In 1906, the annual West of England Fat Stock and Poultry Society Exhibition was held in Plymouth, England. An ox was on display, and attendees were invited to guess its weight. Around 800 people participated.
Following the contest, an English statistician named Francis Galton analyzed the guesses. He found that while no individual estimate was very accurate, the average of the group’s guesses was within one percent of the ox’s actual weight.
Why mention this? Because it sets the stage for a favor I want to ask of you. And by “you” I mean everyone who lives in, or cares about, the greater Jackson Hole community.
To state the obvious, COVID-19 has completely disrupted our community, nation, and world. We’re in completely uncharted waters, with little sense of what the future may hold.
Appropriately, individuals are concerned, and in many cases frightened – not just for their physical health, but for their economic future. Businesses are paralyzed, not knowing how long they’ll be closed or if they’ll ever re-open. And because they depend on the sales taxes generated by those businesses, local governments are scrambling to continue providing necessary services while their revenues implode.
Sales taxes are the biggest revenue source for most local governments in Wyoming. This is especially true for the Town of Jackson, which gets 75 percent of its general revenues from sales taxes, and another 5 percent from lodging taxes. This precarious reality makes Jackson far more dependent on sales taxes than Wyoming is on coal, gas, and oil combined. (Because Teton County’s government levies a property tax, only about 50% of its revenues come from taxable sales.)
The town and county governments operate on a July 1 fiscal year, so both are currently planning their FY21 budgets. Yet like every other organization in the county – heck, like every other organization in the world – COVID-19 has so disrupted things that local government can only guess at its future revenues.
What to do?
I can’t solve the problem, but I have a two-part proposal to help us better understand it. Part 1 I’ve got covered, but for Part 2, I need your help.
Part 1 is building a model of Jackson Hole’s taxable economy, which I’ve done. Based on 2019 sales tax data, my model estimates what will happen to our taxable economy through June, 2021. Its results are based on inputting several business-related variables, including how different industries will perform over the next many months.
I think the model is pretty good, but no model can be better than the data that go into it. That’s where you come in.
In Plymouth in 1906, while none of the individual farmers correctly guessed the ox’s weight, their collective guess was very close. Applying that lesson to Jackson Hole and COVID-19, my thought is “Why not develop a collective guess about where Jackson Hole’s economy is going?”
Here’s my ask.
The survey has three parts. First, a few basic demographic questions. Second, some questions about where you think the local economy is heading. Finally, an optional series of more detailed questions about our economic future.
The survey will be open through Tuesday, April 14. When it closes, I’ll aggregate the responses and plug them into my model. I’ll report the results on CoThrive.earth, and share them with participants and the media. And in a tip of the hat to both the Fat Stock and Poultry Society Exhibition and the nation’s Jonesing for March Madness pools, there’ll be a prize for the closest guess.
If this “Wisdom of the Crowds” effort is successful, I’ll repeat it at the beginning of May, then monthly until doing so no longer makes sense.
Big picture, I have two goals for this effort.
First, to harness the community’s collective wisdom.
Individually, none of us knows what the future may hold. Each of us, though, has a sense of what’s going on in our particular corner of the world. If we can systematically harness that knowledge, it just might give us a better sense of our collective future.
The second goal is to help the community shift our energy from worrying about an unknown future to figuring out how to address our collective challenge.
By this I mean that COVID-19 has infected the world with a malignant fear of the future, one that feeds upon itself.
To counter it, we need to develop a shared sense of where we’re going. Once we do, we can transform our fear-based energy into a collective effort that will get the greater Jackson Hole community through this difficult stretch.
Thanks in advance for your help, and please, stay healthy.