Hansen: A critique of Vermont’s political economy

By Meg Hansen

As Democrats increasingly push left (in part due to an ascendant Progressive Party), and an enervated GOP elects leaders that either share or acquiesce to the prevailing doctrine, free-market arguments have become incoherent with the internal logic of Vermont’s governance. Thus turning to the writings of Adam Smith, F.A. Hayek or Milton Friedman for a critique of the state’s political economy (interactions between the economic, political, cultural, and technological aspects of social reality) would be futile.

Marxian economic perspectives, tempered with postcolonial considerations to correct for the former’s Eurocentric blind spots, inform the essay. The state’s ruling class should be held accountable on the basis of the principles to which it subscribes.

Meg Hansen

Meg Hansen is executive director of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom.

A 2018 report by the Public Assets Institute about the “State of Working Vermont” demonstrates gross economic inequalities related to the state’s problematic geopolitics. Chittenden County, which accounts for 29 percent of Vermont income, experienced greater employment growth than the rest of the state. New jobs were concentrated in service industries, largely centered in the Burlington metropolitan zone. The areas surrounding Chittenden County all experienced employment growth, while the rest of the state has fewer jobs today than in 2007.

Note that around 15 percent of the adult population in Vermont (504,856) belongs to the upper income tier, 57 percent and 27 percent to the mid- and lower-income tiers respectively. The income of Vermonters in the top 1 percent was 16 times higher than that of the remaining 99 percent, whereas the state’s median household income fell in 2017 to a level below that of 2007.

The report states, “When a small group receives a disproportionate share of the income, it leaves less for everyone else.” Those in charge would have us believe that there is nothing the State of Vermont can do to fix the appalling inequity between the Chittenden County locus and the rest of the state. Yet new development disproportionately helped those already winning the economics game.

The homology between Vermont’s primary centers of economic and political power is revealing. Consider how Act 250 actively discourages development outside Chittenden County — a region represented not only by 36 legislators in the House but also six state senators. In contrast, the Essex-Orleans district elects two senators to represent both counties.

That nearly 25 percent of the state Legislature comes from one county alone evidences the willfully unequal distribution of power in favor of the bourgeois elites. The consolidation of these inequitable politico-economic dynamics has steadily subjugated Vermont’s proletariat.

The state apparatus serves as a vehicle by which the bourgeois elites impose sociocultural, ideological, and economic dominance (hegemony) over the working classes. As the largest employer in Vermont, it accrues strength in numbers. The Vermont government employment rate is 26 percent higher than the national average (50,720 full-time and part-time people in March 2016) with 75 percent more government administrators than the national average (36.8 full-time equivalent employees per 10,000 Vermonters).

In addition, the Green Mountain State has the highest number of full-time equivalent employees in the public school system relative to the state’s population. Consequently, the Vermont National Education Association exercises significant influence in the political sphere, functioning like an arm of the state apparatus.

Having baptized itself as the “Brave Little Vermont” that pioneers a socially radical regimen, the hegemon expects that its purchase of progressive indulgences will nullify its tyranny over proletarians. How else can one explain the state apparatus’ unabashed, systematic bankrupting of mom-and-pop businesses?

By continually hiking the mandatory minimum wage; imposing punitive taxes on income, property, goods and services; and escalating the cost of living (carbon/fuel tax, individual health insurance mandate), the state apparatus has been compelling the large-scale downward socioeconomic mobility of Vermonters.

These policies allow the bourgeois elites to wield enormous power over the state’s defeated peoples. This is why legislators refuse to consider credible studies proving that mandatory minimum wage hikes deny opportunity to those in greatest need. In Seattle, the average low-wage worker lost $125 a month following the minimum wage increase to $15/hour, and yet the state of Vermont will follow suit.

If one were to look at the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without an ideological lens, then s/he would have to admit that the law has made health insurance unaffordable for many lower income citizens. A Vermont Joint Fiscal Office report shows that 78.4 percent of Vermonters that paid individual mandate penalties in 2015 — because they could not afford health insurance — made an annual income between $10,000 and $50,000. Increasing costs played a role in reducing coverage as 5,000 fewer Vermonters bought health insurance in 2017 than in 2016.

The 2019 monthly premiums of the unsubsidized benchmark plan for a 40-year old non-smoker in Vermont will rise by 28 percent (the third highest in the nation). However, in the VTDigger article, “Vermont joins fight to preserve Obamacare,” state officials bewail the “disastrous” ruling against the ACA by a federal judge in Texas, while continuing to ignore the plight of Vermonters who would welcome the opportunity to afford health insurance through much-needed ACA reform.

The bourgeois elites, in control of Montpelier, support policies that carve out an ever-increasing, permanent underclass of exploited and alienated dependents from the body politic. This phenomenon is known as the subalternization of the working classes. The term “subaltern” is not an obscure synonym for the disenfranchised or oppressed. Subalternity refers to heterogeneous and fragmented groups within the proletariat that live on the edge of destitution in forced alienation.

In the 1980s, British and Indian historians developed the concept of the subaltern class from the writings of Antonio Gramsci (Italian Marxist philosopher). Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak famously concluded that the subaltern could not speak because the state’s hegemonic power structures deny him/her access to self-representation.

This is why the subalternization of Vermont’s working classes matters. Without the agency to speak for one’s self, the individual becomes disconnected from the collectivity of citizenship and loses subjecthood and thus power as a citizen. The result is exile into mute state of subalternity. This silence allows the bourgeois elite, as the colonizer, to erase the socio-politico-economic struggles of Vermont’s colonized, and thereby perpetuate systemic exploitation under the veil of progress.

To be clear, I am not posing as the face of Vermont’s subaltern class. My lived experiences in Windsor, and my acquaintance with the winners and losers of the socioeconomic policies implemented by the state apparatus, enable me to offer informed commentary. The salient difference between being from and being at the site of observation should be patent to the reader.

In 2016, Vermont was the only state in the nation where poverty rose. Over 70,000 Vermonters live in penury today, and around 50,000 households make only between $15,000 and $35,000 (lower end of the middle class) per annum. Nearly 23,000 more Vermonters needed food assistance in 2017 that in 2007.

The state apparatus recognizes the inequitable distribution of economic opportunity and wealth across Vermont but absolves itself of all responsibility by characterizing rural decline as a national trend. Columnist David Moats takes it a step further, equating the predicament of rural Vermonters to that of farmers in the French countryside.

It is hardly surprising that the bourgeoisie should worship at the altar of some invisible, automatic hand. But Vermont elites continually espouse socioeconomic justice and equity while “turn[ing] the power of government against the proletariat.” With “vilest hypocrisy,” to borrow Friedrich Engels’ words, the elites vanquish Vermont’s working men and women, and then create elaborate welfare traps in the name of self-virtue and compassion or charity:

Charity which treads the downtrodden still deeper in the dust, which demands that the degraded, the pariah cast out by society, shall first surrender the last that remains to him, his very claim to manhood, shall first beg for mercy before your mercy deigns to press, in the shape of an alms, the brand of degradation upon his brow (“The Attitude of the Bourgeoisie Towards the Proletariat, 1845).

Meg Hansen is executive director of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, a nonprofit committed to free-market reforms in American health care.

Image courtesy of Meg Hansen

15 thoughts on “Hansen: A critique of Vermont’s political economy

  1. Those who today define their actions in terms of Progressive Liberalism are neither ‘progressive’ nor ‘liberal’. At best, they can be characterized as confused. They resist reform in support of the governmental status quo they currently control. And rather than protect or enhance the freedom of the individual, their tenants enforce the one-size-fits-all dogma of the collective, the equal sharing of misery as a substitute for the pursuit of happiness.

    “Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm– but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.” — T. S. Eliot

  2. Please put me on the list of this article’s admirers! Again, it’s encouraging to see that some of the younger generation get it. There is hope.

  3. Excellent piece, it’s encouraging that we do have at least a few smart young people who think beyond what CNN feeds us. Our young people are indoctrinated at a very young age, democrats are owned by the big public education monopoly, they love the promised votes and campaign cash.

  4. Two Chambers of government based on population creating rules for the commoners, us the little people.The senate is supposed to be the deliberative body of the law making machine in Montpelier. Instead we have two chambers droning out laws from the overlords of the same liberal party pushing an ideology that takes freedom and money from Vermonters. These same rulers have the political power to ram useless laws and rules that increases their own power The House of Representatives is already comprised of representatives based on population in each voting district represented. So then, why does Vermont need another body politic in the upper chamber the (Senate) based on the same thing? The Senate should have 2 senators from each county to deliberate and vote on bills passed in the house through an equal distribution of power. We need a constitutional amendment to correct this injustice and bring power back to the people. If you are reading this you are concerned. If you don’t care then enjoy the fact that you are not a citizen. You are a number already owed by a political class and you are no longer an individual with rights established by natural law. They Vermont senate is made up of 30 senators, 23 of them are not from Vermont.One man, one vote, 2 senators from each county.

  5. Wonderful essay. If there were a way of diluting the monopoly and controlling influence of the elected in Chittenden County, it needs to be done…otherwise you have what you have. Need to limit the numbers, alike as in America- 2 Senators per state- therefore 2 Senators per Country, not based on the number of people. Rutland & Windsor Counties have 3 Senators. The political geography needs to be spread about evenly.

  6. Ms. Hansen,
    You have written a well thought out essay.
    I doubt the Vermont Dem/Prog elites will read it.
    These elites talk to each other and wallow in their own fantasies, while subjugating/taming others with onerous rules and regulations.

    In Socialist France, the oppressive state, taken over by the elites, tried to impose another carbon tax, and all it got so far is angry people in yellow jackets.

    One subject you did not mention is the climate fighting mania, which is fueled by elite fantasies of zero net energy, and 100% renewables, which aim to put into a straitjacket of taxes, fees and surcharges the Vermont population, using emotional and clever slogans, such as doing our part, punching above our weight, being a leader, saving the world, etc.

  7. Its a great piece of academic writing and I’m sure you have the attention of the Elites. I kept waiting for your Answer to their perfidy but it never came; again, the virus has been identified, but if the only doctors in the house are those that have created the sickness, what are the patients to do?? How many generations of Vermonters have to go without access to the natural rights to life’s opportunities just because that cancerous tumor enjoys all the Power??

      • With all due respect…..identifying the problem is the first step toward fixing it. Merely complaining about ‘talkers’ doesn’t make anyone a ‘solver’.

        My two cents: emphasize Health Savings Accounts. Bring the customer/provider relationship to the fore in a free market.

        • We’ve addressed the same problem nine different ways from Sunday , i.e. progressive ideology’s suffocating presence in our daily lives via legislative and regulatory policy, for years but there’s a deafening silence in opposition. Where’s the public outcry to confront and denounce on behalf of We the Victims? It is a patently obvious unbalanced government that creates more despair and bankruptcy than jobs and solvency!

          • I Repeat:
            tom chase January 10, 2019 at 12:19 pm

            Hi Katie. I commented a the political problems in Vermont in this True North Reports article, for ref:
            A critique of Vermont’s political economy

            My comments was:
            If there were a way of diluting the monopoly and controlling influence of the elected in Chittenden County, it needs to be done…otherwise you have what you have. Need to limit the numbers, alike as in America- 2 Senators per state- therefore 2 Senators per Country, not based on the number of people. Rutland & Windsor Counties have 3 Senators. The political geography needs to be spread about evenly.

            But the majority of Montpelier won’t cave in and change this scope making it more fair. Also I learned since that country has 35 Representatives. That very liberal country controls VT.

            I can only hope they collapse on their own doing. Otherwise, time will tell.

          • Indeed, Katie: But where is your tangible next step, your ‘solution’? Every thing you say is ‘patently obvious’. But are you a ‘talker’ or a ‘solver’?

            There have been other tangible recommendations besides HSAs.
            – Elect sympathetic legislators (almost impossible with Vermont’s dysfunctional majority)
            – Legislative Term Limits (ditto)
            – School Choice Vouchers (most important of all and a constitutional issue soon to be litigated)
            – Escape the tyranny and move to another State.

            Unfortunately, I agree with Mr. Chase – the train has already left the station and the only effective alternatives I see at this time are, well, not reasonably discussed on a public forum. They’re too depressing.

  8. What an amazing ability Meg Hansen has to verbalize the Vermont reality that so many people are forced to live day to day. They unconsciously know and feel, and now can recognize her spoken words as truth, pure and simple, providing some relief and comfort from their depths of despair: there is some understanding after all.

  9. Your observations & reasoning are spot on. There is a rural desire for small business modeled after our heritage of orchard, vegetable and animal farming. The Disproportionate size of government to the private sector consumes to much of our cash flow. Our economic base shrinks. Our healthcare system is on life support. Regulations hurt real estate resale and construction. Even our renewable home energy program is taxing the middle class for the benefit of the rich.

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