McClaughry: Orienting Vermont’s new immigrants

By John McClaughry

For the past three years Gov. Phil Scott and others have expressed a concern about Vermont’s stagnant population. Last year the Legislature even created a New Worker Relocation Program to pay people to move to Vermont, conduct their businesses on line, help revitalize small communities, and of course pay Vermont taxes.

Nineteen years ago the Ethan Allen Institute circulated an incisive essay by Alan Ehrenhalt of Governing magazine, reporting on a “mysterious comeback” of small town America. He concluded then that “a large and growing number of professionals in their productive years are moving to small towns for reasons of security, sociability, and community participation … a smaller place somewhere far from the skyscrapers, where they will know and trust their neighbors and where quiet, walkable main streets can play the role that city neighborhoods used to play in their lives.”

John McClaughry

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Until recently small-town Vermont had seen little of this immigration. But over the past eight months three factors have begun to make that prediction become increasingly true.

First was COVID-19 that emerged in February and seems to have no expiration date. Second was the rioting in city after city, triggered by a series of shocking encounters between urban law enforcement and minorities. Third was the increased capability of many people to earn a living and work with others on line. (As I write this, my visiting daughter is online with a co-worker in Mozambique.)

Here are some recent column headlines: “People were leaving New York City before the coronavirus. Now what?” (WSJ 4/26). “Is COVID-19 the end of New York as we know it?” (Tablet, April).” “The Coming Urban Exodus” (WSJ 6/18). “COVID-19 and the Collapse of Complex Societies” (Reason, July).

Ellen Barry of the New York Times (9/26) looked at this from the receiving end: “The Virus Sent Droves to a Small Town.” She writes: “The population boomed in Winhall, Vt. [pop.769] as people tried to get away from COVID-19 hot spots. Bear complaints are up. Plumbers are booked until Christmas. And the dump is ‘sheer pandemonium.’”

Josh Hanford, Vermont’s housing commissioner, told lawmakers in August that since the COVID-19 crisis, homes in the state that cost over $1 million have seen a 300% increase in sales. “A lot of those are sitting on the market for over a year in the past and they’re selling like crazy right now.” (VTDigger 8/26). A realtor friend in Newport reports that she can barely keep up with the phone calls from people eager to buy homes in the relatively low-priced Northeast Kingdom, even without a site visit.

How should we Vermonters respond to this potentially revitalizing influx of new downcountry refugees? A lot needs to be said on this subject, but here are seven suggestions.

First, reacquaint ourselves and educate the newcomers with the principles for maintaining a free and democratic society set forth in the Vermont Constitution. Everyone needs to remember why Vermonters long ago wrote that document to wisely govern their affairs and protect their liberty.

Second, assure that all Vermonters — whether six generations on the farm or recently arrived from New York, Syria, Sudan or Bosnia — have full opportunity to become contributing and respected participants in our civic life and communities.

Third, reverse the baneful trend of centralizing all of the power of government in Montpelier. New arrivals want to participate in democratic communities and so far as possible deal with common concerns at a human scale, with neighbors they can come to trust, even if they do not always agree. (For this argument, see Frank Bryan and John McClaughry, The Vermont Papers: Recreating Democracy on a Human Scale, 1989.)

Fourth, Vermonters cherish a clean and beautiful environment. We expect newcomers to help us keep it that way.

Fifth, reaffirm our tradition of supporting in dignity those unable to support themselves, and respect and support the many civil society organizations that serve that purpose. But explain to newcomers that Vermonters have the primary responsibility, to the extent possible, to support themselves or otherwise contribute to the common good.

Sixth, expand our economic opportunities, celebrate our entrepreneurs and job creators, and resist the temptation to use the power of government to create somebody’s idea of The Perfect Little State, including ambitious but ineffectual schemes to signal our virtue to the world.

Seventh, recognize that many decent people are coming to Vermont to escape the suddenly increased threat of riot, arson and unchecked disorder in their cities. Assure them that we support our law enforcement in keeping the peace, while disciplining the very rare bad apple. Let them know, also, that unlike most of the places they’re coming from, in Vermont they will have a constitutionally protected right to own a firearm for self-defense.

Those seven thoughts may stimulate a useful conversation.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Image courtesy of John McClaughry
Spread the love

8 thoughts on “McClaughry: Orienting Vermont’s new immigrants

  1. Facepalming mightily. Astonishingly bad idea – breathtakingly wrongheaded sir. This is not who we as VTers are – for the most part. As a multi-generational VTer on both sides, live and let live liberty-loving leave-me-the-hell-alone conservative Indy currently voting Republican and supporting the party personally find this mindset deeply offensive. None of us own anything but the property we pay taxes on and as such have no right to control our communities as our personal feifdoms.

    Can safely bet your a**ses I will not be on the collectivist rulemaking subcommittee of the “Orientation Committee”. What happens when you’re rightfully blasted for own abject arrogance by someone alot smarter than you – because only snobs – may they be gated communities, middle class get-off-my-lawners or the ignorant hicks I’ve known all my life are blind enough to think they own the place. Placing a loyalty test upon those just trying to get out of their current hellholes is quite brazen.

    This is what the arrogant haughty horses-a** aka Democrats and the Marxist wing of their now communist party do – manipulate and control everyone and everything around them bc they are stupid enough to think they are *always* right and incapable of entertaining the thought they maybe just maybe could possibly be wrong. Who the hell does anyone think they are telling others what to do. And how would yall like to be ‘oriented’ should fate force you to flee to say – NY, NJ etc etc. It’s not who we are, or should be as a nation or state.

    Pls remember this was done to many of our immigrant ancestors and Jews all over the world forced to live in ghettos and viewed with suspicion who helped make our nation what it is today.

  2. Thanks but no thanks. We do not have an income tax in Tn but a high sales tax, 9.75. little debt. Low property tax in my county with no increase in over 20 years. I have the best neighbors in the world so why would I want to move to Vermont?

  3. “First, reacquaint ourselves and educate the newcomers with the principles for maintaining a free and democratic society set forth in the Vermont Constitution. Everyone needs to remember why Vermonters long ago wrote that document to wisely govern their affairs and protect their liberty.”

    What continues to go unsaid is that Vermont’s public school monopoly’s control of our children’s curricula is the root cause of society’s continued shift away from individual liberty, freedom and free-market governance to so-called democratic socialism – and, ultimately, communism. As Lenin, the Russian revolutionary, politician, and political theorist, who served as the first leader of of Soviet Russia, said: “Give us the child for 8 years and it will be a Bolshevik forever.”

    If we don’t break up the public school monopoly with school choice, especially with the recent influx of Covid-19 refugees, we will reap the reward of our complacency.

  4. This should be required reading by our state legislators that seem determined to run every social matter by their rules and regulations. Try functioning on a local Palnning/Zoning commision. More and more, every option is mandated by the state. Local commisions have very litle leeway.

    Prayers that your points will be considered.

  5. John,
    I have long appreciated your thoughtful writing. This is one of your best! I strongly agree on all your points. I have been thinking quite a bit about how to help do this locally and have considered turning our town monthly Strafford News which recently ceased publication into more of a bi-monthly or quarterly journal where town traditions and culture and how to participate in town institutions could be passed on and new residents could share their hopes and dreams as well.

  6. On the mark, John. Those who come will mostly have a very different view of society and culture than most Vermonters.

    We sorely need the discussion.

  7. Seven sound thoughts that have long needed to be publicly articulated…….McClaughry nailed it.

    Particularly his Comment # 6: “…….. resist the temptation to use the power of government to create somebody’s idea of The Perfect Little State, including ambitious but ineffectual schemes to signal our virtue to the world.”

    A look at the lopsided polls on the Vermont gubernatorial race showing Gov. Shumlin beating David Zuckerman by a 2 to 1 ratio bares out where Vermonters stand on Comment #6………And it’s not with the far left progressive initiatives coming out of the Legislature and the Lieutenant Governor’s office.

    • That’s Gov. Scott beating Zuckerman………..Shumlin was last reported at Harvard teaching the next generation how to run state governments.

Comments are closed.