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The Commons
Voices / Letters from readers

We can make Brattleboro attractive for people to settle, not just visit

Originally published in The Commons issue #425 (Wednesday, September 13, 2017). This story appeared on page E1.

RE: “Can we talk about our town?” [Viewpoint, Sep. 6]:

As I have written often, Vermont has the 51st largest economy of the 50 states plus Washington, D.C. Our state lags the nation by significant margins in growth of the gross domestic product, both gross and per capita. We pride ourselves on our ecological consciousness, yet we lead the nation in miles driven per capita. And our population is slowly but surely eroding.

What to do?

Many people believe they have the answers — some say lower taxes and businesses will “create jobs”; others say raise taxes and increase government spending to revitalize the economy.

But the truth is, Vermont is losing its critical mass because of the fundamental assumptions of our socio-cultural-economic system, and unless we can understand how economies truly function, how both lower taxes and higher minimum wages are doomed to failure, then we are never going to agree on what it is we need to do to restore prosperity — not only to Brattleboro, but to Vermont, and indeed, the nation as a whole.

An economy is people. What Brattleboro needs to do, what Vermont needs to do, is to make our home a more attractive place for people to settle, not just visit.

This is something of a conundrum, of course, since people don’t want to live in a place where there are few economic opportunities, yet one where the economic opportunities they desire won’t exist unless the population grows.

It is difficult to briefly lay out a comprehensive plan for future development, but the bottom line is, there is a proven way to stimulate all the kinds of development we need, from attracting new businesses and new customers to locate themselves here, to renewing our crumbling housing stock and our transportation and communications infrastructure, to removing the impetus to engage in criminal activity, and to lowering barriers to affordable housing that supports dignity and independence.

That way is not necessarily lowering taxes or raising taxes, but restructuring our tax system so that land values become the primary method by which we tax and simultaneously lowering or even eliminating land improvement taxes (the taxes on building values), income taxes, and indeed, all other forms of taxation.

I’m sure to some people this sounds outlandish, Republican and Democrat alike, but this is not a new theory, it is proven economic fact that has been demonstrated in cities all over the United States over the past 150 years — from New York City to Detroit to Pittsburgh and elsewhere — and around the world, too.

Everywhere these principles have been enacted, economic booms have resulted. The proof is not hard to discover for yourself, and I encourage you to find it, rather than simply accept my words.

Paternal and authoritarian solutions are not going to work, but it is not as simple as saying “get government out of the way,” because we live in an economic system that does not work on “trickle-down” economics, we live in a system that works exactly in reverse.

Our money trickles up, from the poorest to the richest, and there it stays. Not because the system is broken, but because the system is working exactly as it was designed to work.

Until we ensure that our wealth continues to circulate, instead of being trapped in private coffers, we will never be able to return America to “greatness,” if indeed “great” is something it ever was.

Gemma Seymour


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