Damned lies and statistics neither hide reality or fool us
The alleged successes of his six-year tenure, touted by Gov. Peter Shumlin in a response to Geoffrey Norman’s Wall Street Journal op-ed, bring to mind the old adage: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Using a nifty combination of all three, he concocts a tall tale of a thriving state to refute Norman’s accurate description of a disillusioned Vermont ravaged by a corrupt government, punitive taxes, an opioid epidemic, and pervasive despair. (See “Despite Your Claim, Vermont Is Doing Well,” Letters, Aug. 15 and “In Declining Vermont, the Mood Is More Resigned Than Angry,” Cross Country, Aug. 6 in the Wall Street Journal for reference).
Following Norman’s biting exposé in a prestigious national publication, it should surprise no one that the failed governor would cherry-pick figures and tell half-truths about Vermont to save face. For example, Shumlin boasts of low unemployment as a sign of prosperity, despite knowing that the unemployment rate alone does not accurately reflect economic health. Stagnant net job growth, no real income growth, and declining working-age demographic trends demonstrate that Vermont’s low unemployment rate is a result of a shrinking labor force and not a vibrant economy. In truth, under his leadership, Vermont has consistently ranked as the state with the second worst or worst economic outlook in the nation.
No wonder Shumlin leaves the Green Mountain State at every opportunity. He spent 119 days out of state during his first 21 months in office; 141.5 days in his second term, leaving 64 times between January 2013 and September 2014 for politics, business and pleasure; and he launched his third term by traveling to Las Vegas, Washington, Puerto Rico and Connecticut over 30 days. The governor’s acute wanderlust makes it hard to accept that he regards Vermont as the best place to work and live in America.
Shumlin ought to take credit for one achievement though. He has transformed Vermont into a laboratory where the Democrat-controlled government and special interest groups realize radical ideologies through poorly researched and untested legislation, and where the opportunity for political elites to revel in fake moral superiority takes precedence over evaluating legitimate facts and opposing views.
The botched single payer healthcare plan and the chronically dysfunctional Vermont Health Connect, which has cost over $300 million in three years, constitute prime examples of his incessant desire to signal self-virtue and win corporate favors rather than genuinely serve Vermonters.
In similar fashion, when the Democrats in power enacted paid sick leave this year, they did not consider how the law would affect start-ups, small businesses, and workers with non-traditional schedules, as is common in the technology sector. Because the new law makes no exceptions for small businesses (that accounted for 96.3 percent of all Vermont employers in 2013), it will cost the latter between $2.8-$6.3 million in 2018 and $4.8-$11 million annually thereafter, likely causing many local mom-and-pop stores to close down.
The Democrat-controlled Legislature also passed an absurd 92 percent tax on e-cigarettes in 2016, despite medical studies proving that they serve as healthier substitutes to tobacco-containing cigarettes and are used “almost exclusively by confirmed smokers” as an effective aid to quit smoking. Indeed, the aggressive regulatory assault on the sale of e-cigarettes benefits Big Pharma, which supports stringent laws against vaping because its Nicotine Replacement Therapy products (gums and patches) are struggling to compete against e-cigarettes in the market.
Thus, in Shumlin’s Vermont, crony capitalism supersedes transparent democracy, and the interests of powerful lobbyists and labor unions outweigh those of the average citizen. Detached and deep-pocketed elites create misguided policies that hurt “those who are not at the table” (as columnist Peggy Noonan describes in her essay for the Wall Street Journal, “How Global Elites Forsake Their Countrymen”), prompting negative socioeconomic consequences across the state.
Here, moneyed renewable energy lobbyists succeed in muzzling Vermonters concerned about noise pollution and the deleterious health effects associated with wind energy. After all, power brokers – not locals suffering from chronic headaches and insomnia caused by the industrial strength wind turbines in their backyards – secured Shumlin a seat at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.
Likewise, the demand for higher salaries by influential teachers unions prevails over efforts to control education spending – never mind that Vermonters are losing school choice due to forced, cost-cutting school district mergers or that the resultant rise in property taxes has compelled both young and old to leave the state.
Therefore, read the Governor’s protestations in his letter to the Wall Street Journal, not as an honest rebuttal by an indignant statesman, but as the frenzied squeal of a trickster whose damned lies and deceptive statistics have been exposed yet who remains proudly unrepentant.
Meg Hansen is a cultural critic based in Windsor, Vermont. The Vermont House Republican Caucus consults with her communications firm.