A first-class exhibition of rhetorical parkour

Submitted for your approval: a recent opinion piece posted on VTDigger by Jeff Provost, “a business owner and a member of Campaign for Vermont.” The title: “The State Is In Serious Trouble.”

Ah yes, Campaign for Vermont doomsaying. It’s such a boost to Vermont’s image to have serious people going out of their way to slag the state at every opportunity, in hopes of gaining some short-term political edge. It’s almost like they hope Vermont will fail.

But anyway, back to Mr. Provost, “business owner.” What business, pray tell? According to The Google, he is owner of Dock Doctors, which waged an expensive lobbying and advertising effort last year, aimed at killing the shoreland protection bill. Sounds like a typical CFV “nonpartisan” type.

Normally I don’t take the time to dismantle every piece of piffle generated by the CFV Laugh Factory, but Provost’s is a truly spectacular example of rhetorical parkour — the art of leaping from one point to another with no regard for the terrain in between.

He begins by discovering our parlous condition by driving down a single road.

Traveling a distance of less than a mile on a street in one of Vermont’s larger cities, I counted eight single-family residences for sale, not to mention a couple of other multi-family structures and one commercial building – all on the market, and presumably with few to no buyers at all knocking on the door for a tour.

… Either the prior owners have moved away or, because of the poor economy in Vermont, have been forced out of their mortgages and into rental situations. Sadly, it’s probably a mix of both.

Okay, hmm. A single stretch of road is presumed to be emblematic of the entire state. When, in fact, it’s the exception, not the rule: the unspoken truth in Provost’s exposition is that he hasn’t seen any similar lumps of for-sale properties. If he had, this one stretch wouldn’t have struck him as exceptional. I’d be curious to know where this road was located; there are certainly some troubled communities in Vermont with lots of real estate on the market, but there are many more that are doing just fine property-wise.

As if that isn’t enough of a death-defying logical leap, he embeds a couple of huge assumptions: that there are “few to no buyers” and that the prior owners “have been forced out” “because of the poor economy in Vermont.” How does he know how many buyers might be out there, or how long the properties have been on the market? How does he know the prior owners were “forced out”? Maybe they upgraded.

But no, he has a preconceived narrative, and he’s looking for evidence to fit.

Having discerned the health of the entire herd by reading one set of entrails, Provost goes on to quote some handy statistics: he points out our “meager” net job growth of 7,000 since 1999. I wonder how he happened to pick that year. What I do know is that it included the jobless growth of the Bush years (and the Douglas Administration, mind you) and the devastating effects of the great recession of 2008 (triggered by Bruce Lisman’s old buddies on Wall Street, mind you).

And he chooses to compare Vermont’s job growth, unfavorably, with North Dakota’s. Which is just goddamn absurd: North Dakota has enjoyed a huge resource boom since 2000, mostly thanks to hydrofracked oil. It’s like comparing Austria with Abu Dhabi. The difference between Vermont and North Dakota has nothing to do with public policy or taxation; it has to do with exploitable resources.

He then bemoans our falling population and student enrollment, which are legitimate issues to be sure. But he uses them as a prelude to an all-out attack on you-know-who in Montpelier.

All of this is happening while our most influential elected officials continue to add taxes, operate inefficient and ineffective government programs, stymie development, mandate high-cost energy and impose a variety of roadblocks on businesses that are barely getting by as is.

“Roadblocks” like the shoreland protection bill that might cost Dock Doctors some business, hmm?

All of Provost’s rapid-fire assertions are highly arguable, but he’s hoping that sheer quantity will compensate for uneven quality. And then — well, you had to know that this was coming:

Meanwhile, to our east in New Hampshire, you will find a vibrant economy that benefits from no sales tax, no tax on wages, no estate tax and no land gains tax. …New Hampshire has become a hub for the technology industry, primarily in the southern part of the state. It has also grown its population by well over 6 percent since 2000, one that is more than double Vermont’s.

Ah, New Hampshire, the lodestar of the pro-business, pro-development crowd. Live free or die! No taxes! That’s the ticket.

Well, Jeff, I hate to break the news to you, but the “New Hampshire Advantage” has much less to do with taxes than with geography. As you yourself note, New Hampshire’s growth has come “primarily in the southern part of the state.” More specifically, the southeastern corner, blessed by its proximity to the prosperous Boston metro area and its centers of learning and research that generate a whole lot of entrepreneurialism. Plus the ongoing boom in seacoast-area properties. Growth in the rest of New Hampshire — anywhere outside of the area bounded by Nashua, Manchester, Concord and Portsmouth — is no better than in Vermont. New Hampshire’s North Country is just as poor as our Northeast Kingdom.

And as long as we’re on the subject of proximity to New Hampshire, why don’t any of the Provosts of the world ever discuss our other three borders — shared with high-tax Massachusetts, New York, and Quebec? Whatever we lose to New Hampshire, we must gain back from the three rapacious governments to our north, west, and south. Especially Quebec, what with disastrous single-payer health care; disaffected Canadians must be streaming across our borders!

But for now, let’s stick to the New Hampshire Fable. Here’s an inconvenient truth: Vermont’s unemployment rate is roughly a half-percent lower than New Hampshire’s. And according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the two states’ jobless rates have tracked very closely since at least 2005. Vermont’s been consistently lower for the last couple of years; before that, New Hampshire did a bit better. Now, I know the unemployment rate isn’t perfect, but I sure don’t see any edge for the Tax-Free State.

See, taxes are not the only factor in entrepreneurialism and business decision-making. It’s actually pretty far down the list. And while Vermont does have a higher tax burden than New Hampshire, we also have better public services and better schools. Those are helpful to business. We have a climate that, in many ways, is entrepreneur-friendly; it’s easier for a growing business to gain a foothold in a smaller market, and it’s easier for a business to obtain financing when there are a lot of locally-owned and community-focused banks and credit unions, as we have in Vermont.

And now we have come to the big conclusion of Jeff Provost’s parkour adventure. And it’s a big fat kiss on the ass of you-know-who:

So far, Bruce Lisman and his group, Campaign for Vermont, are the only ones who have really attacked the problem that is our struggling economy. Maybe our current administration ought to reach out to those folks for help, or at least take a page from their playbook.

Oh, how they have “attacked the problem.” That is, if by “attacked” you mean “written fatuous opinion pieces and bought a lot of advertising time.” Reminds me of George S. Patton, it does.

Well, actually, it reminds me of the old Peter Cook and Dudley Moore routine.

PC: Do you remember that, the Second World War?

DM: Certainly, yes.

PC: Ghastly business.

DM: Oh yes.

PC: Absolutely ghastly business.

DM: Yes, indeed…

PC: I was completely against it.

DM: Well, I think we all were.

PC: Ah yes, but I wrote a letter.

You know, if Jeff Provost is right, and Bruce Lisman’s Brigade of Letter-Writers is really the only thing between us and economic doom, then we really are in big trouble.

Fortunately for all of us, Jeff Provost is wrong.


8 thoughts on “A first-class exhibition of rhetorical parkour

  1. I offered Mr. Provost some facts that debunked the myths he advanced. And guess what, Mr. Provost chose not to challenge the evidence I presented. Indeed, if memory serves, no representative of CfV (with the exception of Tom Pelham),has EVER responded to those who comment on their opinion pieces. What does it say about the veracity of the messengers when they refuse to engage in open debate about their assumptions and conclusions?  

  2. … would you buy a house in mid-winter if you didn’t have to?  My central VT working class town is seeing a pick-up in realty sales in the last year according to a realtor I know.  Doug and others did a great job of schooling Mr. Provost on Digger so I’d say this was a big backfire.  And I’m sure the Shoreland Development bill scares this fellow.  Surely our lakes and ponds were created for the pleasure (and profit) of the two-legged mostly hairless species like him and not the multitude of species whose natural habitat this is.

  3. There you go again, showing your bright red flannel petticoat under that demure camouflage skirt.

    You can’t keep pretending to be non-partisan when you send these transparent  bozos out to represent you.  

  4. I was born and grew up in NH, in the southeastern corner. Because there are no broadbased taxes – with the exception of rooms and meals taxes and so-called “sin” taxes (lotteries and alcohol) – every municipal and government expense is laid on the property tax.

    I’m sure CFV would object in the most vociferous manner if Vermont made up for the loss of income and sales taxes by increasing property taxes.


    Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising  to protect each from the other. ~ Oscar Ameringer

  5. No matter how you slice & dice it the money needs to come from somewhere – NH nor any other state is exempt from the bills it must pay or the revenue necessary to cover them.

    I believe their businesses taxes are higher than VT. If one purchases a vehicle, there is no tax however related fees are much higher than VT.

    States which allow the type of sprawl NH does have more empty storefronts than places such as VT which do not allow unfettered “growth”. One of my children lives in Keene — there are numerous chain-style businesses esp restraunts in malls & plazas which are now conspicuously shuttered.

    This bunch routinely uses recession years in their statistics for good reason – it’s the only way they can skew the numbers enough to make an argument & still cannot make it with any validity.

  6. I had had a couple of drinks when I first saw that commentary on digger, so I wisely decided to wait until morning before posting a response. By that  time,  others had detailed his um, misuse, of statistics and his prejudices, so I kept my virtual trap shut.  

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