Great Britain, in re-claiming its sovereignty by famously voting to exit the EU, has set a new standard in terms of trying on new political ideas, and finding them wanting. The difference for Britain and its people, in this case, is that they could disconnect from the EU experiment if they didn’t like it. As just one maddening example shows, it turns out that the EU defining how olive oil should be served on restaurant tables might not be in anyone’s best interests, except for an EU bureaucracy that seemed to function only to create additional costs for businesses with no
discernible benefit to the public good, or to the business itself.
Why would anyone want to put up with this insanity? As Great Britain demonstrated, if a free people choose to exercise their own power, they will decide not to put up with said insanity.
Vermont’s example shows, however, that it takes more than talk to change a few decades of EU-esque progressivism’s slow but determined encroachment into the decision-making space of every citizen. The encroachment never happens in one swift stroke. Incrementalism is the key, and as more layers of bureaucratic power and spending are added, annually, the new norm is established. The next year’s barnacles are built on the prior year’s established barnacles.
A few of these barnacled examples from Vermont:
Act 250: What was started as a way to manage growth in Vermont, and to apply a common set of guiding principles and rules has devolved, utterly, into a chokehold on economic growth. A dilapidated example of which is evident to anyone getting on Interstate 189 off Shelburne Road, in Burlington, where they can see the Vermont’s largest accidentally-funded skatepark, which started construction in 1988, and only last year was the final hurdle cleared in allowing construction to continue.
1988 to 2015. 27 years to build a road. A 2.9-mile road, one whose planning began in 1965. Even with a recent green light given by the
Vermont Supreme Court (which tossed out a final appeal to block further construction), the City of Burlington is only targeting construction to begin in 2018.
So call it a 30 year delay in building 3 miles of road to route interstate traffic off the highway, into the city. 10 years per mile, of delay.
Speaking of the business-friendly environment Vermonters have come to know and love under the Progressive agenda, one of the icons of small businesses in Vermont, Bove’s, was fined in 2008 for labeling their products in a fashion that the Progressive agenda does not approve of, including (gasp!) the fact that not every component in the sauce is made in Vermont.
The Attorney General’s office says that the Bove’s company sold several types of jarred pasta sauces and other products under the “Bove’s of Vermont” label. But the tomatoes were from California and some of the sauce was made in New York. State law prohibits companies from using the word “Vermont” to market products made outside of the state.
Granted, there is a concern about something being labeled inaccurately, but where is the line drawn? Does the glass for the jars need to be made in Vermont, too? The manufacturing tools used at the manufacturing facility – are those made in Vermont? The jar lids? The labels? The oregano? Modern manufacturing is a worldwide supply chain equation, and the state has no knowledge of, nor expertise in, any one single product, much less everything made in Vermont.
As an example, the state regulates wood. Well, thank God that that issue has been figured out. I was concerned that Christmas trees would be mislabeled, and angry Christmas shoppers would riot when this duplicity was discovered.
EB-5: Long a darling of the Shumlin administration, the EB-5 program was designed to attract foreign investment in Vermont capital projects, of which there is something of a shortage. Like water in a desert, Vermont needed a federal program to let dollars rain down on its citizens, because without Progressive leadership to fix Vermonters’ problems for them, where would they be?
Well, they wouldn’t be investigated by the SEC for fraud, for one thing. But hey, what’s a few hundred million in loans floated around in what seems to be a Ponzi-like effort to leverage investor dollars in every place but the capital project itself? As others have noted, when campaign contributions come from people benefiting from public dollars, even a thin veneer of deniability shatters upon closer inspection:
The current circumstances at Q Burke and Jay Peak are a blow for the entire state of Vermont. Economic development in communities which have been historically neglected is absolutely essential to the financial vitality of our state. The fact that the EB-5 funding scandal is the product of, in this case, a handful of angel funders who have little connection to Vermont speaks loudly to the desperation of public officials who wanted to believe that the primary developers of these projects, Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger, were white knights. They weren’t.
Many will point to the fact that the alleged fraud in this case was eventually uncovered and point to the hard-working forensic accounting specialists who largely go unheralded as evidence that our system of oversight worked. To the extent that these alleged white collar crooks dipped into the public till and enriched themselves at the expense of all Vermonters that is in fact true. But, we should have never, EVER gotten to this point.
Campaign contributions showered the state Democratic party and its leaders, most notably Gov. Peter Shumlin and Sen. Patrick Leahy. Quiros and Stenger did not make those contributions out of the goodness of their hearts. They expected something in return for those campaign monies. While unseemly, under our system that kind of relationship between elected officials and supporters looking to gain or sustain influence is not illegal.
Single-Payer: Another Progressive fantasy, “Single-Payer”, which mostly involves getting other people to pick up even more costs in addition to what they’re already covering due to the cost shift and Medicaid block grants, wound up being mightily flushed into the outhouse of Vermont’s history, along with a couple hundred million in taxpayer dollars to pay for a site the state did not need, but Peter Shumlin did in order to raise his political profile to national levels.
So Vermont spent someone else’s money, again, for nothing. Although the fact that it failed in Vermont, and Shumlin had to admit to its failure, which probably contributed to him not running for office again, might have been worth the investment. In a jaw-dropping turn of
phrase, though, Peter keeps the Progressive dream alive, by using phrasings like “Vermont’s not ready yet”, as if there’s an as-yet untapped pile of Vermonter-hidden gold in the $2.6 billion dollar range that’s just lying around, ready to be used for single-payer.
Instead, Shumlin hid his financing “plan” until after an election. Why? Because that’s just good science, Vermonters!
The governor kept the development of his financing plan under wraps for several years and had come under increasing pressure to include members of the public in the process. He waited, however, until after the election to make his move. The delay may have cost him voter support as he narrowly defeated an relatively unknown Republican challenger, Scott Milne, by only 2,434 votes in November.
The reality was that the Progressive dream Peter touted was not even remotely possible, under any set of financial circumstances, yet Shumlin rode the wave of its popularity to successive elections until even he could no longer hide from facts, or hide the facts from the public.
“We obviously wish that the numbers were different. It’s a huge disappointment for me, it’s the biggest disappointment of my public service so far, but we’ll make progress by pushing forward in other ways,” Shumlin said.
What should be disappointing to Vermonters is how he spent millions of taxpayer dollars on a vehicle to national office, yet Vermont was still stuck with him.
Now it’s easy to complain, so what’s the cure for Vermont’s ills? Is there a federal grant program that could be tapped to repair what might have become an irreparably broken Vermont, after decades of abuse?
Or, instead, can Vermonters figure this out on their own? Here’s a few suggestions that might help the state change course:
Cut taxes: Match other states that have similar population size, demographics, geographics, etc. New Hampshire comes to mind here. It turns out that their aggregate rate of state and local taxes (as of 2011) ranks them 44th (at 8%), and Vermont 9th (at 10.5%). Here’s an idea: If people have more of their own money to spend on goods and services, aggregate demand goes up. The economy grows. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
Encourage business: The costs of business can be broken down into some simple cost drivers: Labor, materials, and energy. What did Vermont do for its businesses in those categories?
a. Increased the cost and reliability of energy by shutting Vermont Yankee. Shumlin took pains to make sure he was credited for increasing business costs for Vermonters.
b. Increased the already-high cost of labor by mandating health insurance coverage categories for everybody, essentially, mandating a Cadillac plan.
c. Increased the cost of gas by raising taxes on it, a cost which every business uses in one way or another, and Vermonters use to drive to work and to drive to places where they might, oh, buy wood. This cost is passed on to the buyer at every level of a business’s operations, for everything they purchase.
Cut Taxes: Did I mention cutting taxes? Vermont is ranked 49th for economic outlook, which, unless I’m doing my math wrong here, means Vermont is near to reaching Progressive nirvana, by being next to the best at being worst:
Only New York is worse than Vermont when it comes to tax and regulatory policies that foster economic growth, according to a new report on economic competitiveness between states.
According to the eighth annual Rich States, Poor States, Vermont is 49th out of 50 states on economic outlook due to the state’s ratings on 15 different variables, including tax rates, labor policies and overall regulatory burden.
Oh, and cut taxes.
Finally, there’s a broader, more philosophical argument to make, one that aligns with what used to be something of a political signature for Vermont, the town meeting. The idea of subsidiarity, essentially meaning a de-centralization of political control, kicks all the way back to de Tocqueville, but is anathema to today’s Progressivism.
Alexis de Tocqueville‘s classic study, Democracy in America, may be viewed as an examination of the operation of the principle of subsidiarity in early 19th century America. De Tocqueville noted that the French Revolution began with “a push towards decentralization… in the end, an extension of centralization.” He wrote that “Decentralization has, not only an administrative value, but also a civic dimension, since it increases the opportunities for citizens to take interest in public affairs; it makes them get accustomed to using freedom. And from the accumulation of these local, active, persnickety freedoms, is born the most efficient counterweight against the claims of the central government, even if it were supported by an impersonal, collective will.”
Virtually nowhere in the Progressive agenda do you find calls for a reduction in power, or control. Every Progressive item in Vermont, and at the national level, is to either take control of decision-making from the citizens, or to reduce their Constitutionally-based rights, if it furthers
the Progressive agenda, and garners more votes, which equates to an even further increase in control.
The idea that others represent us politically becomes less and less realistic the further away from us they get, both physically and philosophically. Ideally, however, the opposite should be true:
The laws you live under should be made by the people you live with.
Progressivism, in its most modern sense, is a champion of centralized control. Great Britain has learned that lesson. As Churchill once said, the US will be sure to do the right thing, eventually, after we’ve exhausted all the other possibilities.
Let’s hope that doesn’t take too long.