Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Education > What happened to putting people first?

What happened to putting people first?

In an insightful and intelligent commentary yesterday, John Margolis put his finger on an important public policy struggle going on in Vermont: people vs. money.

While he doesn’t frame it that way, Margolis points out that Gov. Peter Shumlin, in a speech at the University of Vermont last week, urged the school to focus on preparing students for business, without mention of the arts, culture, or philosophy. The governor didn’t use the word “citizen” once in his speech about the “better results” the state should expect from its university.

The governor’s remarks reflect a perspective that runs deep these days among members of both major parties—in the Vermont State House, in this administration, and in the last administration.  It’s a money-first, people-second view that underlies policies that affect Vermonters’ lives every day.  As we pointed out in a report last year and in an op-ed last month, the state budget process now focuses on doing what we can for Vermonters with available revenues, instead of starting with a vision of the kind of state Vermonters want and need and adopting fiscal policies to achieve that vision.

Tax policy has become a mindless mantra of “no new taxes” even in the face of greater human need, the greatest income disparity in 80 years, and a declining middle class in Vermont. Economic development has come to mean more business tax breaks rather than public investment in a society that produces widely shared prosperity. Now the governor wants to bring this thinking to education.

The irony is that Governor Shumlin’s liberal arts education did not have the narrow focus he is encouraging Vermont’s university to adopt. Buxton, where the governor spent his high school years, educates each of its charges “to live a fully conscious, responsible life” — not exactly job training.  And his alma mater, Wesleyan University, boasts “[f]reedom, rigor, intellectual experimentation and the desire to make a positive difference in the world” as the Wesleyan Experience.

These institutions are focused on developing human beings to be productive members of society.  While that might involve a life in business, it might also be in the arts or public service or politics, but always as a critical thinking, participating citizen.

Occupy Wall Street has rightly demonstrated to the world how the current focus on money is leaving people behind.  The balance between money and people is tilted toward money in Vermont as well.  And while philosophers still argue about it, we can be confident that the purpose of life involves a lot more than cash.

Posted by Paul Cillo on November 17, 2011 at 11:17 am

4 Responses to “What happened to putting people first?”

  1. As Gov Shumlin well knows, Lowell Mountain is the site of a confrontation between corporate powers, i.e. GMP, and Vermont citizens’ rights to assert their Freedoms of Speech and Right to Assemble. GMP has been Shumlin’s essential political donor, and in return, Shumlin must delete references to “citizens”, “corporate greed” and “constitutional rights to Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly.
    Local police are now being used, Shumlin must know, as the enforcement arm of GMP here in the Northeast Kingdom.

    No matter which position one holds regarding industrial-wind development on Lowell or any Vermont mountain ridge, this is a particularly acute challenge to Shumlin, his administration’s Agency of Natural Resources and “affiliated” environmentalist organizations (i.e. Sierra Club, etc.) who, so far, align with GMP’s industrial-scale wind projects.

    GMP’s encroachment on Vermonters’ constitutionally guaranteed rights is now revealed. No ambiguity. No doubt. GMP will spare no strategy to silence opposition, no matter its peaceful nature, no matter the cost.

    Shumlin’s is not the profile of an environmental advocate, as he would have you believe. His tolerance and failure to register his rejection of this abusive police action is truly the bold face of attempted corporate dominion over the rights of the People of Vermont, not to mention its pervasive influence in our governor’s office.

    Beyond the competing issues and arguments regarding renewable energies, lies the heart of Vermont’s most fundamental risk to its Green Mountains: corporate take-over of constitutional rights to dissent.

  2. Until we the people create more ways to measure our well-being, including our citizenship and education, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will continue to dominate public thinking. The GDP only measures money; politicians love it because it’s simple, a marker to point to. It’s simple, all right; it’s stupid. It puts blinders on even intelligent, “liberal” politicians like Shumlin and Obama. Lucky for us, other measures exist and are being tried in England, France, Canada, Bhutan–yes, and the state of Maryland. The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI)or measures like it need to be adopted here in Vermont to help us answer John DeGraaf’s very good question: What’s an Economy For?

  3. Willem Post says:

    An example of corporate greed is Vermont renewables oligarchs influencing the Comprehensive Energy Plan

    Klein, Chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, is the force behind the 90%
    renewables by 2050. I do not know his educational or technical background.

    The current CEP, without significant input from utilities, has a grab-bag of goodies for renewables vendors, project developers and tax-shelter financiers, which will lead to much higher rates, less economic growth, higher prices for goods and services, etc. An expanded SPEED program will have a major impact on rates.

    There is no independent panel of credible/experienced energy systems analysts to evaluate the levelized (owning+O&M) costs of one course of action over another, or to compare energy efficiency vs renewables.

    The multi-billion dollar stakes are too high; the formulation of the CEP must not be left to the politically-motivated PSB and Klein’s committee, or the DPS which also has its political appointees.

    It is being rushed through the process, so it can be voted on asap, and turned into an accomplished fact.

  4. Suzi Wizowaty says:

    Paul and Rickey. Yes and yes, but remember that every time you generalize about “politicians” or “the State House,” lumping together all elected officials regardless of differences, you’re contributing to a deepened sense of “us” and “them.” Who benefits from this sense of disenfranchisement? Not the citizens. Our elected officials ARE us, and we need to demand that they represent us, at every level.