Theres any number of unattractive habits in the behavior of the chattering class, those supposed pundits who declaim on television or in columns like this one, on subjects ranging from global cooling and stag-flation (those were hot topics during the 1970s) to global warming and deflation-prevention today.
One of those habits is the one which enables them to declare some previously unexpected and unpredicted event inevitable once it actually happened, as, for example, a few of the economic-analysis-challenged in our pundit group did after (but not before) Federal Reserve Chairman sent interest rates into the 20% range in order to destroy then-prevalent expectations regarding inflationary permanence.
With that background I must admit that I have no idea as to whether the recent foray of Waitsfields ruling class into townwide farmland control and perhaps even ownership-by-government comes as a surprise or as an inevitability.
My own first exposure to Waitsfield came in the mid-1950s, when dairying was the primary economic activity and milk was shipped in 40-quart cans from 10- or 12-cow barns. Waitsfield then had neither planning nor zoning, annual per-pupil school costs were in the $300 range, and the typical response to any proposal for land-use controls was Sonny, nobodys goin to tell me what I cant do with my land. Well, the 40-quart milk cans went out in the early 1960s, replaced by electrically cooled bulk tanks for a few of the farms, whose owners chose to make the major investment and milk a lot more cows to pay for it. The rest sold out for development, mostly in the new ski industry.
Back then, you could see Farm for Sale, $10 per Acre all along Route 100. Now Waitsfield has a new dominant demographic and it has different notions about the role of government in land management.
Some of those notions show up in a recent web posting of an article in the Valley Reporter, in which the editor (thats the byline) writes that the Waitsfield Planning Commission had an interesting and candid discussion about; and use, prime agricultural lands, and the perceived notion of a speculative right to a financial return on land. Note the pejorative spin in the final phrase, and never mind that theres not an acre in Waitsfield which would be considered prime ag soils in comparison with Corn Belt land in Indiana or Illinois.
The editor continues: Part of the discussion by planners this week had to do with the notion of the land, specifically the prime agricultural lands by which we are fed, being an asset that needs to be held in trust for all the public. This notion has ancient roots, going back to royal ownership of the kingdom parceled out to barns and earls whose serfs actually worked it, to the more recent Karl Mark prescription that the means of production must be owned by government and managed in collectives.
The same notion of collective ownership showed up in the first years of the Jamestown colony 400 years ago, but was abandoned for private ownership after a few years when everyone came to realize that land owned by, supposedly, all was actually worked poorly by a few, and there wasnt enough food produced to feed not only the few producers but the many non-producers as well.
Now, the first inklings of a movement toward collective ownership are showing up in
Waitsfield. I suppose its not surprising, considering Vermonts remarkable leftward shift in political philosophy in the last few decades. But I was surprised anyway. Maybe thats because Im nowhere near as forward-thinking and progressive and idealistic about the superior few governing the inferior many as the majority of Vermonters today, the old-timers with their nobodys goin to tell me refrain having long since self-silenced, moved away, or died off. Anyway, I wasnt smart enough to predict whats now happening in Waitsfield.
My excuse is that, as New York Yankees 1950s-era Yogi Berra is reputed to have said, Its tough to make predictions, particularly about the future.