April 13, 2014

Government can't create success on its own

I had a fascinating conversation with a friend last week. From a large family that prides itself on extended family relationships, he likened family to community. He lamented why some people are dedicated to remain in our fine region, while others look forward to retiring in Florida.

There may be good reasons to retire in Florida. Property taxes are much lower than they are here, and there is no state income tax. The climate is a bit better too, so I hear, at least in winter.

On the other hand, one cannot easily move to a new place and have the same sense of community engagement enjoyed here.

Let’s call our sense of community serendipitous entanglement. Our attachment to this place is equal to this place’s attachment to us. If we feel like we are part of something good, perhaps even something that enjoys a sum greater than its parts, we are drawn in, and we stay.

Certainly, Burlington has that sense. It takes great pride in everything local, and all things local capitalize on that sentiment. Vermonters take great pains to buy Vermont because Vermont, to them, is more than just a place. It is a state of mind and a sense of community. Buying Vermont means supporting one’s extended family, and helping another Vermonter means helping oneself.

In many ways, Vermont is a poorer state than New York. Even more sparsely settled than Clinton County, it must foster a greater sense of self reliance. Vermonters do not expect the state to provide a lot of services. Instead, government there leverages and encourages the private sector that actually does the heavy lifting.

On the other hand, New York has fostered a strong sense that government will take care of many of our needs, at least until it realized quite recently that it could ill afford to do so. But, while New York is having to go cold turkey from our addiction to paternalistic government with deep pockets, it has not yet shrugged of the sense of omnipotent government leaders that our past has created. Nor has it developed a robust sense of self reliance.

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