Public Assets Institute’s Second Decade
By LARRY MANDELL, VTDigger.org, April 17, 2014
“Inequality for All,” the documentary featuring former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, makes one major point: Income disparity between those at the top and everyone else is killing the middle class. If you’re thinking, “Oh, that’s a problem in the rest of the country, not in Vermont,” think again.
I saw the film at the Savoy Theater in Montpelier last week with a group of about 50 others, many of them legislators. Public Assets Institute, of whose board I am the chair, was one of the sponsors of this screening.
Public Assets Institute has been talking about the social ill of income inequality in Vermont for years. Economists say that inequality leads to poverty and sluggish economic growth, because money in the pockets of ordinary people drives the demand for goods and services and with it, jobs. As the Reich film explains, the 1 percent at the top can buy only so many TVs and refrigerators.
The recently published chart below shows how income inequality has played out in Vermont.
In the decades following the 1920s, the top 1 percent took a smaller and smaller share of total personal income, reaching a low of 6 percent in 1981. But the good news ended at that point as their share started rising again, peaking in 2006 at more than 20 percent.
Knowing that income inequality exists and having a plan to do something about it are two different things. That’s one of the reasons why Public Assets recently launched its Second Decade Campaign—for a Vermont that works for all.
The organization’s mission is to conduct research, perform fiscal analysis, disseminate information, and develop policies that apply the powers of government to improving the wellbeing of ordinary citizens, especially the most vulnerable.
Since 2004 Public Assets has focused on the first three parts of our mission. Now we are re-committing ourselves to the fourth: using the accurate, reliable information and analysis we produce to connect the dots to viable policies—policies that address social ills like income inequality and improve life for everyone.
Vermont has made choices that have created our current situation. We can move toward a Vermont that works for all by making different choices, consciously developing policies that get the state back on track.
Public Assets plans to raise funds over the next three years to expand our staff and secure our commitment to this policy work. We hope that Vermonters will join us—by coming to one of our regional meetings this year, by getting on Public Assets’ email list to receive our publications and updates about the Second Decade Campaign, and by making a contribution.
By making different choices, we can reduce income inequality and become the state we want.
Larry Mandell is Chair of the Board of Public Assets Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit in Montpelier that promotes sound budget, tax, and economic policies that benefit all Vermonters (www.publicassets.org). He lives in Middlesex.