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.

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!