By Evelyn Pyburn

The official status of COVID in Montana, as of last weekend was 7,063 confirmed cases and deaths hit 100 with 242,875 people having been tested. That means that of those people who have tested positive with the disease 98.6 percent have survived, but what is the survival rate of all the people who have actually contracted the disease?

The number of cases is, without doubt, much higher – maybe very much higher – even though not much is being said about it anywhere.

Given the pressures that are being brought to bear on citizens, assessments of their likely reactions should probably consider the nature of those citizens – ie. the nature of human beings. One must realize that just as much as human beings would want to avoid the negative impacts of getting the virus, so they would want to avoid the adverse impacts of “the long arm of the law.”

And, as much as the media and political blitz has served to obscure the fact that most people survive the illness, most people see beyond the programming and know that the disease is not a death sentence for most – so to become ill, if they are not in a high risk group, does not send them into a panic. And, because they do not want to deal with the county health department or be the cause of hardships for their fellow workers, friends and family, they do not get tested.

As one said, “Who wants to be responsible for putting their employer out of business? Who wants to lose their job or be responsible for putting their friends out of work?”

People with greater income security or who are unware that actions have consequences, will probably react differently, but necessity will force a more pragmatic reaction from the other half of the world, so common sense says there are more people than those being counted who have had the virus. At least one case for each official case, and the ratio is undoubtedly greater than that.

One must believe that “officialdom” knows that this is going on but say nothing about it, although County Health Officer John Felton, at one press conference, hinted that the process of contact tracing is made difficult because people do not answer the phone when they see that it is the County Health Department calling.

This too is an example of typical and natural human behavior, especially for human beings who are used to the idea that they have the right to live life on their own terms.

But that can be changed, the bureaucrats, health experts and officialdom have been heard to strategize. It’s just a matter of getting people used to it and they will eventually acquiesce, especially the young ones.

That there is resistance to the Governor’s edicts shouldn’t be surprising, but apparently the Governor himself is surprised. Whether true or not I am unsure, but I was told by one individual who was in a meeting with the Governor, that the Governor expressed surprise, saying, “It seems like there are people who are refusing to wear masks simply because I told them to.”

If he is truly surprised, then one has to conclude that his bubble has left his arrogance intact and his understanding of “commoners” exists not at all.

Whether it’s avoiding contracting a disease or having to deal with government bureaucrats, most people do what is in their best interests to do, that is why coercion was never necessary and persuasion would have worked better – but persuasion requires respecting “commoners.” That our leaders had no interest in that approach says all that needs to be said.

By Evelyn Pyburn

Over the years as a reporter and learning about economics, early on I became alarmed at the rate and intrusiveness of regulations. As I came to understand the depth and breadth of regulations on business, I failed to understand, not only the acceptance of them but the often enthusiastic embracing of them, by business people, and especially by most of the organizations that represent businesses.

When asked about their biggest concerns, business people would most often, and still do, lament the impact of taxes. While understanding the obvious negativity of taxes draining away investment resources for businesses, in talking to some of the business people, I would argue that the greater threat for business in the US was the escalation of regulations, and not because of their cost — which is no small matter— but because I could so clearly see the end game of the amassing of such power. The cost of compliance in terms of dollars and cents is nothing compared to the irreplaceable value of our freedom.

I am sure that others could see it too, but so for granted did they take their freedom that they found such a day as this, incomprehensible.

Now with the emergence of a persuasive pretext in the form of COVID-19, business people are discovering the degree to which they have relinquished power to the government over their freedom to do business. So, with the ramifications becoming so obvious, while it has taken some 50 years, I can say, “I told you so.” It gives no satisfaction being able to do so.

I came to understand that most of the enthusiasm businesses often had for regulations was what they saw as a convenient means to use the power of government to inhibit potential competition. Many businesses and industries actively undermined the free market, and were often the instigators of new regulations aimed at crippling upstart newcomers, who threatened to challenge them.

As obvious as are the regulatory powers that government is now using to control and throttle business activity, I was still somewhat surprised to hear that one businessman, facing the first round of shutdowns imposed by government, and being told the government would take away the license he needed to do business if he did not comply — he actually said, “So this is how we pay for the protection against competition that we have enjoyed.”

He is surely among a very few honest enough to admit so much, because always before their justification was that regulations were for the sole purpose of “public health and safety.” Their real strategy was never discussed publically and undoubtedly many didn’t even admit it to themselves. And, needless to say, government was always an eager and enthusiastic participant in making the unholy covenants.

The current reality of our economic situation is that government has great ability to control what business people can do, primarily because of a wealth of regulatory powers, any and all of which can be whipped out at any moment, to coerce compliance from innocent citizens and an ostensibly free people, whose only crime is trying to earn a living and manage a privately held enterprise. After all, the essence of a free market is the voluntary exchange of value for value among citizens. To prohibit that is to violate the individual freedom upon which this country is based.

In selling licenses and permits and having to gain permissions from boards and agencies – even a municipal business license — such a simple voluntary exchange has been inhibited, and so arbitrarily burdened, that any idea of being in a state of freedom is an illusion which COVID has suddenly unveiled for the police state that it has become. The regulatory bureaucracy that now prevails in our country effectively controls the daily life activities of both purveyors and consumers.

And, just as that one unique observant businessman so aptly stated, this is indeed the other side of the bargain for which they sold their free souls.

By Evelyn Pyburn

There is lot’s not being said about all that is happening.

Despite what is claimed, COVID-19 is a political issue. When political power is brought to bear on any issue it is political. It becomes political in that moment.

One must remember that politics is about the use of force. When people are forced to do something against their will it is either criminal or political, because that is the essence of politics – a debate about how to apply the legalized use of force. At its root that is all it’s about as to whether government should be able to mandate the wearing of masks, closing of businesses or prohibiting the peaceful assembly of groups. Are these laws an appropriate use of force by government against innocent citizens?

Because government is nothing more than an instrument of force and because the only moral use of force is in defense of oneself and of others, the only just use of force by government, in the US, was determined to be the protection of its citizens.  Whether it is against enemies from outside or within, or whether it is about a military attack at our borders or a thief stealing a bicycle from a neighbor’s yard, the primary purpose of our government is to protect us from that illegal and immoral force.

That is why the failure of governments in cities and states where rioting is allowed to rage unabated is such an atrocious thing to witness. These are government officials who are deliberately refusing to perform their primary and most fundamental duty — the protection of innocent citizens against the use of criminal violence. What purpose do peaceable and innocent citizens have of a government that cannot carry out that one and most profound charge?

How force is being used in our society right now is what many people find perplexing. It’s not about whether or not to wear a mask, it is whether the governor should be able to wield state power to force people to wear a mask, which gives cover to local, often unelected officials, to use such authority as a cudgel to intimidate, shame, and coerce citizens. As can be seen in many cities right now the inappropriate use of force is far worse than the threat of a virus. To challenge government’s use of force is important far beyond the realm of a temporary threat of a disease, if a peaceful, thriving and content society is the goal.

Even though there is no evidence of violence in our streets, the disquiet and anxiety in communities under the lockdowns being imposed by local governments, in the name of the coronavirus, is just as real as the more overt threats seen in Seattle or Portland or Chicago.  There is no sense of peace and security in communities where people worry about being accosted about what they wear, or where their every action must be measured in terms of judgment by others, and the uncertainties of the force of law that might be brought to bear.

While there may be arguments to justify health and safety precautions regarding the coronavirus, those arguments should be made rather than bearing down with the business end of government. It is a fact, that no matter the degree that they are convinced about the reasonableness of health measures, business owners and employees are acting, not out of that conversion, but out of fear and duress. As civic leaders attempt to bully innocent hard working citizens, they create a pall of anxiety and resentment across the community. 

It’s a fact, that business owners, their employees and customers are scared about the threats that are held over them. Such angst gnaws at the soul and psyche, and its imposition is cruel and ruthless. It is only slightly less onerous to its victims than facing the more direct and visible violence of rioters in the streets. In a different form it is violence and unconducive to a free, benevolent and peaceful society.

By Evelyn Pyburn

The one thing the coronavirus crisis has surely demonstrated is how many people have no understanding about the economy and no respect for the role it plays in our lives – no respect for those who make it work. We are very much reaping the disaster of generations of limited economic education and the consequences lay before us.

Let’s make clear that the economy is not the stock market, ledgers, accounting schedules or a bunch of data points. The economy is PEOPLE LIVING THEIR LIVES.

Shutting down the economy is to destroy people’s lives. We are not all going “to get through this, together,” no matter how often the mantra is repeated.

Economic losses at every level of business are about life and death conflicts, every bit as much as the risks of a virus. It is without doubt a terrible thing to have to choose courses of action between the two, but it is even more tragic if the importance of one side of the equation is trivialized and minimized. When that is happening, how good can decisions really be?

There is little balance in the analysis that is taking place. When business closures are presented as nothing more than “minimal inconveniences,” it seems rational to conclude that the spread of the virus is the worst possible outcome. The need to shut down the economy becomes very convincing, if one doesn’t look at the economic side of the equation too closely.

Oh no, our leadership really cares. Such will surely be the claim.

The tone of conversations, directives or other public comments show little evidence of that. The tone of political leaders and bureaucrats who are still restricting the operations of business, as well as citizens who want to continue the shutdown, reveals that a huge segment of our population truly believes that “milk comes from the grocery store.”

Pleas to convince the public to accept the business closures blatantly trivialize the importance of business.  They subtly chastise us about being resistant to their decisions. We are told we shouldn’t be reluctant to give up parties, dining out, having a drink with friends at pubs and bars, or missing a ball game.  That’s all they mention, as though that is all business closures is all about – as though that is the only consequence of what they are doing. Given the reality, though —of people watching years and years of building a business go down the drain, food items disappearing from grocery shelves, or struggling to provide the necessities for their families – such repeated chastising is an insult.

From the beginning of decrees to close businesses— while there were lots of numbers quoted regarding infections and deaths, masks, testing and ventilators, and projected impacts of the virus— there was not one number quoted regarding the closure of businesses. Not one.

There was not even a warning about how many people should be prepared to lose their jobs the very next day. It was as though this was a very benign decision and no one would lose their jobs. There seemed to be no awareness that billions of dollars were to be lost to the economic base of our communities – much less any numbers to estimate how much that could be.

There were no decision- makers saying that many local small businesses may never reopen again. Or that over a third of workers would be unemployed. One comment suggested that if “only” 40 percent of business failed, that would be an acceptable outcome. A loss easy to bear, when it’s not yours to bear.

Closing businesses is apparently only about foregoing a beer with friends. How could anyone object to shutting down the economy?

Alongside not spending an evening at the pub, decision-makers might have mentioned the young single mother who is a server at that pub, dependent upon tips at the pub to pay rent and to feed and clothe her children. They could have mentioned her, but they never have.

I heard one astonished man upon hearing the decrees declare, “Don’t they know that losing a month’s salary for some of these people will take years to make up?”

No they don’t. Either they don’t or they don’t care. They would mention it, if they thought it important.

Among the other data they might have compiled and spoke about, as part of the public pronouncements, was the mention that maybe a fourth of businesses will fail within the next couple of years as a consequence of the closures. They might have compared the number of virus deaths with the deaths that would surely result from economic declines, including the increase in suicides. They might have foreseen the potential of food shortages, had they understood that “economics” is all about life and survival. If only they knew that milk doesn’t just materialize on grocery store shelves.

But since they never had to know, and those more knowledgeable always took care of economic realities, the consequence of closing businesses seems a minor thing. It certainly doesn’t compare to the threat of disease, a disease from which 99 percent survive. In that ignorance, there seems no reason to weigh pros and cons.

Maybe one benefit of this economic destruction – of which most of the consequences are yet to befall us — will be a better understanding, that the economy is not some esoteric academic indulgence for an elite few, but that it is everyday common people living life and without which there is no life.

By Evelyn Pyburn

Did you know that one of the reasons for the shortage of the COVID-19 test kits was that, not only did the CDC, a large purchaser in the market, restrict their purchases to one company, but they eventually imposed a law on the private sector that basically made it illegal for any other companies to manufacture test kits?

Why a government agency would create such a monopoly advantage for one company can be left to the imagination, but it is an example of the kinds of rules and regulations that have weighed down the health care industry for decades and decades.

There has to be more than a little irony that when the government rushed in to take care of business in regard to the COVID-19 virus they found as primary stumbling blocks the same regulations they had forced upon the industry, and about which many people have long and vociferously complained for decades, as hobbling efficient production, and as being the primary reason for the extremely high cost of health care in the US.

If this alone — the removing of these regulations and focusing a light upon regulatory practices for their crippling impact on the industry and patients – if that should be the only benefit of this upheaval of American life and business, then it will have been well worthwhile.

One has to temper optimism with the realization that there are high-profile politicians (NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, for example) who, right now, are actually advocating that we should double down on top-down control by nationalizing private businesses ….as though there is any evidence that they have ever been able to outperform the private sector. Coercion and political clubs have never created a single marketable product or innovation.

One has to be puzzled about why any rational person would advocate practices that have been so thoroughly discredited as being a benefit to consumers.

All kinds of nonsensical regulations have been falling over the past few weeks as health care workers and other market providers had to be freed from government shackles in order to do their jobs.

For example, they had to remove regulations so that doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals could practice medicine across state lines. Government commonly restrains all kinds of industry segments with this kind of restraint. It is absurd regulation and cannot be justified as being for the prevailing good for consumers. It may empower government but it does not deliver inexpensive, convenient and quality medical care.

Or how about a regulation that dictated how doctors may contact their patients? One of the recently rescinded regulations is that The Department of Health and Human Services suspended a federal regulation that forbids doctors from using their personal phones to communicate with Medicare patients! In this day and age??

Said Pat Barkey, Montana’s premier economist at the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, “If doing this at a time of crisis is warranted what would be the harm of doing it all the time? Our economy is choked with senseless regulations that are mindlessly implemented and do us immense harm.”

When government steps in to tell the private sector how to do things, there is no end to the level of minutia they can reach. The regulations are routinely imposed to solve some problem with never a glance at the broader negative impacts.

So silly and trivial can be their tinkering, and so greatly do they exceed common sense, that one of the difficulties in persuading the uninformed that this is a problem, is that when you tell them some of the specifics, they believe you must be making it up or exaggerating.

Absurd regulation is of course not just a federal issue but it reaches down to local levels. In Montana, for example, some health care providers in order to get licensed must go to state bureaucrats and “show need” for their services. The fact that someone is willing to step into the market, invest money and go through all the regulatory hoops isn’t enough to convince government that entrepreneurs can see a need / opportunity. The whims of un-invested, detached and usually market naïve bureaucrats have final sway over the services, products and prices that are made available to Montana consumers. And, most outrageously, often times it is other bureaucrats, protecting their government funded agencies, who stand up (also at taxpayer expense) to object to the “competition.” They seem not to know that they are not the same as a business. They seem not to understand (or maybe they do) that if the private sector can outperform a government agency providing the same service, the logical process should be for government to bow out and save the taxpayers the expense of something that can be provided better in the private sector.

To “show need” was  at one time common as a regulatory demand in all states,  but most states have  abandoned it. Not so Montana, even though it has been brought forward repeatedly to the state legislature. It is such an absurd approach to advancing health care with its rapidly changing technology, new products and ideas for increasing and improving services, one has to be baffled at the motivation of anyone opposed to eliminating a costly and purposeless barrier.

We have to hope that this is a life lesson for the bureaucrats and politicians who are now struggling to combat the coronavirus.  Let’s hope that they are realizing what free market advocates have been saying since the founding of the country: government regulation hampers the ability of free people and civil society to innovate and solve problems, and to meet consumer demands at the lowest cost, most efficient and prudent means possible.

Let’s hope that this misfortune brings about more affordable health care!

By Evelyn Pyburn

Evelyn Pyburn
Evelyn Pyburn, Big Sky Business Journal

The coronavirus is a scary thing.

Not so much because of the threat of the disease but for the demonstration of how easily an entire population can be whipped into hysteria that far exceeds the reality of a threat.

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has called the panic “dumb.” And, it is.

It’s not that the coronavirus (CORVID-19) isn’t a serious issue that needs to be taken seriously but it isn’t a crisis that should make people terrified to come out of their houses.

We the people of this country deal with problems and issues of this magnitude — and in fact much greater magnitude — every day, folks!

Usually, we take for granted that we can deal with the problems. Perhaps we shouldn’t take so much for granted, but we do have a great track record and we should be far more confident than what the current panic would indicate.

Why is everyone freaking out?

For all the world it feels a great deal like political correctness gone amuck. Is it somehow cool to lose your cool? Leaders of businesses and organizations are making decisions and taking actions that seem more directed toward public perception than dealing with a real problem.

So far 39 people in the US have died of this virus. 39.

Of the thousands of people who come down with the regular flu every year, 57,000 people in this country die from it. And it’s not just the flu; a similar number die from tuberculosis each year. Why aren’t people hysterical about these health threats if it is health threats they are really concerned about? They could be in panic-mode every year.

Back in 1918 we had a real flu epidemic. A forerunner of COVID-19, the Spanish Flu, swept the planet killing between 20 million to 50 million people worldwide, including some 675,000 Americans. It happened during World War I and many US soldiers fighting on European battlefields were left wondering why they no longer heard from home, only to return home and discover all their family had died from the flu.

But that has not happened since because, we the people, have done many things to mitigate such threats. From greater education about why it happened, to better hygiene, better medicine, better technology and medical facilities and smarter and more talented medical professionals. We took care of things, and so we will this time.

The problem with the panic is that it is creating other problems—really serious problems that are causing far greater harm than the disease. The panic is putting large companies into bankruptcy which creates far more job casualties. Jobs lost mean lost income, lost health insurance, leaving families unable to meet other health care needs.

Small businesses too are being pushed out of business, destroying the livelihoods of many others, not to mention the destruction of life-long investments. Lower returns on savings destroy the capital for future businesses or the viability of retirement funds for thousands or millions of people.

As distribution lines close and manufacturers shut down, all kinds of parts and components and materials needed to produce other important life-sustaining, business sustaining, job sustaining products are not available.

The impact of panic is immense and long –term and will never be fully measured.

It all makes so little sense, once one considers all that we have going for us.

And, have you talked to a little kid lately? All the crazy so-called adults are scaring them to death. Little kids shouldn’t be scared in such ridiculous ways.

Perhaps there is one positive thing that might emerge from all the extreme caution and health care prevention. Maybe fewer people will get the regular flu and fewer than 57,000 people will die this year. That would be one  every big positive.

Science News reports that ice walls along the outer edge of coastal glaciers help protect inland ice from warm ocean currents.

The report says that “… while Antarctica’s coastal glaciers have experienced accelerating melt rates over the last few decades, the continent’s interior ice remains relatively stable.”

This stability isn’t well understood.

Using data collected by an array of instruments deployed along the coast of the Getz glacier in West Antarctica, scientists at the University of Gothenburg, in Sweden, were able to gain new insights into the influence of warm ocean currents on the continent’s ice shelves.

The research … showed the walls at the edge of ice shelves are surprisingly effective at protecting inland ice from warm water.

The Getz glacier has a floating section measuring several hundred feet thick. ..The end of this floating section features a vertical edge that plunges roughly 1,000 to 1,300 feet beneath the ocean surface… the new data showed most of the warm ocean currents are blocked by the vertical edge.

By Evelyn Pyburn

A few months ago, I encountered a news story about a recent court decision that was at once heartening and disheartening.

A federal judge ruled that children do not have a fundamental right to learn to read and write. A surprising ruling, given the state of our judicial system, but a wonderful ruling for freedom.

The ruling essentially addresses a claim that is also in the Montana Constitution – that everyone has a right to an education.

It’s an absurdity that this should be found in a document that ostensibly supports freedom, because government cannot promise something to one without obligating another – obligating them against their will – the antithesis of individual freedom.

Whether it is education, health care, food, housing, or a cell phone, to declare some “thing” as a “right” for some people is to immediately enslave others. Who is to be enslaved to provide the promised goods, by virtue of nothing more than the fact that they were born? Is there some group within our society that is undeserving of freedom, while another group, superior to them, is deserving of the unearned?

It is a lack of understanding about this issue that leads so many people down the road to socialism. With better understanding of what they are really asking for, they would know that freedom is not about free stuff, but about freedom of action, something that socialism sets out at the very beginning to quash.

A “right” is not a gift card. Rights, as set up in the Bill of Rights, are about being free to act. You don’t have a right to education, you have the right to try to obtain education. You don’t have a right to a job, you have a right to try to get a job, to earn a living, to earn the food and housing you need.

Rights are about being able to live as you choose. They are not without obligations. Your primary obligation is to negotiate and navigate through society in such a way as to gain what you need WITHOUT using FORCE against another person, as becomes necessary if one group is enslaved to provide for another.

(The only justifiable use of force is in self-defense, and that includes the purpose of the government of a free nation. And, this is a moral issue that is not suspended because government is conducting the theft on your behalf. For the government to force one group to provide free education to another, is just as immoral as a student mugging a businessman in a back alley.)

For individuals to function as they choose in a moral society, while most often means to act to earn the things you need, and to be free to barter and to make voluntary exchanges  . . . it also means being able to voluntarily help one another. To voluntarily donate to a cause that helps others, to form organizations that voluntarily provide support to those who need it, which would include supporting free education because they believe it to be vital to a strong economy and enjoyable society. They could also voluntarily fund research and exploration, and civic activities that improve society and advance civilization.

The disheartening thing about the report on this court decision is that it was immediately followed (in a not so objective way) by quotes from teachers denouncing it as outrageous.

“The message that it sends is that education is not important,” said the President of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

This person – involved with the education of our children – does not see that the decision is underscoring the importance of freedom. What this teacher fails to understand is that without an environment that assures freedom, no true education is remotely possible. You end up with exactly what we see happening in our colleges today – where students are without the intellect to ponder differing points of view. . . where the only way they can dispute ideas with which they disagree is to silence those who present them, and to insulate themselves from the adversity of new ideas or people who are different.

It is disheartening that we have teachers, who are teaching our children — not about the profound underpinnings of the Bill of Rights — but to demand the unearned and to advance an enslaved society.

The court case was, of course, not quite as clear cut as this. Fundamentally, this case was about the fact that government is collecting people’s taxes with the commitment to provide their children an education. The case was brought on behalf of students who failed to get an education. Parents claimed that government was obligated to provide it – a claim that in a sense cannot be denied given government’s excuse for the process of seizing taxes.

Government makes commitments all the time that it fails to keep, but it seldom causes anyone to rethink their expectations. These parents were not arguing that they wanted to change that. They were not demanding the freedom to pursue their own educational choices.

And, while this judge declared that the children do not have a right to expect government to provide an education, he said nothing about the fraud perpetrated upon the parents and students by a government that failed to live up to the commitment it made. At least in the private sector, purchasing the education they wanted, the parents would have had a case.

By Evelyn Pyburn

One of the greatest travesties of political correctness is the degree to which it cripples productive efforts in addressing serious problems.

It stands in the way of truly and honestly dealing with the very real problems afflicting various minorities, or in dealing with some medical, religious or cultural conflicts, as well as in dealing with political and economic problems.

It is a fact that a problem cannot be addressed until it is accurately identified – no matter where that leads. The survivability of human beings has always been our ability to rationally analyze a situation and identify what needs to be adjusted. The degree to which we fail in that endeavor is to diminish our success at survival. At what point did we begin to sabotage ourselves in that process?

The bullying of politically correct thought is intended to short circuit reality – of being able to accurately identify reality – of zeroing in on the crux of problems.

If the source of a societal, economic or political policy problem stems from something pre-determined as not SUPPOSED to be true, then observers, leaders, academics, politicians, bureaucrats, etc. bend themselves into pretzels trying to avoid seeing it. What that boils down to is that the problem is never addressed and those who suffer from it are condemned to go on suffering so others don’t have to endure the discomfort of disagreeing with those whose admiration they seek – or worse, so they can perpetuate a problem that gives them some kind of political clout.

One of the most immediate examples that comes to mind is the fact that homelessness, unaffordable housing and all the social and economic problems that stem from that, are primarily the result of over regulation. That’s an indisputable fact, challenged by almost no one, and yet it influences absolutely no local or state solutions attempting to “solve” homelessness or the problem of high-cost housing.

For decades and decades, with ever mounting fervor, centralized planners, building coders, municipal administrators, and utopian visionaries have imposed arbitrary and relatively unnecessary costs on development and construction that prohibit lower-cost processes and products, innovations and market alternatives in the realm of housing, unlike almost any other realm of endeavor in our country, except for perhaps education.

Seldom ever has anyone stood to reject the conclusions of the economic studiess – they just ignore them.

For the past 50 years, the observations of analysts   have been promptly relegated to the backwaters of public discussion, academia, politics, and media. Thr evidence does not support the prevailing wisdom that only government – not markets – are capable of shaping the housing market, so the evidence has to be rejected because it does not advance the politically preferred policy of growing bureaucracies and government control.

Besides the availability and cost of housing, over regulation also results in empty storefronts in downtowns across the country, which is most especially true in Billings. This has been a fact made clear to city council and other civic leaders over the past few years, with absolutely no response. Every single over-reaching, arbitrary and capricious regulation imposes costs on maintaining and updating properties. At some point that cost exceeds what the market of a thriving business in the downtown can endure, forcing them to find a less costly location or to not open at all, which leaves no market for property owners to lease or sell. And, that leaves dark, looming empty shells of structures in downtown that only drag down further the value of adjacent properties, creating a downward spiral. Believe it or not, the processs is reversable.

But, so long as leaders and decision makers avert their gaze when it comes to looking at the reality, it will indeed continue to appear that there is no solution but to appeal to government. With market forces curtailed, there will be greater appeal for gargantuan projects, tax funded subsidies, giveaways, and faux economic solutions that in the end will fail.

 With the facts rejected and warnings unheeded, more and more mandates are piled on, crippling the market’s  ability to meet the true needs of consumers. The results are exactly what we see. No solution will be forthcoming until the problem is identified.

After work, tonight, take a walk – around your neighborhood or through a nearby park. It’s a simple way to claim your neighborhood and discourage mischief, vagrancy, and crime.

Unused neighborhoods can easily become targets for mischief makers. Vacated or empty areas that become overrun by criminals or vagrants can be reclaimed by citizens simply by using and caring for them. Such responsibility falls to everyone in a community, residential or business.

Some years ago there was a neighborhood park that had been taken over by hoodlums who hung out destroying property, threatening and even attacking lone wayfarers. By the time cops arrived the culprits were gone. Nothing seemed to be resolving the problem, until people in the neighborhood decided to make a statement. Large numbers of them just simply began walking around the park. They spent time visiting and getting acquainted, and in general disrupting the sense of anonymity or invisibility that the vagrants and trouble makers had come to count on. Suddenly it was not an empty unclaimed space, but a neighborhood park which was unconducive to criminal activity.

Such is essentially the bases of the strategy that city leaders are pursuing to improve the level of safety in Billings. It’s an approach that costs very little, if anything; and everyone can play a role.

As one businessman explained, at a public meeting that was hugely attended by concerned citizens, it has been easy and inexpensive for him to make a difference around his place of business – – a place that, at first, he thought was just fine. Taking a critical look at it at night and walking around himself, he realized improvements could be made. He has made changes and can already see a difference.  What he did amounted to little more than cleaning and sprucing up the perimeters and extensively improving lighting. If every property owner did the same, the difference would be dramatic.

But it is more than just business owners. Residents in their neighborhoods can and should do much the same.

Walk around your property during the day and at night, asking yourself what could be done to make it look like someone is aware and what would make it is safer.

Remove any trash, and as much as possible items that create clutter or that seem to say, “no one cares about this place.” And, understand that it isn’t just your property that makes a difference, but that of the entire neighborhood, so pick up the trash at the corner of the block, too.

Keep windows clean and uncluttered  to improve visibility.

Keep weeds cut down, trim shrubbery along fences and around buildings. Remove weeds from planters and perhaps (here’s a novel idea) plant planters with plants. Remember, unattended planters outside of a business, and weeds in boulevards or in corners, convey a message to customers, as well as mischief makers. What message does the exterior of your property convey not just to villains, but maybe prospective customers, as well?

Replace burned out bulbs and if necessary increase outdoor lighting to discourage people seeking an opportunity to obscure themselves, and to allow good visibility for passersby and yourself.

Walk frequently throughout your neighborhood to get acquainted with what is normal, so as to be able to easily spot something that is out-of-place or suspicious.

Get acquainted with your neighbors. Explain to them what you are doing and why. It may encourage others to do the same.

Who knows it may all become an enjoyable experience, and for businesses, it might even improve business.

Take advantage of the Chamber’s offer to have a free Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) assessment done of your property.

There may be more to be achieved by this kind of community engagement than just crime prevention.