A few days ago I was driving from Jackson toward the Airport. I had to be very careful as I came up behind two people on bicycles. Oncoming traffic made it necessary for me to slow down and wait to pass. The highway shoulder was narrow in that spot.
After going around them, I observed the Jackson to Teton National Park bicycle pathway, which cost millions. It was vacant with seasonal closure signs. The weather was beautiful, perfect for an afternoon bicycle ride. Without snow, no elk were in sight. So why close the pathway? Allegedly it is because of elk migration and the possible conflict. Joggers and bicycle enthusiasts quit riding at this time, not because of the weather, but because the pathway is closed making it dangerous to cycle or jog on the shoulder of the highway. Bureaucrats decided on an arbitrary closure date, regardless of the presence of animals, putting a multimillion dollar pathway in mothballs for six months. Cowboy Common Sense would say leave that pathway open all year, with signs at regular intervals saying, “Wildlife has right-of-way. When wildlife present, move to highway.”
So why do government bureaucrats, federal, state, and local, feel a need to regulate something like this which should be a simple common sense solution? Because of the Hammer Principle. “When you give government a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Bureaucrats have to justify their jobs by creating restrictive regulations which also require enforcement.
Another truism is, “When government steps in to solve a problem, it creates two or more problems of equal or greater magnitude.” Read that again and ponder it.
The classic illustration of that truism happened in Star Valley in the late 80s or early 90s. Government was subsidizing the price of milk. Bureaucrats decided, in their infinite wisdom, that there were too many dairy farms. So they devised a program where dairy farmers who were having a tough time could be bought out for a certain amount per cow. They would sign an agreement that they wouldn’t re-enter the dairy business for several years. Under this program at least half of the dairy farms in Star Valley were retired. Government considered that a success.
But it had unforeseen consequences. The farmers could still legally farm their land. With no cows to feed, they simply put their crops on the market. The price of hay dropped to less than the cost of swathing and baling. The farmers who had formerly been raising hay as a cash crop were going bankrupt because they could no longer make a profit. The price of grain also dropped to rock bottom, stressing the grain farmers.
And what did the government do with the cows they bought? They sent them to slaughter. The price of beef dropped dramatically, putting a huge stress on ranchers who made their living raising cattle. With a shortage of local milk, the Star Valley Cheese Factory had to ship milk in from Utah and Idaho. The increased expense and shortage put them in a financial hole from which they never recovered, eventually going out of business. The chain reaction of one government program caused chaos.
This kind of economic disruption happens every time government intervenes to solve a problem. Cowboy common sense says, “Let the free markets work.” Without a government milk subsidy, some would have abandoned the dairy business on their own. The gradual decline in the number of dairies would have made a soft landing for the local economy, rather than a crash. Free-market capitalism works. Government, get out the way!
One of the most devastating economic disasters of our lifetime involved government meddling in the housing market. The resulting housing bubble and subsequent crash devastated our economy. As with most boondoggles, it began with good intentions. Under the Clinton administration, policies were changed to encourage home ownership. These regulations mandated that banks and mortgage companies must loan to new homeowners without requiring proof that the mortgage could be repaid. Government was actually fining lenders who would not make loans to marginal borrowers—a stunning example of violating common business sense. The carrot to entice people to buy a home, who otherwise could not afford it, was little or no money down and extremely low interest rates for the first few years. Then as their low introductory-rate mortgages reverted to regular interest rates, the payments increased. Millions of new homeowners couldn’t make the payments. With little or no money invested, they simply walked away. This caused numerous banks and mortgage companies to be upside-down on their balance sheets. The government stepped in to rescue the banks with taxpayer dollars. Once again government meddling caused a chain reaction.
Government seldom considers unintended consequences. Determining the cost of items as diverse as housing and milk are best left to consumers and businesses, not to a government bureaucrat. To quote Ronald Reagan, “Government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem.”
And please, local government, open the bicycle pathways year round with notification that wildlife has the right-of-way. Safety of bicyclers and joggers is more important than possibly inconveniencing an elk. That’s just cowboy common sense.
Remember, “Life is always better when viewed from between the ears of a horse.”