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Dreaming the non-existent American Dream

BRATTLEBORO—Americans use debt because their perpetual optimism tells them tomorrow will be better than today, said Campaign for Vermont founder Bruce Lisman.

But debt has billowed out of proportion and been made heavier by the recession that began in 2008.

Americans shouldn’t stop dreaming, he said. But the American Dream may no longer exist.

“But, when we say tomorrow will be worse as a country, we’ll lose a lot.” he adds.

The belief that each generation of Americans will achieve a better life than the previous one now feels threatened by a less secure world, he said, so the state should govern differently and shift priorities to reflect these changes.

“Our state, however, acts like nothing has changed and that money is plentiful,” he said. “But it’s not.”

Since the mid-1980s, Vermont has enjoyed a relatively good economy, he said, adding that state policies have focused on building a robust social safety net and environmental protections.

All good ideas, he said — but given the current recession, shouldn’t we focus instead on building a robust economy?

In Lisman’s view, Vermont’s economy is stagnant, and while the past five governors have preached the good jobs gospel, the state’s population has grown at a slower rate than the nation as a whole, with just a 0.5 percent growth in the workforce.

Vermont’s small and intimate citizen Legislature does not support transparency or allow residents to scrutinize where the money goes, he said.

He offers this analogy. Imagine that you donate $25 each month to your local church. Now, imagine seeing your pastor drive past in a stretch limousine.

“You’d rethink the use of your $25,” he said with a smile.

Lisman believes the statewide property tax is a complex system that separates taxpayers from the decision making. “The tax is so impenetrable [that] all we can do is groan,” he said.

But, Lisman adds, whining about a problem is no solution.

Shawn Shouldice, who helps with public relations, said that CFV exists outside “the Montpelier bubble.”

“[Political] sloganeering is easy, but it doesn’t get you a result,” she said.

We would all be better off if it was already under way with this economic rebuilding process, which will take a few years, Lisman said.

“But the best time to plant a tree is yesterday,” he added, saying that CFV will succeed when interested people reconsider what they believe in and find different solutions.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #140 (Wednesday, February 22, 2012).

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