Under Act 250, the gauntlet of regulations developers need to go through in order to receive a permit for just about anything is similar to the barrage of kicks and punches gang members receive when they try to leave the gang. The only difference is that with gangs, each member gets only one whack at the victim as he passes by. Act 250 requires building-permit seekers to comply with 10 different criteria - in areas involving environmental, social and aesthetic factors - and there's no end to the appeals environmentalists and spoilers can level on any of these fronts.
Because the University of Vermont is something of a madrassa for environmental extremism - churning out armies of activists who fan out across the country - and because so many rich liberals have bought houses there, the political pressure to freeze the state in amber is immense.
In fact, in 1993, during the debate over whether Wal-Mart would be allowed in Vermont, the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated the entire state an "endangered historic place." That would all be fine except for the fact it's all nonsense - in 1850, Vermont was 35 percent forested, today it's 76 percent and rising - and, worse, it's hurting average Vermonters who actually wouldn't mind getting a good job.
Bernie Sanders, the state's sole congressman - and an avowed socialist - constantly blames Vermont's hemorrhaging of jobs on NAFTA and other leftist bugaboos. But the fact is that most of the manufacturing jobs leaving Vermont go to New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
The anti-development climate has gotten so bad that when IBM opted to open a new plant in Fishkill, N.Y. rather than invest in Vermont, the Burlington Free Press celebrated the move as a victory: "Even die-hard supporters of economic development sighed in relief when IBM announced its new chip plant would be built in New York State," the paper editorialized. "Had the jobs come here, there would have been no place for workers to live."
Sure, it's true that Howard Dean - a flatlander from Park Avenue and ritzy East Hampton - is more of a centrist than many of his critics are willing to concede. But he is a centrist in an increasingly off-center state. He may be a moderate for Vermont, but that doesn't make him a moderate anywhere save perhaps for places like San Francisco or Cambridge, Mass.
More to the point, Dean thinks that Vermont is a model for the whole country. But a virtually all-white state with no crime, almost no immigration and an economic philosophy that rests on the health of the ski industry, the demand for Ben & Jerry's ice cream and the continuing influx of millionaire immigrants may not be the best North Star for a heterogeneous nation of 300 million people.