by Martin Harris
For those with school-days memories of “pop quiz” events, when remarkably insensitive teachers, without prior Miranda-readings, cruelly demanded instant evidence that the two dozen or so students in their classes had successfully internalized the previous hours of instruction in, say, multiplication tables or spelling rules, here’s a one-item question drawn from today’s headlines: what’s the carrying capacity, in homo sapiens numbers, of a given piece of North American geography, e.g., Vermont? The (politically) correct answer, from the “Vermonters for a Sustainable Population” advocacy group, is about 500,000. Maybe VSP has a mathematically-derived basis for that number –for example, we know that hunter-gatherers require a much smaller population-per-acre than farmers, who require more land than high-rise urbanities (think New York City’s Manhattan Island pre-Peter-Stuyvesant, with a few hundred of the Manahatta tribe camping there seasonally, compared to the 1.6 million Gothamites there, more or less permanently, today– but such calculations haven’t shown up in recent press releases expressing intellectual pleasure with Vermont’s present-day demographic structure, with deaths now out-numbering births and the in-migration/out-migration balance now shrinking to below-replacement levels. That desired 500K would be 126K, or 20%, fewer than today’s 626K.
If present patterns continue, the welcomed shrinkage will be merely a continuation and intensification of present patterns, in which the middle-class young-adult (with children) cohort continues to shrink while the upper-middle-class older-adult cohort continues to grow, a pattern-pair underlying declining K-12 school enrollments and relatively low unemployment rates (job-finding elsewhere) for those in early- or mid-career stages, versus noticeable median-age increase, modest median-income growth and remarkably stable real estate values created by in-migration of upper-income and –wealth cohorts from elsewhere in numbers sufficient, until just recently, to outweigh, modestly, the shrinkage factors: declining birth rate, rising death rate, and middle-class departures. These two trend lines also underlie the out-migration of commerce and business (Vermont has, by governance choice, one of the most hostile-to-business tax and regulatory climates in the Nation) which, while nearly-invisible for body-count purposes, is highly significant for taxation purposes, both property and activity. If present patterns continue, as VSP and its acolytes now publicly hope, their cumulative economic impact will worsen a situation fundamental to, but never openly discussed, Progressive governance: the use of transfer payments, in cash, kind, and favorable connections, to gratefully- yes-voting supporters at both ends of the socio-economic spectrum: “crony-capitalism” benefits for those in the upper cohorts (think green-energy contracts, rewards for generous contributions) and “free-stuff” benefits for those in the lower, subsidized, cohorts. In fiscal terms, the tax returns needed to make this two-tier system work must, inevitably, come primarily from middle-income wage-earners, entrepreneurs, and business-owners because, as bank-robber Willie Sutton famously observed, “that’s where the money is”. It certainly won’t come from the low- or no-income subsidized underclass, from industries which have departed (think OMYA) or shrunk (think IBM) or from wealthy investors whose capital is safely ensconced within foundations and trusts (think the late Middlebury, VT environmentalist, Douglas Burden) , to the point where, anecdotal accounts reveal, some of their mini-farming-in-Vermont trust-funder kids are on the recipient rolls of the Earned Income Tax Credit because, officially, they earn so little.
With increasing recent frequency, new demands for funds to make the two-tier system work have come or will come from broad-base (think fuel tax) or business (think cloud-computing) in levies which, inevitably, raise the pain of high cost-of-stay most painfully for the middle-income income quintiles, which explains, along with employment-opportunities paucity, the disproportional departure of just that group. The pattern raises two questions:
First: at what point does a Progressive-dominated Montpelier governance face the problem of an ever-growing tax-revenue demand aimed at an ever-shrinking tax-paying cohort, one which is already showing by its present departure-pattern a displeasure with just that strategy? And,
Second, at what point does an environmentalist-sustainable (non) development population-shrinkage advocacy movement recognize that the population shrinkage it welcomes, most specifically and inevitably within precisely the middle-income cohorts which pay most of the bills, directly or indirectly, is precisely the strategy to reduce, damage, and eventually destroy the tax-and-re-distribute pattern on which modern Progressive governance practice depends?
An interesting historical note here: medieval European cities, like modern Vermont, also posted a deaths-over-births pattern wherein growth was only via continuous net-positive in-migration, then for economic-freedom advantage (“stadt luft macht frei” and all that) and now for perceived life-style advantage. If the cities hadn’t, eventually, built sanitation corrections via water and sewer systems, would they have survived and prospered? And, somewhat similarly, if ever-increasing taxation, worsened for those who stay by the flight of golden-geese who leave because of governmentally-adopted cost-of-stay economic-deportation-causing policies, isn’t corrected, will Vermont‘s governance-plan survive and prosper, or will those always most able to take flight, the newly-arrived upper-middle classes, also decide that the life-style which they signed on for, isn’t what’s in their own future? Just as for the no-proveable-answer carrying-capacity question, it depends on the skill level (in both production and governance) of the population .