Sam Low homepage Contact Sam Library Biography Gallery Screening Room Forbears Notebook
OB gazebo
Library - Martha's Vineyard

Right to Vote Versus Right to Greed

Oral Presentation to the Martha's Vineyard Commission
By Sam Low

I have attended the recent round of Martha's Vineyard Commission meetings concerning the Down Island Golf course. I have listened to all the arguments. Many argue for turning down the proposal. There are issues of our limited water supply, of pollution to our ponds, of damage to our avian visitors and other wild life. But underlying all these, I believe, is a fundamental issue of preserving our fragile island democracy from the excesses of a powerful countervailing force that would destroy it - the unfettered exercise of free market capitalism.

We often think of democracy and capitalism as going hand in hand. But in reality, they're almost constantly at war.

Democracy is the way we allocate our political power - one person, one vote. It expresses our equality before the law no matter how rich or poor we may be. Capitalism is our way of allocating economic resources - it expresses our individual right to unlimited gain through hard work - though hard work has been shown recently to be less efficient than fraud.

Both these American institutions are based on a belief in individual rights - to self-government and to private property. But a long time ago, it became apparent that unchecked capitalism contained a powerful seed of destruction for democratic institutions because it unleashed the potent force of human self-interest and greed. At the turn of the last century, for example, the Robber Barons accumulated so much wealth they were able to terrorize workers and force them into servitude. Our Grandparents elected representatives who enacted laws supporting unions and taxing great wealth. Our right to vote provided a check on our right to be greedy.

This struggle between democratic and capitalistic principles continues in today's Dot.Com Post-Enron era. The emergence of the so-called New Elite - seeming clones of the Robber Barons of yesteryear - threatens our basic urge toward equality by their unfettered exercise of greed and conspicuous display. Once again, we rely on our elected representatives in Washington to set things right.

On the Vineyard, this struggle plays itself out in forms familiar to us all - the building of mansions on ancient moors, for example, and the construction of golf courses for the privileged few. Here, however, our elders have instituted a powerful check on that exercise of unfettered economic power - the Martha Vineyard Commission.

A majority of those we recently elected to the Commission were known to us as protectors of our environment - conservative folks who thought of the land first and of individual rights to self-promotion second. These newly elected commissioners - and those already on the Commission with similar views - have been called biased by folks in our community who see the free exercise of capitalism as a paramount right.

The claim of bias is true. Our MVC representatives are biased toward the democratic principle of one-person one vote, toward the community, toward the preservation of the ancient moors and ponds of this island. But we elected them to be biased in that manner. The commissioners represents us. They are our first line of defense against the unfettered exercise of human greed and self-interest.

What's at stake here is nothing more - or less - than our fragile island democracy.

On Thursday, the hearings were closed - to the relief of many in the audience and, I'm sure, to the relief of all the commissioners. Now, they must make their final judgement on this third proposal before them from the same development team. This decision is being made under trying conditions - blandishments approaching open bribery, threats of legal reprisal, general confusion regarding what will happen if the proposal is turned down - 360 units of housing, or 95, or perhaps conservation? Operating on a murkier level, some commissioners have been smeared with suggestions of racial bias or, ironically, with elitism, while others have been threatened in the usual way of such things - by innuendo and gossip. In the midst of all this, our elected representatives have managed to continue to meet, often many nights in a week - to study this proposal and many others before them - to do their work openly and forthrightly and with diligence. All of us who live on this island, whether we agree with their decisions or not - owe them a deep debt of gratitude. I am glad that I do not have their job. And, in the end, I will agree with whatever their decision may be for I am convinced that they have the best interests of our fragile island democracy in their hearts.


Sam home | Biography | Library | Gallery | Screening Room | Forbears | Notebook | Contact Sam

Site, text, and images Copyright © 2002 Sam Low. All rights reserved. Any or all content may not be used without Sam's permission.