McClaughry: Estonia a model for Vermont?

by John McClaughry

Thirty years ago I spent four days in the small Baltic nation of Estonia, attending a liberty conference. In the Soviet era (1940-1991) communist apparatchiks appointed in Moscow ruled the three Baltic countries as sham Soviet “republics”. The enterprising Estonians were shackled, and by 1946 more than one-quarter of the population had been deported to a Siberian Gulag, or executed, or had fled the country.

But as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Estonia’s  “Singing Revolution” , where hundreds of thousands came together in defiance of their overlords to sing forbidden patriotic songs, had pried it loose from Soviet control, sent its communist overlords home to Russia, welcomed its expatriates, recreated its democratic parliament, and restored its independence. The idea of hosting foreign guests at an International “liberty conference” was a very popular one.

Two things made a lasting impression on me. One was their determination to rejoin the European economy. Since the Estonian language is understood nowhere else except possibly Finland, the Estonians launched a national campaign to make its people fluent in a world trading language – English. For most educated Estonians, this was their fourth language after Estonian, Finnish (related, and heard on Helsinki television), and the official Russian,

John McClaughry

The other impression was the pervasive spirit of freedom and independence that appeared everywhere. At last we are free! We can learn, create, build, trade, and make our country a prosperous democratic republic!

Andy Kessler of the Wall Street Journal recently visited Estonia’s capital Tallinn to see what the people of this small country have achieved in those thirty years of independence and freedom. For comparison, Estonia has twice the population and 1.8 times the land area of Vermont; Tallinn is at the latitude of Labrador, Canada.

Now, reports Kessler, ninety-nine percent of Estonia’s government services are digital, with more and more relying on Artificial Intelligence. That puts it No. 1, according to the United Nations. President Kaja Kallas says that her government uses these digital tools to decrease bureaucracy. “That’s how to create small government. It’s cheaper and our debt is much lower as well.” Though it’s rising, Estonia still has the lowest ratio of government debt to gross domestic product in the EU, which it joined in 2004.

Estonia is also first in democratic development among 29 postcommunist countries, according to Freedom House; first in international tax competitiveness, according to the Tax Foundation (the U.S. is 22nd); and sixth in the 2023 Index of Economic Freedom, according to the Heritage Foundation (the U.S. is 25th).

It has the most startup businesses per capita in Europe, and its 15-year-olds top the Continent in reading, science and mathematics. Its Gross Domestic Product jumped by eight percent in 2021 and its top personal income tax rate of 22% puts it 26th of the 27 EU countries. Estonia has no corporate income tax.

President Kallas says “to attract investments, investors must trust your economy. Under the Soviets, we normalized corruption. When we restored our independence and freedom, suddenly it required a whole new mind-set from all people—it was not OK to steal from the state.”

She added, “We don’t have a lot of people or natural resources. We have our minds and brains. So we actually have to focus on our education system. It focuses on the STEM subjects. All first-graders are taught coding. Estonian kindergartners use robots from a program called ProgeTiger. We are a small country, which means that you have to learn all the other languages. And coding is one of the languages you learn.”

She added a thought that few American public schools would grasp: “We also teach entrepreneurship in schools.” In high school they do role-playing, with bankers and loans and investment and government. Ms. Kallas says she is proud that Estonia “is very high on the list of youth entrepreneurship,” and that her country has the most unicorns per capita— startups worth over $1 billion in manufacturing and information technology services.

Kessler writes that despite some unavoidable problems, like living next door to a truculent Russia, in Estonia “the Reagan playbook is working…[Its political leadership] is working to increase everyone’s equity value. Purchasing power is up 400% since Estonia regained independence”, [thanks to] “Free trade, low taxes, small government, e-services, educated workers, low debt and negligible corruption.”

Today, thirty years after my visit, I am thrilled at what the freedom-loving Estonians have achieved by using their brains, seizing their opportunities, working hard to succeed, keeping government in check, limiting tax burdens, and creating prosperity for generations to come.

I wish I could be more sanguine about how today’s Vermonters , with their acceptance of ever growing, ever more centralized, and ever more powerful government , will create prosperity for their children.

The author, a Kirby resident, is founder and vice-president of the Ethan Allen Institute. To read all EAI news and commentary, go to

Categories: Commentary

10 replies »

  1. While I agree that Vermont is in dire need of change, the last thing we need to do is go entirely digital. Vermont’s IT systems are horribly run. Just look at what they did for the healthcare system and how much that was overrun by. Look at how many times they have disclosed information to hackers. Have you tried to renew your driver’s license and seen how horrible that website is? Do you know anyone that works for the state that will tell you how badly run their IT system is?

    The last thing Vermont needs is more control from the Vermont government. It absolutely needs to relinquish control that it has and make itself smaller.

    Do you think that there is any coincidence that the government and healthcare systems locked us in our homes unnecessarily for a few months, coupled with the fact that the two largest employers in the state of Vermont are the VT government and the largest healthcare system?

    The thing about information technology is that the larger it is the more control you have from a central point, which in essence is communism.

    Open your eyes man!!

  2. Also America is a constitutional republic, not a democratic republic. There is a big difference, and I suggest the author takes the time to read it.

      • Please don’t ever make me read a reddit thread from the Liberals reddit on definitions of anything, they have changed the definition of everything (including trying to make the word democracy into a synonym for Republic which it is not). Can you define a woman? Racism? And certainly don’t consider it to be authoritative in any ways.

        Here is a much more thought out and better explanation than I will articulate in a post on VDC:

        Here even in left leaning NRP they concede that we are both a democracy and a republic however republic is more specific and in my opinion and the opinion of the Heritage foundation the subtle difference is what makes America important and distinctly better than other forms of government.

        I’ll leave you with the quote from the Heritage Foundation that sums it up nicely in my opinion (with the important distinction that the article was referring to the country not to the state):

        “Ancient democracies like Athens, what Madison calls “pure” democracies, could engage in this kind of behavior because they guaranteed in principle the right of each citizen to exercise directly the powers of government. As Madison states, “in a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, will be confined to a small spot.”
        For an account of this assembly, see Book 6, chaps. 7 through 26 in The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to The Peloponnesian War, edited by Robert B. Strassler with an introduction by Victor Davis Hanson (New York: Free Press, 1996).”

    • I believe what you are both reaching for is a republic versus a democracy.

      • Yes but one that is based upon a constitution not one that is based upon public opinion at the time.

  3. Wow! This takes the cake for retarded boomer opinion. John you need a hobby, pull your grandkids away from the ipad for a second and teach them to fly a kite or something. Get off the internet, age with grace, and spare us your hubris.

  4. Mr. Sprick,
    There is no need to behave in such a manner just because you disagree with someone’s opinion. Learn a better vocabulary and a more eloquent way to speak your mind. You will gain more points in arguments and possibly persuade someone to change their mind. Isn’t that the goal of conversation or dialog? Using your rhetoric just makes you look like a bully. I think you would like to be useful, most people do, so I am suggesting an alternate path for your comments. It is of course, your free choice to disregard or not.
    Pam Baker

  5. The problem is being an active member of the United Nations is being in a covenant of witches and warlocks. Soon, many will be waking up to that fact. The evil satanic globalist organizations are all coming down – declared and decreed!

    • See Pam Bakers comment. Good advice for anyone, especially you, Melissa.