of the most important issues facing our state and nation. By proclaiming Truth, we aim to foster faith, family, and freedom, teach citizenship, and renew the spirit of 1776.
is economic cocaine.
Debt is an intergenerational transfer from our children to the current generation, and they are too young to complain. There are no lobbyists for the future. But once programs and entitlements are put in place, there always develops a massive number of interests lobbying to preserve and expand them, particularly for the elderly. My generation has been very good at cutting taxes while ignoring Milton Friedman’s warning: “If you cut taxes without cutting spending, you are not cutting taxes, you are merely passing them on to your children.” Additionally, my generation
TWO: INSTITUTIONAL DYSFUNCTION The second part of my plan would be to erode the stern virtues and the values of hard work that made America a great nation in the first place. This is how great nations commit suicide; they become inefficient, bureaucratic, risk-averse, materialistic, and hedonistic. Inefficiencies? Just look at the American legal system. It has become virtually impossible to do anything in America without worrying about the lawyers. The legal system hangs over America like a sword of Damocles, adding to the cost of all goods and services. Look at the education system. My generation has tripled the per-capita, inflation-adjusted costs of the public education system since 1970. Yet our SAT scores have remained static, and our international comparisons have dropped. My generation of politicians has relentlessly and quietly encumbered the nation’s future earnings. Compare the federal debt to our gross domestic product:
Year 1981 1986 1992 1997 2003 2008 2011 Federal Debt $1 trillion $2 trillion $4 trillion $5.4 trillion $6.5 trillion $10.0 trillion $15.0 trillion GDP $3 trillion $4 trillion $6 trillion $7 trillion $11 trillion $13.2 trillion $15.2 trillion Debt: GDP Ratio 33.3% 50% 66.6% 77.1% 59.1% 75.8% 98.7%
The health care system? It costs about twice that of other OECD countries, yet its performance is rated mediocre on all international comparisons. The number of people under 75 who die from curable illness is almost twice as high in the United States as the best scores from France, Japan, and Spain. Among the 19 wealthiest countries, the United States ranks nineteenth in curing people who could be cured with decent care. The American health care system is filled with dedicated professionals and spectacular technology, but as a system it is inefficient, costly, and disorganized.
Political paralysis? Check.
In times of great prosperity we have quietly and needlessly increased the debt as a percentage of the GDP. Economic cocaine indeed. In 2012 the United States borrowed 41 cents of every federal dollar it spent. Clearly that must count as fiscal child abuse. But it does help advance our plan. Additionally, every year we dramatically understate the annual deficit by offsetting the real deficit with money borrowed from some 150 federal trust funds, such as the Social Security Trust Fund. My generation has not been honest with the public. We have kept our books as Enron kept its books.
The most promising institution (from my standpoint) undercutting the strength of America, however, is its political system. Neither political party has an agenda to keep America great. Both are corrupted by special interests and money. To ruin a nation, it helps to paralyze its political system—and that has been accomplished. THREE: CULTURAL DISUNITY Third, we must make America a bilingual-bicultural country. History shows, in my opinion, that no nation can survive the tension, conflict, and antagonism of two competing languages and cultures. It is a blessing for an individual to be bilingual; it is a curse for a society to be bilingual. One scholar, Seymour Martin Lipset, put it this way:
CENTENNIAL REVIEW is published monthly by the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University. The authors’ views are not necessarily those of CCU. Designer, Danielle Hull. Illustrator, Benjamin Hummel. Subscriptions free upon request. Write to: Centennial Institute, 8787 W. Alameda Ave., Lakewood, CO 80226. Call 800.44.FAITH. Or visit us online at www.CentennialCCU.org. Please join the Centennial Institute today. As a Centennial donor, you can help us restore America’s moral core and prepare tomorrow’s leaders. Your gift is tax-deductible. Please use the envelope provided. Thank you for your support. - John Andrews, Director
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The histories of bilingual and bicultural societies that do not assimilate are histories of turmoil, tension, and tragedy. Canada, Belgium, Malaysia, and Lebanon—all face crises of national existence in which minorities press for autonomy, if not independence. Pakistan and Cyprus have divided. Nigeria suppressed an ethnic rebellion. France faces difficulties with its Basques, Bretons, and Corsicans.
Voi ces of CCU UNCLE SAM MEETS UNCLE SCREWTAPE by Brad Hughes
Ironically demonic, like C.S. Lewis’s Uncle Screwtape unmasking the enemy of our souls, Dick Lamm’s “secret plan” warns of the forces that would destroy America by negating her uniqueness. The root cause of the crushing debt, institutional failure, and disunity that he diagnoses is moral failure. America has drifted from the moral foundations of freedom revealed in our founding documents while pursuing secular values more characteristic of Europe. Europe’s decay comes from the moral failures of sloth, corruption, and misplaced faith in the state. America is marching down the same road where government grows bigger, the individual grows smaller, and the voice of a transcendent moral authority grows dimmer. This is the civilizational suicide of which Toynbee spoke. American exceptionalism rests upon our moral opposition to evi; our moral commitment to economic, political. and religious freedom; and our moral affirmation that “In God we trust.” There are consequences when we abandon the transcendent moral authority which our national motto acknowledges. Moral relativism is the disease of our age. It eats everything in its path until the civilization dies. But in asserting that everyone is entitled to his own desires and there is no absolute truth, it denies what the Founding Fathers knew to be true. They understood that because of the fallen human condition, concentrated power would yield a bitter harvest. So in order to secure our individual rights as granted by God, they divided and restrained the powers of the state. And they recognized that only a virtuous people, grounded in morality and religion, can ever hope to remain free. If the “secret plan” seems to be working, it’s because we have neglected the three pillars of American exceptionalism: free-market capitalism, the constitutional protections assuring the consent of the governed, and the Judeo-Christian worldview that instills mutual respect for each other and honors the sovereign Creator. Things will not turn around until we restore the proper order of morality and freedom in our nation. ■
Brad Hughes of Denver is a Centennial Institute Centennial Fellow in Worldviews and Economics. He Institute retired as director of strategy for a Fortune 500 Colorado Christian University telecommunications company.
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Some people will think that Switzerland is an example of a bilingual country that works. Don’t disabuse them of this idea. Let them think that! Don’t for a minute point out to them that Switzerland divided their country into three distinct monolinguistic areas, German, French, and Roma. Let them ignore Immanuel Kant’s warning that “language is the great divider” of human history. Next, I would then invent “multiculturalism” and encourage immigrants to maintain their own culture. I would make it an article of belief that all cultures Tolerance are equal: that there are no cultural that are important. I would alone can’t differences declare it an article of faith that the black and Hispanic dropout rate is only unite us. due to prejudice and discrimination by the majority. Every other explanation is out-of-bounds. We can make the United States a “Hispanic Quebec” without much effort. The key is to celebrate diversity rather than unity. As Benjamin Schwarz of The Atlantic has pointed out (“The Diversity Myth,” May 1995), the apparent success of our country’s multiethnic and multicultural experiment might have been achieved not by tolerance but by hegemony. Today, without the dominance that once dictated ethnocentrically what it meant to be an American, Schwarz warned, we are left with only tolerance and pluralism to hold us together. And according to my plan, they won’t be enough. Start a Grievance Industry I would encourage all immigrants to keep their own language and culture. I would replace the melting pot metaphor with a salad bowl metaphor. It is important to ensure that we have various cultural sub-groups living in America reinforcing their differences, rather than thinking of themselves as Americans and emphasizing their similarities. Having done all this, I would make our fastest growing demographic group the least educated—I would add a second underclass, unassimilated, undereducated, and antagonistic to the majority population. I would allow our immigration patterns to take 50% of our immigrant stream from Spanishspeaking countries. I would have this new underclass have a 50% dropout rate from school. I would radicalize them with dreams of “Aztlan” and reconquering the American Southwest. I would then get the big foundations and big business to give these efforts lots of money. I would invest in ethnic identity, and I would establish
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I Have a Plan to Destroy America
by Richard D. Lamm Our country’s worsening symptoms seem like an enemy’s doing. Economic dissipation deepens with our addiction to debt. Dysfunction besets the legal system, education, health care, and politics. Cultural disunity has eclipsed the melting-pot ideal. But if the secret plan leaks, we can still avert suicide.
the cult of victimology. I would get all minorities to think their lack of success was all the fault of the majority. I would start a grievance industry blaming all minority failure on the majority population. I would establish dual citizenship and promote divided loyalties. I would “celebrate diversity.” Diversity is a wonderfully seductive word. It stresses differences rather than commonalities. Diverse people worldwide are mostly engaged in hating each other—that is, when they are not killing each other.
Politicians would then have little choice but to weaken them in a disguised act of capitulation. I would develop a mantra: that because immigration has been good for America, it must always be good. I would make every individual immigrant sympathetic and ignore the cumulative impact. Foster Short-run Thinking
Successful democracy, in the long run, requires some allegiance to and respect for the future. My plan sees that ebbing in today’s America. In the short run, modern public financing A “diverse,” but also peaceful and stable, society is against gives policymakers irresistible opportunities to encumber the most historical precedent. People undervalue the unity it takes future for present political gain. Neither political party has the to keep a nation together, and we can take fiscal discipline to balance the budget or the advantage of this myopia. Look at the ancient Will America cultural discipline to revive our stern virtues Greeks. As Philip Dorf ’s World History tells us: and uphold E Pluribus Unum.
The Greeks believed that they belonged to the same race; they possessed a common language and literature; and they worshiped the same gods. All Greece took part in the Olympic games in honor of Zeus, and all Greeks venerated the shrine of Apollo at Delphi. A common enemy, Persia, threatened their liberty.
wake up in time?
So our work is almost done. We can just sit back and wait for the inevitable to happen. We can destroy this upstart, arrogant nation, these Americans. Victory waits in the wings. But please keep this plan confidential. America could still wake up in time. ■
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Yet all of these bonds together, concludes Dorf, were not strong enough to overcome just two factors that fatally nurtured Greek political divisions: local patriotism and geographic conditions. Thus my plan anticipates that if we today can simply put the emphasis on the “pluribus,” instead of the “unum,” we can balkanize America as surely as Kosovo. Silence All Disagreement My final step would be to place all these sensitive subjects off limits—make it taboo to talk about. I would find a word to label anyone who disagreed, similar to the label of “heretic” in the 16th century, so as to stop discussion and paralyze thinking. I’d popularize words like “racist” and “xenophobe” that could halt argument and conversation. At this point, having made America a bilingual-bicultural country, having established multiculturalism, having the large foundations fund the doctrine of “victimology,” I would have made it all but impossible to enforce our immigration laws.
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