to Vote Versus Right to Greed
Presentation to the Martha's Vineyard Commission
By Sam Low
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.
often think of democracy and capitalism as going hand in hand.
But in reality, they're almost constantly at war.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
at stake here is nothing more - or less - than our fragile island
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.