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Vermont’s Ban on Billboards Good for Business, and People

Michael Lipsky

It’s a pleasure to drive the roads of Vermont.  This mountainous state, which still enjoys a strong agricultural sector, outlaws billboards.  So do Alaska, Hawaii, and Maine.  Drive into neighboring New Hampshire to experience the difference. 

When the anti-billboard law was under consideration in 1968 advertisers and property owners who made money from billboards objected to the proposed ban on roadside advertising. But they have been won over by broad recognition that Vermonters live in a more attractive environment, and by recognition that the law is good for business. 

It’s good for business because the greatly improved ambiance of the Vermont experience attracts tourists, who spend money in the state and who still manage to find B&B’s, motels and restaurants without the clutter of advertising that spoils so many American roads and highways. 

The Vermont billboard experience is a simple lesson in the role of regulation in a prosperous economy.   The public good is secured in the form of an enhanced environment. Since they all operate under the same restrictions, businesses discover that they are not disabled by the law, and find other ways to compete. Sensible exceptions are allowed. And, to be sure, a relatively small number of people and enterprises are worse off as a result of the new restrictions. 

In a more complicated way we could tell essentially the same story about the country’s efforts in environmental protection, securing safer food and drugs, and protecting significant natural and historic sites. That’s something to think about when you next drive through the countryside.  Or when political figures tell you that they place a high priority on minimizing regulation.