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The editorial in the June 11 edition of The Valley Reporter, "Politicizing the planning process" by Lisa Loomis, falls upon the fundamental and now fiercely discussed question of political economics "What part the government should play in economy?"
The editorial informs that the Waitsfield's town planning commission and the select board will give the residents new progressive and forward thinking plan, a road map which we must follow in order to get there. This new collective vision will become a ruling directive following an opinion gathering. It also points out that the current Town Plan is widely held up in the state as a model of progressive forward-thinking planning and that it expresses the town's collective vision. At the same time the editor demands that the planning process remains as free of politics as possible because to politicize the planning process is to poison it.
Democrats argue strongly that there is much to be gained from an
attempt to politicize the goals of economic planning and that such
combination is not just unavoidable but also highly desirable. Economic
theory alone has no claims to set goals for society or government and
the goals should reflect the public's preferences and indeed the Town
Plan is in itself a politicized document.
Using the editorial's term it already poisons economic environment because the political process is used to impose central direction by a central planning body in order to restrict and redirect free economic activity of free individuals. Perhaps the editor is not against such politicizing. It rather seems that it is afraid that the residents, feeling the weight of the growing government intervention in economic life, may now use political process to undo the trend. The editor thus seems to request: Stay away.
The editorial uses appealing slogans like collective vision in order to muster the public support for the new process. The fashionable term "collective vision" owes its appeal to the ambiguity, its precise meaning is not known, and people happily assume that they will get there without knowing where they will be delivered. It is therefore essential that residents discuss the precise meaning of the term collective vision in order to see its consequences.
A collective plan means the sort of planning which is necessary to realize distributive ends. It is not a plan to design the permanent framework under which economic activities should be freely conducted by different people in Waitsfield according to their individual plans. What collective planners demand is a central direction of economic activity according to a single plan, laying down how the resources of individuals must be consciously directed to serve a particular ends in a definite way.
It is nothing new. The similar gradual process of collectivization took place in Germany a century ago where initially the term socialism was masked under the appealing name organization or collective planning. We are perhaps unaware that the same methods were discussed and used by German socialists, and then by the Soviet socialists, long ago. The collective way of running economic affairs misused resources in order to produce a mediocre output. But the authorities continued restricting the free activities with arbitrary and coercive intervention which prevented the spoilers from poisoning the process.
The statue requires that the Town Plan be updated every five years and one can only guess if the town will add new programs and try to increase taxes. It already has the authority to lower the taxes without the opinion gathering. The widespread opinion of the residents is well known. The letters to the editor often explicitly demand lower taxes and less municipal intrusion into the economic affairs of the town.
The residents may decide on further expansion of the town's activities or they may not. Yet, the separation of politics from the planning process is not possible. In fact political discussion is highly desirable so we can "get there."
Matthew Jarosinski lives in Waitsfield.