By Pem Schaeffer.
Let’s start by saying “God bless Yogi Berra” for his short and snappy insights, his humanity and the great moments he provided the Yankees of my boyhood. Were it only possible, I’d love to see him debate our cultural and political illuminati. Can you imagine Yogi and Angus King sparring at a Bowdoin College panel discussion?
Allow me to offer this corollary to Yogi’s thesis: “The future ain’t what it ought to be.”
I’ve thought a lot about this in recent years, if only because of what I’ve seen in Brunswick. Two funeral homes have built major additions at the same time we’ve been shutting down elementary schools. Readers familiar with Maine’s demographic trends and growing entitlement culture would have trouble conjuring up a rosy outlook for our future. Unless you believe a declining population and growing dependence on government are the keys to a utopian (and “sustainable”) Maine. We have more than enough true believers who do.
The Future of Maine’s Land
A cause beloved of said true believers is Land for Maine’s Future (LMF), a process by which Maine taxpayers “invest” both state and local dollars in the purchase of private lands. This takes the land off the tax rolls and precludes future development. This favorite of our utopians is so righteous that to question it is mean-spirited and blasphemous to coercive environmental theology.
LMF stems from acute anxiety over unconstrained growth, or often, “sprawl.” Conservation and “smart growth” are the watchwords of this wing of the environmental lobby. Public ownership of the land is supposed to preserve it; many believe private ownership of property is inherently immoral to begin with. Whenever I hear LMF mentioned, my instinct is to ask just who we’re preserving this land for, and when will they get to use it?
Curiously, we don’t hear much about sprawl these days. Growth in Maine of any sort, other than growing old, is almost non-existent and of little concern. Furthermore, given Maine’s large area and small population, we have plenty of land; it’s enough to make most states jealous. We’re 38th in population density—less than half the U.S. average. In the midst of other weighty challenges, “preserving” land hardly seems an urgent priority.
Land is, obviously, a fixed entity. So fret not; we’ve got the same amount of land we’ve had for a long, long time, and unless something bizarre happens, we’ll continue to have the same amount for the foreseeable future. Unlike people, land doesn’t grow old and die; it doesn’t leave the state looking for a better or more interesting future; and it doesn’t create families, offspring and successors.
But hold on, you say; LMF is about the future of the trees and the forests! That’s hard to swallow when, by all accounts, Maine has more acreage in trees and forests now than ever before. And besides, the future is not a concept known to trees. I can’t picture Harry Hemlock looking over at Sammy Spruce and asking, “So Sammy, have you saved enough for retirement? And what about your seedlings? Are they going to build a life in Maine, or are they looking to establish roots elsewhere?”
Maybe that’s why I hear my inner Andy Rooney referring to LMF as “dirt for Maine’s future.”
Development Barbarians at The Gate
The future, I’m confident, is a wholly human conception. And so is the ballyhoo over Land for Maine’s Future. The most ardent advocates are outraged over that four-level freeway interchange up to Dover-Foxcroft. And they’re apoplectic about the third expansion in just 20 years at the Garland International Airport, to say nothing of the numerous planned communities springing up in the northern reaches of the state.
You know the ones, built using practices common to the southwest, where hilltops are leveled and homes of grand scale are built by the thousands, seemingly all at once. Associated super-malls and six-lane surface arterials are built at the same time. Local alarmists see Maine as a target ripe for Scottsdale or Southern California-style mega-developments, built to supply the demands of the hordes storming our pristine state, while filling the pockets of greedy corporations with obscene profits.
I worry about Maine taking on characteristics of the southwest too. Think Death Valley and the Petrified Forest; think ghost towns in a figurative, if not literal, desert. I picture an oasis like Las Vegas, created by MOMMA, where elaborate high-rise, assisted-living facilities and nursing homes feature on-premise casinos. Glittering full-service last resorts with names like Thanatos, The Innumerable Caravan and Just Desserts.
No need to contemplate the odds at these destinations; the house always wins, so gambling laws don’t come into play. One of the resorts looks just like the one-time Maine State Capitol. When our government went bankrupt, they had no choice but to sell out to the MOMMA cartel.
What is MOMMA? It’s the Maine Organic Mausoleums and Mortuaries Association. MOMMA has figured out the only way to prosper in Maine is to go with the flow and make dying in place and giving up one’s life savings as convenient as possible. From dust we came, and to dust we shall return. Generating a little “natural” fertilizer in the process adds a certain poetic symmetry to the sustainable, organic Maine shtick.
MOMMA is hoping to grow by adding an archaeology tourism spin-off, where earnest academics come to dig up the ruins of 21st century Maine, looking for fossils of latter day dinosaurs and their bizarre monuments to the Goddess Mariah.
Absurdity Is In The Eye of the Beholder
Maybe you think I’m being absurd. Chalk it up as an occupational hazard when you follow Maine’s political discourse. When in Rome, etc.—you know how it goes.
What’s really absurd is this: spending scarce economic capital on land, which we have more of than we could possibly ever use, while ignoring human capital, which we are bleeding off at dreadful rates. And it’s absurd to allow the American Dream of our Founding Fathers to be displaced by the progressive welfare dream of modern-day collectivists.
They and their enablers have erected a dam on Maine’s River of Life, constructed of policies, regulations and the destructive cultural-political ideology of our prevailing social engineers. Besides the vast non-profit industrial complex, there are the retired Ivy elites and diplomats; One Worlders; back-to-the-dirt-ers; the environmental priesthood; and the common-gooders. Their dam lures our most promising human capital to ride the rapids downriver to more desirable futures, all so they can plant their family trees on more fertile ground. The same dam blocks entrepreneurs and business owners from swimming up river and settling along its shores.
What About People for Maine’s Future?
Truthfully, if you’re worried about Maine’s Future—and you should be—then it’s time to declare that our number-one concern, far and away, is not land, but people, distasteful as that may be to many enlightened among us. As Mark Steyn said in “America Alone:”
“There is no precedent in human history for economic growth on declining human capital—and that’s before anyone invented unsustainable welfare systems.”
We desperately need “People for Maine’s Future” and, just as badly, “A Future for Maine’s People.” Because unlike land, people do age and die; they do move elsewhere for a more desirable future; and when they do, they take their families with them, often leaving heartbroken parents and grandparents behind.
People (human capital) are the most important component of and stimulus for a desirable and dynamic future. But unlike our land, the supply of our people is not fixed. Adults age and pass on; children grow up and move on. Maine is in a demographic winter, having the oldest population in the nation and a fertility rate well below replacement levels. Lack of opportunity yields negligible in-migration, especially when you take financially secure retirees out of the mix.
How many established Maine families can say their children and grandchildren have stayed here where they grew up or are committed to doing so? Without their family creation, Maine’s demographic and population outlook can only worsen. Worries about growth have no merit and are much ado about nothing.
Unless we do something to turn this around, a credible and vibrant future for Maine is simply not possible. Government purchase of private lands is the last thing we need to worry about.
Instead, we need to attract, raise and retain people if Maine is to have a future, and we need to offer abundant opportunity that keeps them here, prospering and raising our next generations. We need population vitality.
Quality of Opportunity vs. Quality of Place
Quality of place? What does that mean—good dirt, rocks, trees, lakes and buildings? Sounds like something ghost towns could be rich in. I think it’s an advertising bromide cooked up by consultants, non-profits and politicians to distract us from the reality they refuse to face.
How about Quality of Opportunity? Quality of Expectations? Quality of Future? How about tearing down that dam across the River of Life so those who want to swim upriver and spawn in Maine can do so? How about making it possible for entrepreneurs to paddle upriver with their ideas and find fertile ground for settling and building their American Dreams? And in the process, provide plentiful opportunity for our progeny?
How about deciding that the time to build Maine’s future is now, before it’s too late, and the only thing left here is land?
It’s time to recognize that programs like “Land for Maine’s Future” play to unwarranted and outdated fears. It’s time to put the focus where it belongs: on “People for Maine’s Future, and A Future for Maine’s People!”
Whadda ya say, Yogi? Should we listen to the comfy elites and just “fuhgeddaboudit,” or can we take the big swing and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?
Can we make the Future What It Ought To Be? Can we breathe new life into the American Dream for Maine, or should we just stand by and watch the entrenched ruling class and entitlement pathologies send us all back to the dust from which we came?
Speak to us, Yogi. Speak to us.