June 11, 2004

The National Trust Responds

In the Orlando Sentinel (rr), Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, responds to charges that his organization is demonizing WM:

We're not out to "demonize" Wal-Mart. Rather, we're simply reminding Vermonters that they have the right to decide what their communities are going to be like.

Although there are already four Wal-Mart stores in Vermont, three of them are relatively small and located in or near town centers. Wal-Mart is to be commended for doing the right thing with these stores -- but now the company is planning to saturate the state with seven new stores in outlying locations, each with a minimum of 150,000 square feet. These hulking megastores can drain the economic life out of traditional downtowns.

It's incredible that this man could use such language--"hulking megastores", "massive, sprawl-inducing","hidden costs are enormous."--and still think he's not demonizing WM.

It is by no means clear to me that some "Vermonters certainly have the right" to use the democratic machinery to prevent others from opening big-box stores. Mr. Moe never really defines what it means for a "community" to decide. What he really means, but almost nobody will say, is that such a "right" is often used by a group with special interests different than those of the general population. Such a "right" means that small business owners and preservation-first types--who have the most interest in keeping WM out-- will decide for the rest of the population who have a different mix of beliefs, goals, and preferences.

When a "community" decides on WM, shouldn't there be a quorum--a minimum number of votes--so that we know a large swath of the population is concerned? What happened in iInglewood was that 61% of the 29% of the eligible voters (18% of the population) used the government to determine for the other 82% that they shouldn't be able to work or shop in a local Wal-Mart. That is how the "community" of Inglewood decided that the WM initiative should not pass.

Contrary to Mr. Moe, I do not think that the political/constitutional foundation of Vermont gives "communities" any "rights" to determine anything. If a small number of elites and most impacted citizens want to use local zoning provisions to prevent the vast bulk of citizens from having a Wal-Mart, they may try as hard as they wish. That's the reality of democratic politics...

Posted by Kevin on June, 11 2004 at 09:35 AM