No person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents or to observe the deliberations of all public bodies or agencies of state government and its subdivisions, except in cases in which the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure.” Montana Law

By Evelyn Pyburn

Mid-March we recognize National Sunshine week – it is a time to focus on the importance of open public meetings and public document availability.

Montana is at the leading edge when it comes to having good public information laws. Our public information requirements are more stringent than federal laws or the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but sadly Montana does not lead the way in complying with those laws. A (2019) study conducted by Logicull ranked the State of Montana among the least compliant with our own laws.

Having spent many years reporting on a wide variety of public entities, I know without doubt, that there is nothing more important to assure sound, honest government than shining light on all that happens in government. The Bill of Rights and honest democratic elections are very important, but even those things cannot be assured unless the public is informed about what government is doing.  Checks and balances in how government is structured is also important, but even that can be useless if there is no “sunshine” on all proceedings and decisions.

Just think about it. How can citizens be expected to vote on candidates and issues if they do not have accurate information? Without unfettered information the idea of democratic elections is but a charade (something that should be just as readily understood when information and communication platforms are being censored).

I have learned a lot in observing how public bodies function and I have seen how devastating a lack of transparency can be, most especially those serving in a public capacity, who are often responsible for violating the law. In fact, I would refuse to serve on a public body that was not open in order to protect myself from the consequences.  Not unlike other aspects of life, avoiding truth has a way of boomeranging sooner or later, and often in ways least anticipated and most unpleasant.

Most people do not realize how powerful our laws make our citizens, and that they do have the right to know – they have the right to be powerful in their own defense! The fact that an informed citizenry is a powerful citizenry is the primary reason that public officials hide information. That alone should convince one about how important the right to know is.

One of the most amazing experiences I ever had involved informing people about their right to know. It happened during my earliest years as a reporter when I wasn’t all that confident about things. My editor, as a matter of routine, gave all reporters business cards with the Montana public information law printed on it. At a meeting in Belgrade, Montana, a newly formed garbage district board wanted to hold a meeting to do things contrary to what the public wanted. There was standing room only in the meeting room and the board was frustrated in its efforts to ignore that public, and so arbitrarily decided they could avoid the problem by moving to another room.

Everyone in the room sat dejected about not being able to be part of the meeting. I knew the board was violating law, but I was timid about speaking up. I pulled out my handy little card thinking about what to do. The gentleman sitting next to me glanced over and began avidly reading it. I passed him the card so he could better read it. He then passed the card to the next guy, and then got up and followed the board members down the hall. The next guy, after reading the card, did likewise. And, one after another, as the card was passed along, everyone followed suit. It was a thrilling moment, as I saw firsthand the power of knowledge.

A lot of the public believes that open meetings and public documents are made available only to the media. Nothing could be further from the truth. Media has traditionally been the defender of those rights but they apply to absolutely everyone and everyone should view themselves as having an important role to play in assuring that every government official and agency complies with public information laws.

Unfortunately, in pursuing public information you should expect push back.  FOIA advocacy groups report that not only can one expect it but “When it comes to compliance with open records laws, the barriers put up to obstruct requests (or lack thereof), and the general difficulty of making government records public, States vary wildly.”

“Come back tomorrow,” is a common put off aimed at discouraging. But you should know that information generally should be available during reasonable, regular business hours.

You cannot be required to explain why you want the information, nor for that matter do you even have to identify yourself.

While a government employee may declare they have to get approval of a supervisor, that is not a requirement of law. Public information is public information, and fundamentally it is every government employee’s obligation to provide it.

While it is commonly accepted that you can be charged for costs involved, such as copying charges, the charges must be true costs. You cannot, for example, be charged an outrageous per hour cost pertaining to the amount of time a bureaucrat spends getting the information.

Having said that, many FOIA advocates believe there should be no charge at all by government to produce information to citizens… in fact, providing public information should not only be part of their regular duties but a top priority. The Montana legislature, however, did pass a law allowing for agencies to ask citizens to reimburse for costs.

There is a limiting provision to Montana’s public information laws and that is to protect the individual’s right to privacy. As one can imagine in an  attempt to strike a balance between the public’s right to know and an individual’s right to privacy, the competing provisions often lead to conflict. But court cases in Montana have quite often strengthened the citizen’s right to know.

So while a government employee’s personal information regarding health or address, family, religion, etc. is not public information, that they are a government employee, their job description, salary and benefits, or job performance are all public information. In fact one Montana court case concluded that even the job evaluation of a school superintendent should be open to the public and the results should be a matter of public record. Another case concluded that even an insurance company’s nondisclosure requirements in a settlement with the county was not valid – the settlement has to be a matter of public record.

Government quite often likes to claim that they can’t provide information such as who holds licenses or permits and their addresses or incomes, etc. on the grounds that it is private information but at that point there emerges a quandary, because since government is requiring the information or the fees or otherwise exercising control, it is a public concern. But, it is also private information. The fact of the matter is the individual’s privacy has indeed been violated, but it has been violated by government, and the public’s right to know should not be sacrificed because government has over-reached what its authority should be.

As government gains more and more power and over-reaches on a routine basis with no checks, this is likely to become an increasing dilemma and stands as a potential threat to the very fundamentals of freedom of information. There is only one thing that stands in the way of losing this most important of citizen rights and that is you and me using that right and demanding its adherence.

By Evelyn Pyburn

Good grief. One can hardly imagine why anyone in the US can doubt the quality and dependability of services and products from the private sector – most especially when one compares it to how government performs. And, yet it is we have legislators and professionals and other leaders pushing back against private medical schools simply because they are “for profit.” Really!?

Following announcements by two private companies that intend to launch medical schools in Montana – one in Billings and another in Great Falls – comments emerged in the media from some people who were outraged at the very idea of “for profit” medical schools, including a Republican state legislator– Ed Buttrey, (R) – HD21 of Great Falls a Realtor also sits on the board of Benefis Healthcare.

With people like Mr. Buttrey refusing to defend “for profit” free markets, there’s no need for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to advocate for socialism. The situation fully demonstrates why so many people, especially the young, believe that socialism is a better system than free markets. It’s not because of what people like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez says, but what people like Mr. Buttrey fail to say.

For decades and decades our political leaders, who say they believe in the efficacy of free markets (ie. “for profits”), while campaigning, fail to support them once elected and even more damaging fail to explain what makes them better. Not only have they failed to make the case but so have our public schools and so have many parents, truth be told.

In fact, one could ask where are the voices of all the other political leaders and free marketers in this state who claim to support “for profits”? Where are the voices we need to explain why the “for profit” motive has proven to be a miraculous thing.

It’s been reported that “Benefis’ Dr. Patrick Galvas and Great Falls legislator Ed Buttrey slammed” the “business model” of the school proposed for Billings because it is a “for profit” entity, while the one proposed from Great Falls is a “non-profit.”

“In our opinion, medical education is not the place for the profit-driven motivations of a Wall Street-owned, for-profit medical school,” Galvas and Buttrey wrote.

So maybe that’s all this is about – a very self-serving effort to malign the competition. It’s an act of protectionism. That is in truth why most anti-market legislation emerges and what stands behind almost all the regulations that undermine free markets – established businesses attempting to protect themselves from competition.

This is a country where “for profit” is a good thing. Where “for profit” has built the strongest economy in all history, providing the highest standard of living average citizens have ever known, and in fact providing the world with phenomenal new technology and innovations beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. IT HAPPENED BECAUSE OF “FOR PROFIT” ENTERPRISES!

And, you don’t think a profit motive can incentivize a quality medical school? Making a profit is a far more wholesome incentive than climbing the political ladder, which is the primary incentive that permeates almost all government “enterprises” or bureaucracies. In exactly what discipline does government out-perform private business?

In fact our entire medical industry could do with a very healthy dose of free market competition and the injection of creative entrepreneurship. Our shortage of doctors is nothing new – we have been experiencing this shortage for decades and nothing changes. The reasons have primarily to do with the fact that the system is not market driven. The shortage of doctors is all about politics and power structures and the kind of “profits” that come much more easily to that system than to the private market. The medical industry is totally ensnarled in red tape and regulations… it is one of the least free markets in the country, hence we have not only a shortage of doctors but runaway medical costs.

Questioning the efficacy of education organizations because they hope to make a profit is nonsense.

We heard for years and years and years that private schools couldn’t compete with public or government schools. We don’t hear that much anymore. Not that there aren’t those who resist private education but it’s not because private schools aren’t good. There is no longer any question that not only are they good but most often are better. Do you know where President Obama’s girls went to school?

Or let’s look at the post office. There too we heard over and over again that we had to have a government run post office because the private sector could never do what the post office does. Nor, would anyone want to because they couldn’t make a profit. Have you heard of UPS? If there was no threat of the private sector delivering the mail…and maybe doing it better … there would be no laws against delivering first class mail.

The same is true about aerospace and only government could send up rockets. Many may not know, but at one time that too was illegal. Could I introduce you to SpaceX and Elon Musk or any of a dozen other companies?

Given the true history of the profit motive and the history of how “for profit” has built the greatest economic system ever and the highest ever standard of living for the common man, maybe it’s time to learn and understand why it works. And, to make sure our children know.

By Evelyn Pyburn

Several times my husband mentioned that I needed to listen to this guy on the radio but I didn’t listen much to the radio except when traveling in the car, so that’s when it happened. I even remember what street we were on when I first heard Rush Limbaugh. We were on Central Avenue near the bowling alley. He took my breath away, so astounded I was. It was a burst of sunshine in what I had not fully realized was a gray and cloudy day.

I was astounded that this guy was speaking so forthrightly, right out loud in public! My first reaction was to be concerned for his safety and I said as much to my husband.

The fact is, politically correct speech was in full sway even in the 80s  – and suddenly here was someone loudly speaking truth. What he was saying was little more than the common sense most people already knew, but the fact he was speaking it— so publically – that was the greatness that everyone immediately recognized  – – most especially those who disagreed.

During the week after hearing about Rush’s death, over and over we heard or read stories as people recalled exactly where they were when they first heard Rush Limbaugh.  Think about that. It wasn’t like an earthshaking event such as the assassination of the President or landing on the moon, this was a guy talking on the radio. It was Rush shaking things up.

So phenomenal was he that tens of millions of people immediately took note upon first hearing him. Why would that be? As brilliant as he was or as talented as he was, that wouldn’t have been so evident in just a few minutes – what people heard was a brave man speaking his mind. So rare was that, that it was profoundly noteworthy.

For all of Rush Limbaugh’s talent and innovation and brilliance, what always impressed me most was his courage.  It’s become clear to me over the years that more so than brilliance, talent or hard work, by far the most rare human attribute is courage – to have the internal strength and integrity to speak the truth as you see it. 

Such is a very sad and disturbing reality to have to concede, because of course, in a supposedly free country, everyone should feel comfortable speaking their minds. But, over the years, silencing of free expression, especially of conservative or freedom-oriented ideas, has escalated. But for 32 years, Rush Limbaugh was never daunted. He never faltered in speaking ever louder, every day.

Rush very seldom had a guest. While he often gave reasons for that, one reason we all knew was that most guests would only dilute the program. Seldom could any guest put forth more compelling, interesting and knowledgeable conversation than could Rush. Whenever I was listening I was always waiting for some unique bit of insight about events of the day, and he usually had it.

One of the most profound insights— about which he came to frequently remind us— was that he was not really the target of those who attacked him and hated him. He was a proxy for all of us in his audience, and for all who dared to have a point view that differed from the politically correct.  Over the years the truth of that insight only broadened as it has become more and more inherent in most political opposition from the establishment, Left or Right.

The fact that there are tens of millions of people who loved him and appreciated him is why the Left hated Rush and why they could never admit his greatness, as they can seldom admit any great achievements. Over the last few months, Rush reiterated many times that the political establishment is well aware of those millions and that they fear us.

Given the amazing political events we have seen unfold over the past couple of years, including the wide ranging efforts to disrupt and end public discourse, one can hardly refute the point. There’s only one reason to silence the millions and that is because you cannot intellectually refute their ideas, and because you know that if disseminated those ideas would prevail. For such people the only course of action is to use force to keep people from speaking and thinking.

One of the biggest mistakes the political establishment ever made was to end the “Fairness Doctrine.” That’s what gave us Rush Limbaugh and unleashed free speech and the free reign of ideas within the realm of public broadcasting.

Under the grip of federal regulations radio served little purpose other than listening to music. In requiring radio stations to guarantee opposite points of view, there became no points of view except those considered “settled truths,” which were regularly pushed at us in the news propagated by the only three television networks allowed. No one would take on the financial cost or legal liability of allowing public discourse.  Just think where we would be now if it were not for radio, now that most other communication and venues have been shut down.

Many have talked, this past week, about how inspiring Rush was, far more so than to talk about politics.  Everything about Rush was a lesson and an inspiration. He was a real live testament to what he believed about free will and the strength of free markets. His passion, innovation, talent and most of all his commitment to his beliefs, not only helped him build a fortune from the bottom up, but he, as many have said, saved the radio industry through that innovation and determination. In forging that path he made way for opportunities and success for the thousands who followed in the industry. This was indeed a free market at work and it is that freedom of choice which stands threatened once again.

Rush was always upbeat and positive, which not only made listening to him a bright spot in the day, but inspired his listeners to persevere. Many times he would advise, “follow your passion,” which at root was what it all was about, most especially the politics. An individual cannot follow their passion unless they have the freedom to do so and that is fundamentally what the US Constitution and free markets are all about – individual freedom to choose and to live. Rush was doing just that every day before our very eyes.

But for all of that, we would know nothing about Rush — there would have been no saving of an industry and no inspiration, knowledge or understanding of politics or of life, if there had not first come the actions of one brave man. That is his legend and the legacy — having the courage to speak.

It is the challenge of each one of us to continue that legacy.

DIY?–Quit Counting on Government

Though it’s diminished somewhat, at one time the “Made in Montana” promotion was incredibly effective because it had a lot of support by local manufacturers and the public in general. When it comes to labeling meat products with the same message one has to wonder why its advocates need the government to make it happen. Just do it! Let consumers know. There are funds being collected with the sale of livestock to promote the beef industry, what better way to spend it? And, if that’s not enough or doable for some political reason, go at it another way. There are certainly no laws against promoting Montana produced meat and as many people know, you are up- a –creek if you find yourself dependent on government to achieve much of anything. Come to think of it, we need to regenerate the entire “Made in Montana” program as we work to regenerate the state’s economy. It worked.

Actually seeing the guns…

As bizarre as it is, it is undoubtedly so that many citizens are fearful of guns (among a lot of other things) and believe that every anti-gun law is going to protect them from a very great threat. By every measure their fears are unfounded but it doesn’t seem to matter what facts are presented, the relentless mantras of the anti-gun lobby overwhelms their common sense. Maybe it would help if they could visualize  exactly how very little threat gun owners really are. In all probability (at least in Montana) they are surrounded, every day, by hoards of firearms and nothing bad happens to them. In any given neighborhood should the occupants of every household within a one block radius, bring out every gun and box of ammunition they own and stack them in front of the timid citizen’s home, that citizen would see a mountain of arms that would leave them stunned. But, they would physically see the degree to which they are surrounded by guns every day of their lives and always have been, and maybe they would realize to what degree, in their sublime ignorance, they have lived peacefully and without any harm surrounded by firearms. Perhaps they would comprehend that gun owners, are not back alley thugs in a bad part of town, they are their neighbors, family and friends. And, maybe, just maybe, it is this fact that makes neighborhood safe.

Two rules explain it all…

If it’s true that people become more conservative as they get older, it might be because they increasing understand how the economy works. So that means that the sooner young people understand economics the better their decisions will be about life and politics. With that in mind, my experience would advise there are two basic economic factors to understand, and which once understood causes everything else to fall into place.

One is the rule about supply and demand which says that when supply is high and demand low, prices are low, and that when demand is high and supply low, prices go up. And to truly believe that that is always true, and that it is true in relation to all things at all times, even in politics and human behavior, it is a significant step in understanding economics.

A profundity, just as significant, is that “incentives matter.” It’s a factor that correlates with the common advice of “follow the money” although power and prestige can often override money. Incentives cut both ways, for good and bad. The vital thing to know is that they are always at play and the simple challenge is to identify what the incentive is and who is being incentivized — explains a lot.

By Evelyn Pyburn

Following the experience of the heavy hand of government laid upon small businesses over the past year, one must hope that business people are rethinking their ideas about benefits of any “health and safety” they think emanate from the helping hand of “big brother.”

The experience lays bare also the emerging reality of how businesses are being used by government.

More and more business owners are being forced by government to function like an extension of government – at considerable expense and under ominous threats  — burdens that detract considerably from their ability to function as a successful business.

From being tax collectors and health care providers, to enforcing smoking laws or policing citizen conduct, businesses have become an uncompensated department of government over-reach. It’s time that it be identified for what it is and stopped.

Part of the strategy of coercion lies in the regulatory and licensing process that has been heaped onto business for decades, now. Sometimes that has happened with the willing cooperation of some businesses as they hoped to gain some advantage over their competition.

But, given that the past few months have blatantly demonstrated how the regulations and licensing and permitting powers they granted to government can boomerang, one has to hope that thinking business people will seriously reconsider their ideas about regulations and any competitive advantage they might think it gives them. Hopefully they have seen how serious the loss of their liberties can be.

 At every turn, business people who wanted to claim their civil rights to produce and serve and exchange value for value, with willing fellow citizens called customers, their freedom has been usurped by unelected, well-paid bureaucrats utilizing unlegislated laws and under threat by non-police police, of fines and imprisonment. Non- compliance has meant the very real possibility of losing their business, their livelihood, their investments and life savings. If that doesn’t incentivize a moment of reconsideration, nothing will.

Absolutely none of this in any way reflects the characteristics of a free county, and it sets in place an escalating course that can only get worse and utterly destroy the foundation of what has been the most vital business environment that has ever existed. Stopping it means reversing many of the existing restraints on business and it all begins at home and in the state legislature where it was initially implemented.

By Evelyn Pyburn

Sometimes modern technological innovations may not be an improvement over old fashioned, labor intensive processes. Such is perhaps true regarding voting.

No matter how this election turns out, it will have totally undermined confidence in the electoral process for all, and that is a massive casualty for the country. And, it isn’t something that happened after Election Day, it began long before when all kinds of safeguards were being eagerly undermined.

Confidence in the process has to be reinstituted and we have to conclude, that no technological advancement can be introduced that won’t carry with it greater potential for fraud. 

Former President Barak Obama identified most clearly the best system and how it provides the best possible safeguard. Back when there were concerns about Russia having manipulated our voting process, then- President Obama stated, “…there is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America’s election, in part because they’re so decentralized.” (October 2016)

And, therein is the solution – we had it all along, and President Obama resoundingly identified it. Keeping it a hands -on process conducted county-by-county. No computers, or digitizing of data or centralization. President Obama recognized, as should anyone, that decentralization, while undoubtedly cumbersome, is inherently the best protection against subverting the whole system. The very unwieldiness of it minimizes the ability to orchestrate any kind of focused massive manipulations.

A computerized, centralized process will always be vulnerable. One doesn’t have to be much of a computer guru to understand that.

While how to conduct elections should still be left to the province of each state –dovetailing with the idea that a decentralized process is best – the one federal limitation should be that it remains under the authority of disparate counties, in a manner in which each ballot can be traced back to a voter – no centralization, no computerization.

Fraud can certainly still happen but not on a massive scale and not without being detectable should someone exercise their prerogative to look. (Speaking of which, it is not only President Trump’s right to challenge suspect elections, it is his obligation. Part of the system’s weakness today, is that others did not challenge when they should have.)

And while we are talking about it, let’s be really, really honest — the only reason for voters not to have to show ID, or for deadlines not to matter, or for mail-in ballots (not absentee) — is to facilitate the potential for fraud – and everyone knows it.

While the old fashioned method to guarantee one- person, one- vote, with its inherent decentralization is the most secure process, it does have a price. It could indeed be more costly and it absolutely requires citizen participation.

The cost in a country that spends money on everything from writing zoo poetry to studying cow burps – the cost cannot be of any serious concern. Whatever the cost, to have elections that can be trusted, is worth that cost.

But the biggest challenge for local hands-on elections is the need for hands… they need the volunteer efforts of local citizens and that has been one of the biggest problems for local election officials – getting the people they need to be election judges, poll monitors, counters, etc. Where are you?

You are the only solution to that problem, and assuring honest elections, no matter how it is done, will never happen without citizen participation and oversight. When compared to what soldiers, since the Revolutionary War, have done to assure our liberty, being a poll-watcher is piffle. Again, where are you?

The other safe guard for sound elections is the aggressive prosecution of anyone who commits voter fraud.  Even if they are just one person mailing in their dead relative’s ballot, they should be pursued and prosecuted and their name splashed across the front pages. Every ballot should be considered inviolate, and its violation should be an despicable act against humanity and liberty. And, that is exactly how everyone, who in any way worked to undermine this election, or who condone or accept any election tampering, should be regarded.

By Evelyn Pyburn

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” – Thomas Paine

Such is the case for Montana with the Republicans having gained control of the governorship and both legislative houses.  The situation poses a rare opportunity to set Montana on a strong economic foundation.

We know how to do it! And now, with the Party that is supposed to be the Party of sound fiscal policies in full charge — there should be no excuses – no barriers to begin the state’s economy over again.

It’s not as though there are no ideas about what works and what doesn’t. What makes for a good economic environment and for sound government has been studied to death over many decades and in 50 different laboratories, usually with much the same results.

Every year for 14 years, the American Legislative Exchange Council has issued the Rich States Poor States study of the economies of all the states. In great detail it identifies the policies and strategies that work in creating an environment in which business can thrive and governments can function soundly.

Is there any reason we shouldn’t be on top of this?

Of course there is. Not all of the leaders really meant it when they advocated for fiscal restraint and economic freedom. And, there are those who hold other ambitions, so their priority is to get along with the opposition more than solve problems. And, then as one pessimistic friend described, it is in the nature of Republicans to form a circle and just start shooting.

And there’s more. Some observers have explained that to solve problems is not the goal for many politicians of either political party. They are in lock step, while appearing to be on opposite sides, wrangling over familiar issues, in campaign after campaign. Their thinking is why solve problems that are guaranteed to successfully fund raise and garner votes, for the Right and the Left? Why do the hard work and take the slings and arrows that would surely come if they were to really try to solve the problem? Hence we have decades and decades of what seems to be unsolvable problems.

We all know of what I speak. There are all kinds of issues to which over the decades Republicans have given a lot of lip service during campaigns, only to become mysteriously silent once elected.  They are the promises we were commonly told were too difficult to get accomplished, or too complicated for us to understand. They are the changes that couldn’t happen, we were told, because they lacked the political power to get them passed.

It was essentially this non-performance that got Donald Trump elected president.

The most amazing, salient factor about President Trump is that he got it done! He demonstrated with almost the speed of light and with what appeared as astounding ease the nonsense of all the excuses.

From Day One, in the cancelling of a hugely over-priced order for a new presidential airplane, to the building of the wall, to neutralizing the saber-rattling of Iran, North Korea and Russia, to bringing peace to the Middle East, to ending terrorist activity, to unleashing the productivity of the American people, increasing for the first time in decades real income growth, regaining our energy independence, reversing the loss of our manufacturing industry, reinstituting Constitutional law. Almost single handedly he was doing all these things that so many had said were impossible. That’s why there were Republicans who stood opposed to Trump, he unmasked the lie of the duplicity of political compromise and the languor of expediency.

Montana has hundreds of issues big and small that should and could be addressed. Take away the political gamesmanship and the road is clear.

If during the next legislative session the Republicans do not act to strengthen our civil liberties, encourage economic freedom, curb the oppressive regulation of our industry, businesses and entrepreneurs, solve the growing debt of the public employees’ pension fund, unleash educational freedom, eliminate the remnants of business equipment taxes, penalize  the promulgators of frivolous lawsuits, and diminish the power and size of our bureaucracy  — all those things Republicans have always said they wanted to do are now doable.

Of course, part of the reason many of those things don’t happen is because legislators don’t hear from their constituents. So to all those who voted in this red wave: it’s no time to sit back and wait. Every voter needs to be up front -and -center about the issues – with Republicans and Democrats. Be assured there are many very organized and well-funded lobbying groups, who in your absence will be making their case.

By Evelyn Pyburn

It is unspeakable, the assault on Montana’s small business owners that the Governor is perpetrating in what has to be the most disrespectful attack on citizens ever seen in this state.

For going on nine months now, small business owners of every size and industry have been struggling mightily to keep their heads above water, given the extreme restrictions that they have been working under, with claims that their sacrifices and the loss of their businesses are necessary to end the impacts of COVID-19.

Despite wide-spread compliance to the protocols that included months of closures, as well as social distancing, lines on floors, masks, plastic shielding, hand washing stations, constant cleaning, consumers staying home, quarantining  and cancelling of events, the virus has continued to spread. Concluding that the solution must be more of the same, Montana government and Governor Steve Bullock have doubled down and turned on the most vital of our citizens – those who provide the goods and services, jobs and income – and tax revenues —that sustain everyone.

It’s not that our business people don’t have enough pressure on them keeping up with the protocols, responding to divisive snitching, working 24-7, losing money, exhausting their savings and watching their businesses go down the drain – now they have to deal with a specially -designed force of secret police stalking their businesses and lives, who will force them into re-education programs with the threat of criminal charges if they don’t adjust their attitudes. (The enforcers are being called “liaisons,” an attempted slight-of-language that says they fully understand the nature of what they do and want to avoid clearly identifying it.)

As dire as the consequences of the disease, the consequences of governments such as this are far greater. The lack of individual liberty kills just as surely as any lethal virus.

The attack on businesses in Yellowstone County is all the more baseless given that the only rational excuse offered is that they want to reduce pressure on medical facilities that are at capacity, with no consideration given to the fact that more than half of the patients are from outside the county. People are coming to Billings, as they always have for medical care, from throughout dozens and dozens of counties, Wyoming, North Dakota. How is it effective or justifiable to penalize local business people for hospitalizations of people from other areas?

The question deserves an answer.

But more importantly our business people deserve to be treated with more respect. The citizens of the state are autonomous individuals, not vassals of  bureaucrats and political agendas and ambitions.

By Evelyn Pyburn

Shortly after the break-up of the Soviet Union, I read about how the US was sending advisors to Russia to tell them how to do it – how to build an economy. One was left to assume that meant a free market economy, but when one saw who all was involved, it was puzzling what the US government was really up to.

There was no doubt that none of the advisors being sent to advise had anything to do with free markets, entrepreneurship or business enterprise… they were all bureaucrats and politicians of one sort or another. They were undoubtedly experts on top-down, control and command economies. What they thought they could teach the communists about that is unfathomable.

It wouldn’t have been surprising to learn that the expert advisers involved believed their regulations, taxes and edicts were the reason the US had a strong economy. It is scary how few people understand what makes for a strong economy or what it takes to run business.

It is truly sad to realize how few people recognize the beauty of free markets and Capitalism.

Nowhere in the reports did it mention the basic element that Russia or any nation has to have in order to have a vital, vibrant economy – freedom.  There was no mention of advising Russia about the need to establish a foundation of individual freedom that would allow citizens to pursue dreams.

That is the secret that was discovered with the establishment of the world’s strongest and most successful economy in all history.

As we celebrate the entrepreneurship of Montana business people in this issue, we are fundamentally celebrating freedom. To encourage entrepreneurship and nurture businesses to great heights requires the freedom to make choices and decisions. Individuals have to be free to try, to succeed and to fail and to start all over again, if they choose. None of that requires government intervention – in fact, quite the contrary.

Successful businesses need an environment in which the law of supply and demand rules rather than rules and regulations and skewed tax laws, through which government picks winners and losers. Entrepreneurs need a society in which citizens are free to act and to conduct voluntary exchanges of value for value.

A system that results in a strong, rich economy is one in which government is restrained to a very few basic roles, the most important of which is shoring up and protecting private property rights. Without private property rights there is no chance for the country or its citizens.

Part of the protection of private property rights includes protecting all citizens against criminal acts and fraud and the use of force one against another, except in cases of self-defense.

And a vibrant economy needs government to recognize and enforce private contractual agreements.

Only when government performs its legitimate roles in those regards, only then do citizens have the predictability, security and confidence to take risks, to explore, to create and to labor in ways which result in new products and services and efficiencies that raise the standard of living for all, including surpluses so large that they overwhelm private and institutional benevolence.

When we celebrate those among us who take it upon themselves to start and manage a business, to produce and to employ, it is all those things that we celebrate, in addition to their creativity, hard work, courage and achievements.

So to all of you, thank you. Thank you for all that you do and most especially for having the audacity to pursue your dreams and to affirm the freedom to do so.

By Evelyn Pyburn

It’s a sad lesson of life, but there is always those among us who strive every day to acquire the unearned.

In my world, that is the real definition of greed – much more so than people working hard to make money.

The reach for the unearned is seen all around us, and while much of its cost often falls to taxpayers in general, a more favored target is “greedy” money makers, ie. businesspeople. The “reach” always involves laws that force the money-makers – business owners, employers, producers, job creators – to comply just in case they should have other ideas and resist the theft. The coercion comes in laws that set minimum wages, mandated family leave, restrict management decisions to favor employees, control prices, or mandate benefits, etc. – issues that could, and should, more legitimately  be negotiated voluntarily between concerned parties. The latest is the requirement that employers pay employees who are quarantined by government decree, due to Covid-19, above and beyond their sick pay benefits.

One trial lawyers association recently advised employees to make sure they know their rights, implying that employees have a right to be protected from contracting COVID. What rights? Rights aren’t guaranteed outcomes or gift cards, rights are a freedom to act. The employee is always free to leave a job and find another if they don’t like the conditions of the job, whether it has to do with health measures, the work asked of them, or compensation. To be able to legally impose obligations on an employer or anyone else, is to have the power to enslave one person for the benefit of another. That is NOT a RIGHT!

The requirement is destroying just as many businesses now as were destroyed with the closure mandates. Small businesses lose all their employees for weeks on end, which means usually they cannot operate – they cannot “make money.” Some employees think it is a lucky break, getting to stay home while still getting paid, and they milk it for as much as they can. In the meantime, the costs mount for the business owner who has no income.

Of course, if the consequences of the COVID edicts were allowed  to fall directly upon the workers they might not be so tolerant of the situation. They might interpret the validity of the mandate differently and weigh the consequences more incisively. So, since employee numbers are greater than those of employers, their political clout is greater, and it becomes politically necessary to shield them from reality, and force the impacts upon the employers.

The situation does not have to last long before it destroys many businesses, but that consequence is never understood to the now- unemployed, who believe, along with the politicians and bureaucrats, that it is possible for an economic system to thrive treating businesses as though they are philanthropic organizations – as though they have the same bottomless pockets that government thinks it has.

The grab for the unearned is ratcheting up, as the almost-immoral philosophical perspective is extended to the idea that employers should be held liable if their employees contract the disease. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how broadly and unjustly lawyers and the legal system will seize the opportunity this affords them to enrich themselves, in their perpetual quest for the unearned.

Consequences far less evident will be the changes business owners will make in how they operate to reduce their exposure to liability – some of those changes will not be foreseeable as creativity is brought to bear – but be assured the adjustments will not result in improved products, services, convenience or value – or jobs. Be assured that to hold businesses liable for employees or customers contracting COVID or any other disease (as it will surely be expanded to include), will be to the detriment of all of our society in many ways.

It has been through a system of voluntary exchange of value for value – without coercion and with incentives aligned with achievement – that we have come to enjoy a standard of living beyond any ever before known in the world, with the expectation that it will grow ever greater. But if this process of granting the unearned on the backs of the productive continues, it means, not only will many businesses fail, but our standard of living will decline – the wellbeing of the general population will diminish.

It is a lose-lose strategy for all.