“Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”
— Yogi Berra
Good Republicans who run, among other places, Utah, are wont to say that government should be run like a business.
So, let’s apply a little business thinking to a Utah dilemma.
Say you own an electronics store, or a restaurant, or a tattoo parlor. And say you have people literally standing in line to get into your business. The place is a mess, parking is a pain in the neck, people are angry because they are being turned away, you even consider limiting the number of customers you will serve by taking reservations or instituting a lottery system.
What are the market signals telling you?
Open another bloody store! Or five. Or 10.
Expand. Hire. Franchise. Invest. Go public. Survey your customers, or just take their ZIP codes from their credit card billing information, to figure out where they come from and where your future locations should be built. Quick, before word gets around that your business, however wonderful its products and services may be, is basically inaccessible and not worth the effort to go there.
It is possible that your new locations will never have the appeal or the charm of the original. But at least you and many of your customers will be able to do business there, even as the pressure on the first place eases and makes a more pleasant experience for all concerned.
Now, apply this thinking to the public sector.
Over Memorial Day weekend, the line of people waiting to hike at Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park was so long that National Park Service folks were tweeting suggestions that folks go somewhere else.
Similar problems are common at other national parks in Utah, particularly the spectacular Arches National Park. Ideas to control the flow include more roads and shuttle buses, reservation systems, higher fees, all of which either cost money, make our publicly owned parks effectively off-limits to all but the rich, or both.
One realization that has dawned on folks who promote tourism in Utah is that the state’s long-time advertising campaign inviting folks from California and elsewhere to visit our state’s Mighty 5 national parks may have been a little too successful. And that the logical next step would be to encourage people to visit various state parks or other interesting or attractive places that folks, from Salt Lake City, Scotland and Scandinavia, would be interested in if only someone had told them they exist.
The next part in that logical process would be to create more parks — national, state, county, private — or conservation areas, or trails, or lodges, all weighing lightly on the land and accommodating more visitors in a way that, as much as humanly possible, doesn’t muck up what those people came to see. It will all cost money. But it will all make money, and do it in a way that we don’t kill any golden geese.
It would have helped, of course, if the Orange Occupant hadn’t messed up the creation of Bears Ears National Monument and the survival of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in a way that made it much more difficult to allow those areas to not just invite, but accommodate and manage, a long line of paying tourists from around the world. But that would involve listening to those who already know how to market the wilderness and to, gasp, Native Americans.
Meanwhile, back at the extractive economy, Utah has witnessed another coal-related bankruptcy. The good people in the little town of Wellington have been left to clean up the mess — environmental and financial — left by an so-called coal cleaning plant run by Bowie Refined Coal, another one of many desperate attempts to pretend that the coal economy is anything other than the walking dead of the 21st century.
It’s the market, not any Obama-appointed gremlins at the Environmental Protection Agency, that is killing coal. It’s dirty. It’s expensive to find, to dig up, to move. Compared to natural gas and, increasingly, to sustainable sources such as wind and solar, coal just doesn’t add up.
So, of course, Utah Republicans who are supposed to be arguing for the primacy of the free market are instead promoting the stupidest version of socialism by trying to prop up a future for coal, spending taxpayers money on goofy plans for inland ports in Utah and deep-water ports in California. And national Republicans who now run the EPA are making it more difficult to determine the real cost of fossil fuels — cost that should be born by the industry, not the taxpayers and not individuals — by hiding the impact they have on people’s health.
The market has spoken. It wants beauty. It wants nature. It wants to spend a lot of money to come from all corners of the planet to see what Utah has to offer, and it has plenty. It does not want more coal.
Is Utah listening?
George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, is in the market for a cozy chair and an unending stream of baseball games.