Last November, I sat in on several presentations that discussed what the new administration and new Congress would mean to agriculture. The first answers were obvious and have been borne out in terms of more taxes, more regulation and less of a free-market bent. But the scope of change has been more dramatic than anyone had anticipated back then.

The Obama administration has been driving the political debate with cap and trade, nationalized health care, unprecedented spending, and government intervention in industries ranging from the auto industry to the financial sector. These changes because of their scope and speed appear to be a severe departure from the past, but I question whether that is truly the case. Perhaps circumstances have merely unleashed forces that had been building for quite some time.

Friedrich von Hayek, in the book “The Road to Serfdom,” eloquently talks of the never-ending urge for government to dominate. Looking back at world history, it’s easy to find examples of where governments far outspent their means with little concern from the populace. These governments achieved this by creating an illusion, or perhaps delusion – people don't understand how much they pay, where the money goes, and what the long-term costs will be.

All one has to do is look at Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid to understand how cap and trade and national health care is being marketed and sold.

Amity Shlaes, a Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow in economic history, described FDR's New Deal as a decade-long contest between an ambitious public sector and a dazed private sector. Acting in a time of "emergency," FDR took over the currency by eliminating private ownership of gold, and took over the most promising industries, such as utilities.

In the last few months, we’ve seen the federal government use AIG's monumental failure to usurp regulatory power from the states. It’s also taken over corporate management of the majority of U.S.-based auto companies. In doing this, it superseded foundational laws that guaranteed secured creditor rights and, in the process, increased the value of government bonds relative to others.

The financial crisis was used to increase regulation of finance and even as a basis for extending its reach into health care. Of course, global warming and global events are also being used to create a crisis mentality that hopefully will smooth the way for cap and trade, and social justice by way of income distribution.

Those prone to a conspiracy mindset also point at how the government, knowingly or not, drove down shares of a major bank (Citigroup), and then went in to purchase good equity at significantly reduced prices.

History also tells us that this type of consolidation of power is virtually impossible to rescind and hard to slow down. The time to stop power grabs is before the power is actually obtained, not after the fact.

My sense is that it’s become increasingly difficult for the administration and Congress to sell the crisis mentality that requires immediate and drastic action without debate. People are now looking back at the financial crisis and understanding that the economy is beginning to recover, and doing so without all these far-reaching changes having taken effect and with trillions of stimulus dollars still unspent.

They’re also looking back to see what it is they actually bought with these emergency provisions. This is the attitude that has put the government’s takeover of health care in question.

The environment, which includes global climate change, remains the one crisis that seemingly has staying power and widespread acceptance. This is one issue upon which governments can continue to base their drive for power. More than any other, this issue reflects the view that man can’t be allowed to exercise individual choice or freedom; rather, government must intervene to protect everyone.

It also explains why governments have been such willing advocates of the movement. With government already claiming responsibility for averting the supposed financial crisis, that particular issue’s ability to leverage government’s reach is now limited. Thus, government must rely on the crisis that keeps on giving and is all-encompassing – climate change and environmentalism.

Cattlemen proudly proclaim they are the original environmentalists. And why not? After all, it’s true, and it’s tempting to embrace the movement; everyone is for a healthy planet.

The problem is that environmentalism and the environmental movement sport two distinctly separate world views and two distinctly different agendas. It is vitally important that we understand that distinction, and understand how dedicated the movement is to blurring that distinction.

It is akin to how HSUS utilizes commercials depicting animal shelters and pets, yet those disturbing and/or fuzzy images are entirely separate from its actual agenda. Similarly, environmentalism today has very little to do with protecting the environment, even though it derives its moral authority by claiming otherwise.

The environmental movement will remain the vehicle for driving social change because it not only offers up the crisis mentality that beckons for government action, but it also claims the moral high ground. Thus, it allows the movement to impugn the motives of anyone who questions the results or implications of its prescribed actions.
-- Troy Marshall