A Study in Equity (It Doesn’t Work)

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With all the fervor surrounding the dogma-speak of “equity,” the utopian calls for achieving it sound outright religious. The problem is that equity is an impossible goal that creates more and more inequities in its wake. This is increasingly evident as this abused term is used to advance a reckless ideology that is already causing far more damage than it will ever cure.

The idea of equity is that “everybody should have the same.” Even if one person chooses to be a drunk and another a disciplined scholar, the disparities that result — because one works while the other plays — are to be eliminated through magical government oversight. (Naturally, administration costs must be paid first, and new hires are in the wings.) But every time Vermont’s government sets out to fashion new magic, it creates yet greater inequities.

An easy example is the homestead exemption. This benign-sounding “exemption” is really a nasty curse. In addition to the complex burden of paperwork for administration, the fact is that this was a way to tax out-of-staters: run up the bills, then give state residents a tax break so it won’t break their backs. Equitable?

But what about renters in Vermont? Since they don’t pay taxes, they get no relief; since their landlords can’t claim the homestead exemption, they must pass those huge real estate taxes on to tenants to avoid losses. The effect is very high rents, a housing shortage, and the state clamoring to construct more unaffordable “affordable” housing so that it can become landlord. Vermont created a renter’s credit to counterbalance this inequity, but that is unevenly applied — creating unfair inequities for large numbers of poor renters. Similar inequities appear in the vaunted “universal lunch” initiative: it costs millions in taxes to distribute free meals to millionaires in the name of helping the poor. It’s regressive, unfair and wasteful.

Vermont’s government has driven up costs of construction through tangled volumes of regulations and approvals. In 2022, it passed a law mandating that 50% of all Vermont land will be “conserved.” It has similarly made daycare costs prohibitive and now proposes to rescue Vermonters from that mistake: universal daycare will inequitably disadvantage parents who forego the workforce to stay home and raise their own children.

The solar panels installed through net metering, and the expensive EV cars subsidized with tax dollars — both of those are regressive, taking money from the poor to fund projects for the rich. Advocates for these programs admit this! So Vermont is making poor people bear a disproportionate share of the economic tab for environmental clean-up (though that, too, is a fraud — rooftop solar panels and EV cars accelerate short-term pollution and fossil fuel consumption, and do nothing long term to cure the problem they purport to tilt at.) Unquestionably, this is very far from equitable.

Now the Legislature is weighing “clean heat standards” that were similarly created in a policy bubble by people who either cannot critically weigh inequities, or simply don’t care. In joking that taxpayers can “get a blanket, for Christ’s sake” to combat artificially inflated heating oil costs, Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange, revealed utter callousness toward the poor people who suffer when he waves his pen for a new stupid program. The legislators label their plan as “polluters versus those who want to fight climate change,” but the two sides are really “those who can afford a new heat pump and those struggling to stay warm with their old heating system.” The effect of this new legislation will be to massively punish those least able to change their circumstances, while subsidizing those wealthy enough to take advantage of the new cash flow — just like net metering caused huge increases in electric rates that were borne by poor ratepayers, many on fixed income.

During COVID, funds in Vermont were disbursed to minority sole proprietorships and prohibited for white ones — regardless of need. Hardworking poor white Vermonters with kids to feed who suffered real damage from the government’s shutdown couldn’t collect a penny; millionaire BIPOC businesses that may have moved to the state the previous year got a windfall. How equitable. Similar inequities arose when prioritizing people for medical treatment (and COVID shots) based solely on skin color — ignoring age, a better determinant of risk.

It isn’t that these hasty efforts are not well-intentioned: it is just that they are paving more and more roads to hell for the poor. Those patting themselves on the back for their “equity” work are perhaps the biggest enemies of the poor to ever raise their silly ideological heads. The list goes on — everywhere, Vermonters see expansive initiatives that sweep common sense and legal principles aside in pursuit of some new fantasy.

Thomas Sowell explained this decades ago, in his book “The Quest for Cosmic Justice.” In essence, spoiled Americans angry at God for allowing an imperfect world imagine they can create a better (perfect) one using government. In one essay, Mr. Sowell explains:

Let me try to summarize the message of “The Quest for Cosmic Justice in three propositions which may seem to be axiomatic, but whose implications are in fact politically controversial:

  1. The impossible is not going to be achieved.
  2. It is a waste of precious resources to try to achieve it.
  3. The devastating costs and social dangers which go with these attempts to achieve the impossible should be taken into account.

… Ironically, the quest for greater economic and social equality is promoted through a far greater inequality of political power. If rules cannot produce cosmic justice, only raw power is left as the way to produce the kinds of results being sought. In a democracy, where power must gain public acquiescence, not only must the rule of law be violated or circumvented, so must the rule of truth.  However noble the vision of cosmic justice, arbitrary power and shameless lies are the only paths that even seem to lead in its direction. As noted at the outset, the devastating costs and social dangers which go with these attempts to achieve the impossible should be taken into account.

Vermonters must take into account the numerous inequities being accomplished with their tax dollars, and intervene to prevent further damage. Those promoting these inequitable policies under the false guise of equity should take heed — when we fall as a society, we all fall together.

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