On August 31, 2022

Lincoln’s words still ring true

Dear Editor,

“We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies.”

Abraham Lincoln wrote these words for his First Inaugural Address delivered as civil war loomed. And also, “Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”

We then as a country dismissed the warning, and the carnage of the greatest civil war ensued. “The better angels of our nature” got buried. Today, we face a similarly bitterly divided land. What shall it be this time? How might the “better angels of our nature” defeat divisions this time?

In Vermont, we can change our caustic and divisive politics. How, you may ask? By electing representatives promoting policies that benefit every citizen right or left.

In this regard, let’s consider the single most crucial issue facing all Vermonters: Taxation wildly outrunning our ability to pay. Taxation driving our younger productive citizens out of state entirely. Surely we can all agree on this one!

Let’s solve the problem — taking the lead once more from “Father Abraham” — and applying a little of a very scarce human resource to it, humor: “Too many pigs for the teats.”

Background: It seems that hundreds of office seekers besieged Mr. Lincoln for government jobs — the “pigs.” The government had few bureaucratic jobs — the “teats.” Surely, in a farm state, we can all enjoy this earthy metaphor. Today, we have too many well-paid bureaucrats in government — the “pigs” —f or today’s “teats” — you and I, humble citizens milked dry.

Problem: How do we shed some bureaucrats. Mind you, these are not bad people individually; collectively, they are too many and we too few. And they desire to solve more and more of our own problems that we can better deal with ourselves if we put our minds to them.

Solution: Change how government determines budgets. Presently, we employ what we might call the “battleship” model.

Explanation: Just before World War I, the British navy wanted more big behemoth battleships — six to be precise. Treasury countered with an offer of four. As Winston Churchill cheekily put it, “We compromised on eight.” This is how bureaucrats collectively go about budgeting today: Let’s say we the people want Vermont government to cost $7 billion. Bureaucrats pump that up to $8 billion and compromise on $8.4 — if we the people do not make them squeal loudly enough.

Let’s replace the battleship model with the classical public finance model from our past: First, reach agreement on how much we citizens are willing to spend on government (in all areas). Then, the legislative branch directs the executive branch to so budget. The form taxation takes may then get debated within the legislature.

How might we accomplish this? Through our elected representatives, hopefully citizen legislators, not professional pols — we the people join in a debate that yields a number, a bearable cost. That number informs government of what it may spend and then what form taxes shall take. Problem solved!

Let us all come together on this and let the “better angels” of our natures flourish. “We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies.”

Peter Caldwell,
Middlebury

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