But for the reader who is really impatient or pressed for time or just can’t digest anything but the good stuff, turn straight to Chapter X, “A Fine Map Filled With Detours” in which Western, in true Economist style, methodically and succinctly dismembers six harmful ideologies Wyoming’s people have clung to to their detriment, and then proposes eight steps we could take to make our future less pathetic than our past.
I’ll summarize these for people who don’t have the time to track down this increasingly hard-to-find book, but I would still urge all of you to take that time if you possibly can. Flaws and all, it’s one of the most important tracts published this year.
First, the ideologies:
1. We could prosper if the federal government only let us - while it’s true that the federal government owns nearly half the land in Wyoming, it owns a similar percentage of land in most of the western states, and they’re all doing a damned sight better than we are, mostly because they haven’t focused so autistically on natural resources development (an economic sector unusually vulnerable to outside forces and national policy over which a tiny population of less than 500,000 can exercise little influence).
2. We cannot live peaceably with the federal government and keep our sense of honor - We won’t be nearly so beholden to Congress, the Forest Service, et al if we start paying our own way instead of letting the rest of the country and the federal government pay for services we use. Federal money and federal protection (again, largely requested on behalf of agriculture and minerals development) come with strings attached. We’ll keep being puppets until we start doing for ourselves.
3. Agriculture remains a cornerstone in the state’s economy - On a per proprietor basis, Wyoming ranchers’ and farmers’ incomes are well below the federal poverty level. There are about 300 ranchers in the state who raise more than 1000 head of cattle a year, and they do okay, but the rest are either barely getting by if they’re really trying to live off agriculture, or they engage in ranching as a “ceremonial” occupation, raising what my dad always calls “pet cows” while running, say, an auto parts store or a law firm to make the real money.
Western also blows some nice, big holes in some of the statistics Gov. Geringer and others throw around when they claim ag to be one of the top three industries in Wyoming.
Agriculture’s true value is the legacy of open spaces it has left us, which puts Wyoming in a truly wonderful position to capitalize on the markets for things like non-consumptive use of wildlife (like birdwatching), as well as hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation.