I’m writing this on Groundhogs Day, February 2. Ramona and I are seven miles east of Ashton, Idaho near the Yellowstone Park border. YNP is an excellent place to explore parables of environmental stewardship so FREE’s work naturally features Yellowstone. Our July 15-19 conference, “Harmonizing Ecology, Prosperity, and Liberty”, will include a day in Yellowstone with Bob Barbee, a former (and famous) Park Superintendent.
If you combine Ashton’s population with its elevation, the sum approaches 7,000. It’s in a beautiful setting just west of the Grand Tetons and across the Teton Pass from Jackson, Wyoming. It’s a perfect place for me to write about FREE’s programs and my book plans. It’s also a great place to contemplate America’s changes and challenges. Ashton, like so many small towns faces both.
Superficially, the Ashton area appears stable. Underneath, as throughout America, it isn’t. Here’s a revealing sign; some Ag machinery, such as $500,000 grain combines for example, is guided by GPS systems.
Who can one trust to operate such expensive equipment? Surely not traditional farm labor. What is the lower 47% of America to do for meaningful, satisfying employment? No large advanced nation has found an answer. However the February 2 issue of The Economist has a "leader" and a 14 page special report on the partial success of the Nordic countries in dealing with the problem of finding productive work for all in a dynamic, competitive world economy.
The Nordic nations brightest experiments are in education and health care. Universal school vouchers are the norm and independent firms compete for health care delivery. Even in these small Nordic nations immigrants from Middle Eastern countries impose vastly higher burdens on welfare and criminal justice systems. Far fewer work and far more are in prison. There as here, culture matters a great deal.
I’ll have plenty of time to think about these matters and write. We are visiting Ramona’s mother to celebrate her 93rd birthday and staying with Ramona's brother’s family in a comfortable farmhouse. Her brother Don, an architect by education, farms this land today. Her grandfather, Max Marotz, homesteaded surrounding land in the early 1900s. We are in the midst of family history and in an excellent place to contemplate change.
We’ll be here a few days with no Internet, and we won’t be seduced by skiing. There used to be a community ski area, Bear Gulch, 10 minutes from the Marotz home place. It was located on a U. S. Forest Service special use permit. Smokey’s helpers in the U. S. Forest Service burned the ski lodge some 35 years ago.
At that time the fashion among federal land management agencies was to purge public lands of human, especially private, intrusions. America might have lost Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Lodge under the Park Service’s “Mission ‘66” planning document. Fortunately, good sense in the Department of Interior's Park Service and public support saved it.
This was the period when the Forest Service destroyed most of its backcountry cabins. They were built for forest rangers packing in with horses. Some of the remaining cabins are rented to back country enthusiasts. Can we find something other than luck to save such historic treasures from federal fads--or probable budget cuts dictated by the crush of demography and entitlements?
Fortunately we have the model, the New Resource Economics (NRE). A few renegade political economists initially developed it at Montana State University in the 1970s and 80s and the NRE has since become the dominant analytic paradigm. It's now hard to find a policy analyst younger than 60 who defends the Progressive Era model of top down management of natural resources.
Analysts now focus on positive roles of incentives and entrepreneurship, both social and environmental. The predictable consequences of political allocations and bureaucratic pathologies are now assumed to be lurking dangers. The Park Service has earned good marks as it adopted new science and delivered new services. What parables may we find there, what parables applicable elsewhere? FREE's programs explore such questions.
In mid-April FREE is sponsoring a program at the annual meeting of the Association for Private Enterprise Education, “Mapping the DNA of the New Resource Economics: A Victory Celebration”.
The New Resource Economics (NRE) combines several strains of economics, namely public choice, institutional, and Austrian. It addresses contentious issues of natural resources and the environment. Our goal is to show how to combine environmental conservation with economic progress. We show why this is best achieved through property rights and entrepreneurship, not bureaucratic command and control management.
In 2007 FREE initiated a program in environmental stewardship for seminary professors and other religious leaders. These summer seminars are grounded in the NRE and based on FREE’s 20 years of successful programs for federal judges.
FREE helps religious leaders approach environmental policy with confidence. These leaders are influential nodes in a network of congregations and across denominations and religions. They provide conduits to disseminate market-based environmental ideas, potentially to millions of Americans.
We explain how basic economic principles can help achieve green goals with minimum sacrifice to social welfare. Together we will explore how America’s founding ideals, secure property rights, and responsible prosperity, can also foster a healthy environment and promote social justice.
This summer we are offering two programs designed for religious leaders. (Yes, we always welcome federal judges.) Both programs will feature environmental economics, broadly conceived, with careful attention to ethical dimensions.
July15-19 we are offering “A Stewardship Challenge: Harmonizing Ecology, Prosperity and Liberty”. This offering includes a field trip to Yellowstone Park with a highly respected Park superintendent and a wolf ecologist.
Our August 19-23 program is "Boom and Bust in America: Parables from Butte, America". With a field trip to Butte and presentations about the Bakken we will explore social, social, economic, and ethical aspects of boom and bust economics and their implications throughout America.
I invite you to check these programs out on FREE's website. If you are an eligible candidate, you are welcome to apply for a scholarship--and share our offerings with others who would contribute to this summer's work. Please remember Steinbeck’s observation; Montana would be heaven if it only had an ocean--especially in the summer and autumn.