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Economics of Big Towns vs. Little Towns

Some of you know that we have a vacation place in Vermont, and try to spend time there.  When the weather permits, we do outside activities. When it rains, we try to find things to occupy us.  Time passes slowly there. When we finished spackling the nicks in the walls and looked for something else to do, we rode to Montpelier, the capital, which we had not visited before.  Montpelier is the smallest capital in the nation, with only 8,000 inhabitants.  The state house has a gold dome and looked interesting to visit, so we just walked right in. No metal detectors or pat-downs. We toured the oldest original senate and house chambers. The volunteer guide said that it’s a house of the people and open to them.

The guide didn’t want us to sit in the seats, or open the desks in the chambers though. He said that state senators and representatives don’t have additional offices or staff in Montpelier. When they are in Montpelier, they work from their desks on the floor of the chamber.  Pretty thrifty.

Our Vermont place is near the border with New Hampshire.  New Hampshire is kinda exciting at this time because of the presidential primary.  The local paper, The Valley News, is indispensable; all local activities are listed.  We are political junkies, and attended a forum with Lincoln Chaffee, a presidential candidate. There were 40 or 50 people in the room, so attending was no problem.  Later we saw that Hilary was speaking in Hanover, New Hampshire. We attended that – we did have to go through screening by Secret Service, but we had no problem joining the 500 or so who turned out to watch.

We like a synagogue in Woodstock, Vermont, and attended Friday evening service there. At our synagogue in Merion, Pennsylvania, one has to be buzzed in. Nothing like that in Vermont- the doors in the synagogue are always open.  In the Woodstock Synagogue, if there is a meal, it is most often pot luck where the congregants each bring a dish to be served. The congregants set up the chairs and tables for the meal and take them down afterwards. At my synagogue in Merion, we have an executive director and a full time rabbi, along with a new assistant rabbi.  Most events there are catered.  Of course there are a lot more members in Merion.

There is crime in Vermont, though. We have a friend, Jeff Kahn, who owns a novelty store, the Unicorn, in Woodstock.  We read in the Valley News that several businesses were robbed one night, including Jeff’s store, which is right in the middle of town.   He said hundreds of people had expressed concern to him.   I am thinking that so little goes on in Woodstock, that there is probably one policeperson in the office and no patrols in the middle of the night.

When we parked too long in Woodstock, we received a parking ticket. The ticket said that you have two choices. You may send in $10, or you can take the ticket to any participating merchant.  We had just bought some shoes in the outdoor store there, went in, and the owner immediately took the ticket and said they would take care of it. What a pleasure!

My theory is that the bigger the political subdivisions get, the more unwieldy and inefficient that they become.  One would think that with technology, cities and states could be very efficient.  The problem is that people competing for power and money get in the way.  Years ago, I heard a riddle about the factory of the future. The only things in the factory are a big machine, a man and a dog. The man is there to feed the dog. The dog is there to make sure that the man doesn’t touch the machine.

Living in the Philadelphia area, we have lots of cultural, sports, shopping and civic opportunities.  Hopefully, one day those rows of desks and employees with unaffordable pensions in City Hall Annex will give way to fewer employees, more automation, and maybe a dog or two.


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