Win Smith’s 47% Moment

What’s this in my inbox? Why, it’s a heart-rending tale from the desk of Win Smith, co-owner of the Sugarbush ski resort and president of the Vermont Business Roundtable. And former Merrill Lynch executive. And reportedly a member of a secret Wall Street society described as “‘”a sort of one-percenter’s Friars Club’ whose annual dinners are filled with elitist, sexist and homophobic humor.”

(Bruce Lisman’s also a member, but I digress.)

Smith’s business partner in Sugarbush is, of course, State Rep. Adam Greshin, who wrote and lobbied for an amendment that forestalls a significant increase in Sugarbush’s sizable utility bills. And was, dubiously and privately, cleared by the House Ethics Panel.

Smith’s essay is being distributed to Vermont news outlets; I’m sure it will shortly be cluttering up your local paper’s content-hungry Op-Ed page. It’s a pretty amazing piece of work, managing to be both politically and literarily obnoxious. It’s a subtle retelling of stale conservative myths about poverty and government. You know the stuff: welfare mothers with Cadillacs, poor folks lulled into dependency by public-sector largesse, and the myth that “47% of Americans pay no taxes” and therefore have no stake in responsible government.

Smith begins with the sad story of “a childhood friend of mine” whose mother expressed her love by serving “large portions of tasty food.”

Unfortunately, Mom’s generosity had deadly results.

Win’s poor friend became an obese glutton suffering the effects of “a lifetime of over-indulging [that] led to obesity, diabetes, painful gout and finally heart disease.”

Smith describes visiting his friend, “barely able to move and in great pain,” who had finally realized the error of his ways, but too late: “Shortly after my visit, my friend died.”

Sad story, right? Heartstrings thoroughly tugged?

Unfortunately, it was all bullshit. At the very end of his essay, Smith discloses that “the story of my friend is fictional.”

There’s your literary obnoxiousness. Invent a tear-jerking story, the tragic death of a “friend,” just to make a political point.

And what a sad, bankrupt point it is. You probably see it coming: the well-meaning “Mom” killing her son with kindness is our state government, larding Vermonters’ plates with all kinds of goodies they just can’t resist. The people of Vermont, “a strong and vibrant” folk, are being sapped of their vitality, their precious bodily fluids tainted by the foreign substance of commie-pinko government programs. (h/t to General Jack Ripper)

I am concerned that our elected officials in Montpelier have overfed us for years, and the consequences are now showing up in the state’s annual budgets. Like my friend, we may have enjoyed the feast, but are now finding it difficult to reduce our consumption.

Smith tries to disguise this turd by slathering it with frosting and calling it a cupcake; he says our leaders are well-intentioned in their desire to minimize our discomfort. But their prescription is a mere pain-killer, not a cure, and it merely postpones the day of reckoning.

Dr. Smith has a better way. Cut spending, cut taxes, and businesses will flourish, creating jobs and prosperity for all, and generating “additional tax revenue to the state.”

Oh hey, look: it’s the Laffer Curve!

Good grief. This is the payoff? We waded through the tragic death of his imaginary fat friend to get to this tired nonsense?

Okay, fine. But beyond the intellectual bankruptcy, there’s another problem: In many ways, Win Smith is himself the fat friend. The Sugarbush ski resort has availed itself of public assistance at every opportunity. Yes, our advocate of abstemiousness has drunk deeply from the poisoned chalice. How shall I count the ways?

— Sugarbush would almost certainly not exist if it didn’t enjoy a long-term lease to occupy and develop its site in the Green Mountain National Forest. I don’t know the terms of its lease, but given the Forest Service’s track record, I bet it’s a business-friendly deal with lax oversight.

— Because all of “its” land is federal, Sugarbush is not one of the seven ski resorts taking advantage of long-term, cut-rate leases with the state. But I’ll bet Messrs. Smith and Greshin were staunch opponents of reopening those leases, even though those sweet deals must surely be transforming their fellow muscular entrepreneurs into slackjawed couch potatoes. Right? Just like Win Smith’s invisible friend.

— Sugarbush benefits from a state tax exemption on snowmaking equipment and other assets. I eagerly await Mr. Smith’s announcement that he is voluntarily foregoing that greasy nugget for the sake of his financial and moral fitness.

— Last but not least, Smith’s PR machine recently bragged of its investment in energy-efficient snowmaking machines. It somehow failed to mention that those purchases were underwritten by Efficiency Vermont, a quasi-public nonprofit whose funding is governed by the Vermont Public Service Board.

I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list. The federal and state tax and regulatory structures are rife with benefits and breaks for people like Win Smith, who imagine themselves as bold pioneers, vibrantly and independently creating prosperity for us all.

In the mind of Win Smith, there are two very different kinds of government largesse. The “good” kind goes to the wealthy, the “job creators,” is a necessary stimulant. It enables businesspeople and investors to transmogrify their raw entrepreneurial energy into real, tangible enterprise. This kind of government support feeds the machine, allowing it to build muscle and operate with vigor.

Then there’s the other kind, the government support that goes to us plebes. It enervates. It saps us of our will. It turns us into Momma’s boys, forever suckling at the public-sector teat.

Smith also imagines a stark difference in the productive quality of government funds. When it goes to the investor class, it produces real tangible growth that would not happen otherwise. When it goes to the rest of us, it just kinda vanishes pointlessly into thin air.

Which is nonsense. Food stamps, for example, are one of the best means of economic stimulation because they immediately go back into the economy. The Earned Income Tax Credit (originally a Republican alternative to welfare) puts money in the hands of people who spend it right away. That’s the real engine of job creation: the demand side of supply and demand.

Win Smith doesn’t see this because he doesn’t live in this world. His father was one of the founders of a major New York investment firm. Smith himself spent most of his adult years in the uncanny valley of Wall Street. His experience colors his world view, and blinds him to the illogic and heartlessness of his arguments. Just like his fellow born-on-third-base mogul Mitt “47%” Romney, he cannot understand how wrong he is.

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