Biltmore in the Green Mountains

Rights and Privileges

When the Interstate Highway System was pushed through Vermont in the early 1960s, there were similar stories of futile landowner resistance—at the same time that “Farm for Sale $20 per Acre” signs could be seen up and down Route 100.

The Vanderbilts, it’s safe to guess, bought out the original 125,000 Biltmore acres from some 4,000 small-scale hill farmers at even lesser acreage values in the 1880s.

But the next, trustfunder Vanderbilt generation couldn’t keep it; unlike the government, the family couldn’t run annual budget deficits. By 1914 the first 85,000 acres were sold off—to the feds.

Presently the Biltmore has shrunk to a mere 8,000 acres, but it is run at a profit.

In Vermont the passive sector of the economy isn’t yet the largest, but it’s the fastest-growing.

Dairy farms (once there were more cows than people—back then the majority of the latter liked it that way) are below a thousand.

This year, a nationwide recession year, Vermont governance posted a genteel little surplus of $40 million, one of only a handful of states to do so. In contrast, there’s been a series of non-trust-funder-oriented governances, from California’s Orange County in 1994 to the big city of Birmingham, Ala., and the little city of Central Falls, R.I., which went or are going bankrupt this year for the usual governance/management misjudgment reasons.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on recent widespread unemployment growth, too: US average, 9.2 percent, Vermont average, 5.5 percent.

No space here for the philosophical aspects of a state seeking to be dependent on income-flows from wealth created earlier and elsewhere, from which a current generation can be supported without effort, in a passive-income society which must always be, by definition, not self-sufficient and not self-sustainable. You decide.

Former Vermonter Martin Harris now lives in Tennessee.

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