Gov. Phil Scott has repeatedly touted his “buy local” initiative during COVID: “I’ve proposed a $133M package using funds from the CARES Act, which includes critical jobs-saving grants for Vermont employers, as well as sending $150 to every Vermonter as part of a buy local campaign to spur economic activity that supports local businesses.”
There are several problems with this seemingly rosy policy.
The governor’s rationale is plain enough: “We believe … financially empowering Vermonters to buy local products … can help us get through the challenging months ahead.” Well, “financially empowering” is political speak for “giving them money” — avoiding language that sounds like it costs money, which, of course, it does. It has been amusing to watch the governor take credit for doling out our money to us, as if he won the lottery and is spreading his personal largesse among his beloved subjects. If only he could repay it with equal ease.
Is Gov. Scott spending our money well for us by “empowering Vermonters to buy local products?” It sounds so wholesome and proper — how could it be anything but?
The scheme is a farce, because the money is not allocated to buying local products — just buying products locally. There is a profound distance between the two.
Under the governor’s plan, Vermonters buying Chinese-manufactured products at Walmart were not helping local Vermont businesses, many of which were shuttered by this governor, while Walmart (and McDonald’s — were the “buy local” coupons accepted there?) kept their doors open. It appears the state of Vermont was not so much interested in magnanimously helping Vermonters as it was in pumping up sales tax receipts for its own coffers. But that would be government spending our money for itself while pretending to rescue us.
In the end, that program offered $30 payments, and only about half the Vermonters who applied received the benefit. But there was no actual requirement to buy local goods — only to buy goods sold locally.
Economies grow by producing goods or services for export to other economies, resulting in a net growth in revenue. If there is imbalance, and an economy imports (buys) more than it produces, then that economy shrinks.
The easiest examples for Vermont are cheese and maple syrup production, both threatened by out-of-state producers seeking to take advantage of Vermont’s proud brand name. It would be unfair to local cheesemakers for an industrial outfit to import tons of cheap frozen cheese curd from France, process it in Vermont, and then sell it as a 100% Vermont product. It also might compromise product quality and undermine Vermont goodwill — as with Canadian maple syrup sold under a Vermont label. That’s why it is illegal.
Governor Scott’s altruistic-sounding plan ignored all these efforts. Vermonters could buy Canadian syrup, or Velveeta cheese, with “government coupons” and our governor labeled this as “helping grow Vermont’s economy.” It did not do this — it took federal dollars (that Vermonters must repay as U.S. citizens) to support large corporate businesses selling non-Vermont products, resulting in a net transfer of borrowed wealth outside of Vermont.
That is, the governor borrowed our money to support large corporations and foreign manufacturers while pretending he was rescuing our economy. What about diverting that money to support existing Vermont businesses that produce food, services or products for export, resulting in a net input to Vermont’s economy? Walmart and McDonald’s need not apply.
With leadership so clueless of basic economic principles, does Vermont’s economy have any hope?
Maybe next time. In the interim, please buy locally produced!
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and the former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield. © Copyright True North Reports 2021. All rights reserved.