By Kevin Joseph Ryan
This past week, TNR visited with old friends. Vermonters for Economic Health, first formed in 2007, paid a visit to Burlington with a presentation it has developed entitled A Tale of Two Futures: Leading Vermont to Prosperity. VEH President Tom Licata and fellow Robert Maynard (also an editor at True North Reports) spoke with a small group at the Bailey-Howe Library, and carried a very powerful message. Vermont, along with America, is at a crossroads, and if we take the wrong path, nothing less than our culture as we know it is at stake.
Licata has toured Vermont over the past five years from town to town. He carries the message that the ever-expansive nature of state government has gone off the rails. Unless stopped, according to Licata, this could result in a far worse economy than seen following the economic meltdown of 2008, which Licata predicted beforehand. According to Licata, we as a society is headed in the direction of France, Portugal, and France, which have in recent years, suffered riots in the streets and severe shortages of needed goods. The cause of this, he says, is very different what the media claims.
Many today speak of abuses of free-market capitalism as the causation of today’s societal woes. Licata disagrees. “You need a large vibrant civil independent society so government has something to represent…there’s nothing for government to represent anymore,” said Licata, noting the intermixing of business and government that has developed slowly over the past decades. Licata spoke of the past relationship between private individuals and the institution of government, “Civil society, when they wanted to get something done, they formed associations and groups, they did it themselves, they didn’t rely on government to do it for them.”
Licata noted that almost nowhere is the change in this relationship more acute than Vermont, where in this past legislative session state government created its health care marketplace. Vermont will be the only state out of the fifty whose marketplace law actually outlaws private health insurance outside the exchange, as opposed to the other forty-nine, who are supporting the private sector. Licata also cited the example of the several attempts this year to mandate a union for all daycare workers led by Senator Dick McCormick of Windsor (D) and other Democrats, which would contract with the state for nearly all working conditions for daycare employees, regardless of their membership in that union.
The presentation began with Licata speaking about the nature of government itself. Citing The Declaration of Independence, Licata reminded the group that the mission of good government was to “secure our natural rights.” He went on to speak of the inborn rights of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the right of property and freedom of religion as being inalienable and noted that progressives both here in Vermont are trying and even succeeding in many quarters to change this idea. Now, Licata said, “Government is a partner in contracts.”
According to this theory, “Our civic culture is starting to deteriorate because government, over time, has enabled our lives rather than letting us live them for ourselves.”, said Licata. “Vermont’s health care policy, wanting to take all private health care out of civil society, you have essentially, government policies hollowing out the intermediaries between government and the individuals.” Where do these policies lead? Licata thinks the answer is obvious. “This saps the soul out of life,” he said.
“Our founders talked about how, if you don’t have a virtuous population — and those virtues are… about, faith, family, community and vocation — if you don’t have a strong civic culture, you can’t maintain a strong constitutional republic,” pointed out Licata. “In Vermont…our government does not help that, but actually combats it.” Licata noted that while liberal thinkers claim this intertwining of government with what were formerly private marketplace functions benefit’s the poor, that blue collar workers have been the hardest hit in quality of life over the past fifty years since we as a state have been heading this direction.
For his part, Robert Maynard, agreed largely with Licata. Maynard also cited what the future of Vermont could look like, giving the example of Japan, where a post World War II economic boom faltered during the early 1990s, and which has never completely recovered.
Maynard noticed that Japan’s government went through a period of self-examination following their economic collapse, which resulted in a white paper called The Frontier Within. According to this report, the Japanese said, “If the twentieth century was the century of the organization, the twenty-first century will be the century of the individual.” Maynard said that the Japanese had, “The bias against individual initiative in favor of group conformity…a problem the American culture does not have, although were gaining it rapidly…Centralized command and control of any economy was never a good idea, but in an information age, it’s a worse idea.”
Licata noted that, “Sovereignty, or the source of power, comes from the people…the progressives don’t believe in that. They believe that sovereignty in the society or that sovereignty resides in the centralized bureaucracies that they want to enact.” He also added curiously that liberals and progressives measure equality in terms of material wealth, rather than opportunity. A strange bedfellow for those whose politics find distain in those who have such material wealth.
The two men speaking from Vermonters for Economic Health, however, seemed to feel that economic future in Vermont was most directly tied to the health of our cultural future. They cited a clear choice between whether we will continue with the individualist viewpoint of the Founding Fathers, or head down the road of Statism once found in the socialism and fascism of the Soviet Union and Germany under the Nazi regime. Now that is a choice worth considering. Do we give the power to the individual people, or only to the powerful in the government?