If, on your next hegira to Montpelier, you elevate your deferential gaze to the symbolic statue topping the Golden Dome, you'll see the image of Ceres the Roman goddess of agriculture.
Why Montpelier's "goddess" is pagan and isn't the likes of either Christian St. Benedict or St. Isidore, both recognized post-pagan patron saints of agriculture, I know not, but I might guess that if a male choice were acceptable (subjunctive contrary to fact) today, it wouldn't be St. Benedict because his motto is "Pray and Work"-somewhat unwelcome notions in a predominantly irreverent Western culture in general and an increasingly passive-income-oriented Vermont economy in particular.
But in that context, Ceres is a very appropriate icon: not only isn't she dressed for serious farm work, she's also shown in Roman iconography as the elite "buy local" goddess with "green" food co-op fiber shopping bag in hand who comes in to collect the goodies after the real labor of plowing, seeding, and cultivating has been done by subordinate stiffs.
Thomas Jefferson-separation of religion and governance notwithstanding-would like a religious symbol for agriculture atop the state house; it was appropriate in 1790 when farming was 90 percent of the economy in Vermont and all through the country. But now, in Vermont, it's only 12 percent of Gross State Product and 3 percent of employment, Wikipedia states.
The StateMaster.com website shows Vermont as no. 52 in GSP, well behind both the non-states of District of Columbia at no. 36 and Puerto Rico at no. 37, but the Wikipedia site show the state as no. 1 in craft breweries per capita, a grain-based ag enterprise.
Even so, as I've documented in previous commentaries, agriculture is the fastest-shrinking major sector of the Vermont economy. Vermont's passive income, some of it doubtless spent on craft beer, is the fastest growing.
The domain of Ceres the grain goddess is now more symbolic than real; the fake stuffed sheep on the manicured "pastures" on the sidehills of Route 4 east of Woodstock is the best example of the local elite's mostly theme-park approach to the real job of agriculture.
When you consider that agriculture is well under 1 percent of both Gross National (Domestic) Product and the total U.S. labor force, you have to recognize that Vermont's higher numbers reflect aggressive state policy in that policy direction. After all, there aren't many Vermont farms which can match the 200 bushel per acre corn yield in Illinois and the state isn't the wheat basket for Atlantic coast cities that it was two centuries ago.
Vermont's Golden Domers can't do anything to raise farmgate commodity prices, but they can use their fiscal-policy (tax-and-spend) powers to reduce farm tax burdens and improve farm survivability. They've done just that with a variety of well-known programs.
Although they would vociferously deny it, Golden Domers adopted the basic legislative principle articulated by conservative Jack Kemp more than 20 years agoand economist Alan Greenspan more recently: whatever you tax more, like smoking, you get less of; and conversely, whatever you tax less, like agriculture, you get more of.
Similarly for the statistically-illustrated outmigration of business, the age 25-44 cohort (with their children, thus reducing school enrollments) and now the tax-targetted upper-income quintile, all are driven in part or whole by Golden Domers' deliberate use of the first part of the Kemp principle: whatever you tax more, you get less of.
As I argued last week, the Golden Domers are our intellectual superiors. They are fully cognitive of the predictable results of their decisions and one must conclude that these outmigration patterns are therefore desired objectives. If they weren't, these highly articulate folks would have said so.
My conclusion: it goes to the underlying political-calculus reason for using tax policy to encourage folks and businesses to depart. I'd argue that, to quote similar language from CNN commentator Lou Dobbs, they constitute an attack on the middle- and upper-middle class of active income earners (not passive-income retirees and trust-funders). Why? Well, because it's the active-income voter who is most likely to resist-and has historically done just that-the various fiscal policy initiatives which Montpelier has installed for them to pay for. If you can get them out, they can't vote against your programs or you.
There's a minor proof for the above thesis: it's the almost-absence of a Vermont exit fee (I'm told there's one for property sales by recently fled owners).
New Jersey has one, it denies the label but not the escrow fee, requiring homeowners who sell and flee to leave some money behind-supposedly as a deposit against future unpaid tax liabilities.
Within Vermont, public school supervisory unions have long had one, requiring towns districts which might "want out" to pay their future share of bond liabilities before they can secede.
Surely, Vermont's above-average-intelligence Golden Domers could have implemented an exit fee if they had wanted the money of the fleeing sectors. But I'd guess they want their departure from the voting rolls more.
Former Vermonter Martin Harris lives in Tennessee.