This past week I had the opportunity to attend a forum entitled”22 in 21″ purporting to examine the shape of the Jackson Hole economy in the 21st century. It was organized by Jonathan Schechter and the Charture Institute and was held at the exclusive Spring Creek Ranch Resort. Jonathan Schechter is a management consultant who writes a biweekly column, in our local weekly newspaper, the Jackson Hole News and Guide on economic matters entitled Corpus Callosum.
His recent column focused on the revenue shortfalls to local and state government funding over the past decade. His column was as always, clearly written and detail oriented, replete with beautiful graphs and devoid of conclusions, recommendations or an obvious agenda.
I will comment on the forum agenda, what it was trying to address or achieve a bit later but I simply must remark upon the mystifying choice of Corpus Callosum as the title for an economic column. I wonder how many of his readers know the meaning of Corpus Callosum. For those who don’t, I offer the follow brief summary of brain function as I understand it as a medical doctor.
Mammalian brains look alike but what distinguishes our human brain is the extra development of its cortex, the mass of cells lying on the surface of the brain just inside the skull.
The Cerebra Cortex is composed to two hemispheres, the right and the left.
The Left hemispheric cortex which I will call the left brain, is our dominant cortex. It is the “doing” part of the brain as opposed to the “feeling” portion of the brain, which is the right brain. The two brains are linked by the Corpus Callosum, a thick dense neural grid which functions as a sort of information superhighway between the two. The left and right brains are complementary but have very different functions. The left brain is data driven, a trillion cell C drive which interprets sensory and auditory input and stores and categorizes this data. It analyzes and prioritizes and judges. It excels at pattern recognition and attempts to predict outcome based upon the data it has stored. It has the all important speech and communication centers in structures called Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas. The ego lives in the left brain.
The Right brain is perhaps the seat of the soul. It is the emotive and feeling part of the brain. It attaches emotional meaning to the facts and events carried in the left brain. It is intuitive, artistic, creative, empathetic, and joyful, and when a human being experiences Nirvana or the deep inner peace of meditation or spiritual peace, it is the right brain which is dribbling the ball. The right brain specializes in analyzing non verbal cues like tone of voice or eye contact or body position to decide if what it is seeing is true or false. The right brain sees the big picture. It sees the forest. The left brain by contrast sees the trees. The Right brain has its head in the clouds. The left brain is grounded and down to earth, concrete. Again by way of review it is the Corpus Callosum which serves as the working relay and transfer station for all the activity going on between the Right and Left brains as it tries to integrate experience into some sort of balanced working model.
My point in providing this brief and oversimplified neuroanatomy lesson is to illustrate the disconnect between conventional classical economic thinking
of economic progress and economic growth from what I saw at the “22 in 21” forum up at Spring Creek Ranch last week. The forum was almost entirely a Left Brain driven conference of economic accomplishment and history.
The guest speakers included some well known and dynamic members in the valley in banking and tourism and real estate development and non profits. There was a mix of shameless self promotion and anecdotes as well as some interesting history and intriguing facts. There was a fair amount of unrealistic wishin” and hopin” such as the comment that “what this valley needs is a direct flight between JH and San Francisco” to presumably facilitate the new information economy which of course was that speaker’s hope for the future.
Many of the speakers rued the sharp drop in construction which of course meant the disappearance of middle class jobs. When I was working at Teton Village as a well paid construction worker a few years back many of those so called middle class folks were hard working carpenters and sheetrockers and concrete workers who only spoke Spanish! The notion that there is a sizable middle class in Jackson Hole is ludicrous. The conference was largely a convocation of the 1% club. As such it included their economic and growth assumptions which went entirely unquestioned and the lack of audience participation from a robust question and answer session was regrettable. The enormous issues facing Jackson Hole, the nation and the world were either lightly touched upon or entirely ignored. For example there was no mention of how Peak Oil could impact a remote valley entirely dependent upon oil fueling cars and airplanes for its tourists, its food and its supplies. Cheap fossil energy is the reason people can live and travel and spend money in Teton County. What is its future if Oil goes to $200/ bbl or $400/bbl or becomes scarce or rationed? It was just a few decades back that jet travel was almost non existent here. The likely possibility that passenger jet travel could decline or disappear in the next few decades was not mentioned. The airlines pay a miniscule tax on avgas and jet fuel even as the Federal government runs massive deficits. Fuel taxes are far under the maintenance or construction costs of highways, airports or bridges. I think we can count on an increase in fuel tax. Not mentioned.The massively expensive expansion of the Jackson Hole Airport was all deficit financed by Obama’s Reinvestment Act. The vast increase in Federal, private and consumer debt leading to a national or global economic depression was ignored as was the likely collapse of the European Union. How about global climate change and its possible effects here ?Nada.
Tourism will probably always provide a cornerstone to the JH economy but was there any discussion how people could reach Grand Teton and Yellowstone Parks using other transportation options? Was Rail Mentioned? That is how tourists arrived 100 years ago. Was there any mention of ways to make JH more livable and walk able beyond our pathways? Was there any mention of local production of foods and manufacturing goods? We heard about the local success of Cloudveil for example. Thank goodness they are providing jobs……..in China.
Jonathan Schechter’ theme was can we craft a 21st century economy which complements Teton County’s values, character and resources? I would say the answer to Jonathan’s posted question could be a guarded yes but the entirely Left Brain symposium I saw and heard At Spring Creek gave me no hope for optimism. If there was any activity in anyone’s Corpus Callosum at Spring Creek that snowy afternoon, it wasn’t evident to me.