The following article was originally published by Pat Slattery at The Free Market Project on October 14, 2011.
Telluride: A progressive success story, brought to the people by wealth creation
I was in Telluride, CO at the beginning of the week. T-ride is one of my favorite places to be. It is breathtakingly gorgeous. It’s still a small town, where you can walk from one end to the other, and once you’re there, you just park your car and walk wherever you’re going. The aspens were turning and some snow had fallen, so the mountainsides were ablaze in color.
The people who I was visiting were telling me about the great policies of Telluride. How wonderful the schools are. How the city supports clean energy and environmentalism. In their terms, it is a wonderfully progressive place. And, you know what? It is. And it is paradise as far as I can tell.
Here’s the thing I endeavored to make clear to them, however: Telluride has the MONEY to do all of the progressive things it does because there is an enormous amount of money there. A house that in a normal place would be barely over $100,000 sells for several million in Telluride. Condos that in a normal place would be rental apartments charging around $1,000 per month sell, individually, for $500,000 and up into the millions. Up on the side of the ski mountain there is a sub-division called Mountain Village that is made up of high end condos, but is mostly beautiful log homes owned by people like Oprah Winfrey. They sell for millions. I can not even imagine the amount of property taxes collected in Telluride. The town I live in is much larger and there is no way the property tax revenue even comes close. Add to that the city tax paid by tourists (the non-tourist population of T-ride is small)… That little town is extraordinarily rich, because extraordinarily rich and successful people go there and spend huge amounts of their money on homes, lodging, and on whatever the local merchants are selling.
Progressives can have their way there and do great things with all of that money. There’s more than enough to have public schools that rival private schools for quality of education. There’s more than enough to spend on conservation, and on green energy. The locals, who have the only votes, can easily shake down businesses who come into town for whatever they want. For example, when the company that developed the ski area wanted to create the Mountain Village subdivision, the town allowed it on the condition that they build a world-class gondola from town to the top of the mountain and down to Mountain Village and that it remain free in perpetuity. This worked out for everyone because the ski development company needed something to connect the new village with the Telluride experience anyway. The town also provides a free bus service.
My friends think this is all wonderful. It’s how the world should be. But their thinking begins with the free stuff and the wonderful education and the conservation. I pointed out that they are right. Those things are wonderful. But their thinking about achieving that forward looking paradise has to begin with the huge amount of money that very rich people bring to town. The success of the town is not because of the progressive programs. The programs are possible because of the success of the individuals who bought the property, pay the taxes, and spend their money skiing, mountain biking, hiking, dining out, buying art, buying equipment, etc.
Where liberals go wrong is classical putting the cart before the horse. The horse is wealth creation. The cart is the programs and niceties that can be paid for when a ton of wealth has been created and brought into a place. The liberals want all of the wonderful stuff that wealth can buy, but they miss the fact that wealth has to be created first. When you try to do it the other way around, you have poverty and have to end your wonderful programs, and the whole thing collapses.