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Rights & Privileges

About the same time that a Rutland daily newspaper was running stories about local efforts to derail (pun intended) the proposed new Rutland trainyard, local papers where I live in Tennessee have been running stories about counties along the Crescent Route of the Norfolk-Southern competing against each other to land (pun intended) a new trainyard. About the same time that the daily was running multiple stories and side-bars about grassroots campaigns to close down the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, there was only a six-inch article in the local press about the expansion and relicensing of a nuclear fuel-processing plant near here; no street theater protests by mobs of back-to-the-earthers, no too-clever-by-half attempts in the state legislature to tax the atomic industry villains into a premature departure. At about the same time that one Addison County newspaper was reporting on successful local efforts to suggest to such businesses as Starbucks (Middlebury) and Home Depot (Montpelier) and that they were well-advised to take their building permit applications elsewhere, a number of big-box retail applications has been approved around where I livethe major discussion centering not on the usual mom-n-pop victim rhetoric, but rather on whether vehicle parking under a store and a green-roof design over it could be economically feasible. The quantitative outcomes of such majority-public-opinion situations show up in such reports as the latest effort of the American Legislative Exchange Council. The report is entitled Rich States, Poor States and you can read it on line or in your own personal copy for about $15. The report ranks the states in terms of economic competitiveness, using measures ranging from taxation and demographic trends to government employment and quality of state legal system. Vermont comes in at 50 out of 50 in this analysis by authors Stephen Moore and Arthur Laffer, while Utah comes in at 1. North Carolina, arguably the least red (in terms of political philosophy) of the southern states comes in at 19, while New Hampshire, arguably the least blue of the northern states, comes in at 20. This being an opinion column, heres my opinion: With public preference driving public policy, as it does in state governance, the majority of voters in both Vermont and Utah are getting just about what they want in no-growth or pro-growth policies, which then show up in the ALEC numbers. For example, Vermont now has high rates of growth in taxation and of shrinkage in certain aspects of population, while Utah has just the opposite. (Utah spends less than half of Vermonts public-education per-pupil budget and gets about the same student test score results, but thats another story.) If you like a little historical reflection, consider this: the notions of an idealized agrarian society, anti-industrial and pro-environmental, anti-consumerism and pro-self-sufficiency, which presently underlie majority public opinion in Vermont, were originally set forth as a comprehensive theory by the southern agrarians, a group of writers/academics of the 1930s who argued that the closer you could get to a subsistence-farming social structure the better off youd be, not economically which doesnt matter, but philosophically which does. These ideas have since shown up in venues from academic/environmentalist Wendell Berry to the Natural Organic Farmers Association, from the nostalgic photos in such magazines as Vermont Life to the now-in-politics counterculture gurus who came to Vermont in the 60s supposedly to live off the growing of green beans. And theres much less of them where I live in what was supposed to have been the national center-of-gravity for small-scale agriculture, the so-called Upper South, than in its new center-of-gravity, northern New England. I wonder how they might react to my writers-shorthand labeling of them as northern agrarians? Vermont observer Martin Harris lives in Tennessee.

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