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Idaho view: Welcome to Idaho, eclipse chaser. Enjoy totality. And don’t honk.

This appeared in the Idaho Statesman:

Hello, eclipse visitor. We’re happy to have you in our state and know you’ll enjoy your visit.

We’ve arranged good weather and clear skies for you. Here are a few things you can do in return to help us help you make your visit productive and enjoyable.

Honking. Not necessary. Most Idahoans will think you’re trying to say hello to a friend. You and your fellow eclipse watchers may very well encounter something rarely seen outside of Interstate 84, Eagle Road or Idaho 55 on Memorial Day weekend: An Idaho traffic jam. Please be patient; this is new to us, too. If you absolutely must get the attention of the driver ahead, perhaps distracted by a woodpecker, a Payette River kayaker or a diving osprey, tap once gently, no more than twice. That’s all it takes here. A Brooklyn-style mash on the horn will not endear you to your fellow drivers, or (here’s a secret) get you ahead any more quickly.

“Idaho Nice.” And while we’re on driving, here’s a tip: Don’t race ahead as lanes narrow from three to two, or two to one, or try to force your way into traffic. Drivers in Idaho take turns, so everyone will get into the narrowing lanes by alternating efficiently. Thank that yielding driver with a friendly wave. Don’t be surprised. That’s Idaho Nice: Similar to Minnesota Nice, but without the umlauts.

You’ll have random strangers make eye contact and smile on the street. Or even wave. People will ask you about where you’re from and won’t be shy about recommending things for you to do. This is all normal for Idaho — as are bicyclists legally rolling through stop signs (we invented the Idaho stop law). So watch out for folks choosing to avoid traffic jams as they get to their eclipse-viewing site.

This is not Iowa. Contrary to the beliefs of many of our phonetically challenged fellow Americans, we are not flat and we don’t have transit-straight roads lined with cornfields. Expect mountains, winding roads with gravel and washboards. There’s no HOV lane on the freeway — or even many freeways. Take your time on our two-lane roads, and don’t expect four-way stops at intersections. Make time for huckleberry pie, ice cream or a bottle of Idaho wine. Take a soak in a natural Idaho hot spring.

Fences. Respect them. You won’t see a lot of them when you’re out in the path of totality, because much of the central band of our state is public land. That means it’s owned by the government in trust for all of us, locals and visitors, to enjoy equally in this great republic. So if you do see a fence, that probably means you’ve encountered private property. No worries. Just travel a little farther and you’ll find a nice patch of ground of which you are part-owner. You’re welcome to set up your eclipse-viewing picnic there. If you do go through a gate on a fence line, leave it just as you found it, open or closed.

Be forewarned: Without fences, there can still be livestock. Idaho is an open range state and if you hit a cow, horse or sheep, you pay the rancher and have to hope your insurance covers the damage to your front end.

Trash. Part of respecting Idaho’s niceness is picking up your trash. You like these clean highways and landscapes too, right? Help us keep it that way. It’s not complicated. And that means burying or bagging the toilet paper in the woods. Enough said?

Fires. Please, please, please avoid them. It’s going to be warm and dry this weekend, even in the evenings. Modern tents, sleeping bags, hand-warmers and camp stoves mean you can stay quite comfortable without building a fire. It’s super dry here and clear skies (not to mention our lungs, livelihoods and lumber) depend on no unnecessary wildfire or smoke. Ditto for the fireworks and the cigarettes. Don’t light them in the woods, prairies or rangelands. You’re in Idaho because we have clear skies. Help us keep it that way.

Guns. You will see them. Hung across pickup windows and hanging on hips. This is OK. You’ll see men and women with holsters and in outdoor gear or camouflage in restaurants, grocery stores or gas stations. In Idaho (without getting into a lot of fine print), you can pretty much carry a gun anywhere at any time. Those folks with guns could even be Democrats, schoolteachers or legislators. In the West, and especially in Idaho, law-abiding, respectable, responsible citizens own and carry guns for hunting and protection from wild people or wild animals.

Speaking of wild animals. You will see some of these, too. Not necessarily while sitting in traffic on Idaho 55 between Banks and Horseshoe Bend (although that’s possible). But if you are out camping or setting up off the beaten path in Idaho, you can expect to hear bugling elk, screaming hawks or howling wolves and coyotes. Our party in the Pioneer Mountains in the past week saw a herd of elk, two badgers and a black bear. Keep your eyes and ears open and enjoy Idaho’s authentic wildness. Remember, wild animals are more afraid of you than you are of them. Enjoy from a distance and you should be just fine.

After dark. Don’t forget our night sky. As one of our favorite Western writers put it, we have “big nights, far to the stars.” Turn off the lights, let your eyes adjust and witness the Big and Little Dipper, Cassiopeia and the Milky Way as they were meant to be seen. Revel in our universe. You can still do that here.

Our own star. Lastly, don’t forget to look at the eclipsing sun Monday morning. We don’t want you so enthralled with Idaho’s mountains, rivers, forests, wildflowers, wildlife and prairies that you forget to put on your NASA-approved eclipse glasses and peek up at the sun. When your two minutes of eclipse totality are over, you’re going to want clear, healthy eyes to keep enjoying the totality of beautiful things and people our state has to offer.

Other view: Without more immigrants, U.S. is destined for decline

In response to President Donald Trump’s moves to curb immigration, economists and pundits have spilled a lot of ink on the topic of whether immigration hurts the native-born. We’ve reminded the public that the vast bulk of evidence shows that immigrants don’t drive down wages for the native-born, and that immigrants — especially skilled ones — make a positive fiscal contribution and integrate rapidly into American culture. We’ve pointed out that undocumented immigration has gone into reverse during the past decade, and that the immigrants that are currently coming to the U.S. tend to be much more highly educated than earlier waves. All these things show that immigration is clearly not a danger to native-born Americans.

But one thing relatively few do is to make a positive economic case for immigration. Immigrants aren’t a danger, but are they an economic necessity? That’s an important question to ask, because legal immigration to the U.S. has slowed down. The answer is that the U.S. probably does need to keep immigrants coming to maintain its prosperity.

The standard economic case for immigration is based on population aging. U.S. fertility rates are below replacement level, and the native-born population is aging steadily. That means that if native-born Americans are going to retire comfortably, the country needs immigrants, especially those with skills. Taxes paid by immigrants help support health care and social services for native-born Americans. Immigrants increase the pool of buyers for houses and stocks owned by old people. This saves many of the native-born from struggling in their golden years.

A second case relies on the innovation and entrepreneurship that immigrants generate. Newcomers to the U.S. tend to be highly entrepreneurial — something we sorely need in a time when the country is creating fewer startup businesses. Skilled immigrants also tend to be highly innovative, especially when paired with other smart and talented workers; this is one reason skilled immigrants raise the wages of their native-born counterparts.

These cases are both true enough. But the U.S. economy could certainly trudge on without immigrants — it would be a slightly poorer place, and old people would have to scrimp and save more. Is there a really inescapable economic reason why immigrants are so essential to the country’s economic future?

There might be. That reason is agglomeration — the tendency of economic activity to cluster in highly productive cities.

Why do cities even exist? Why isn’t economic activity spread out, with factories dotting the landscape and corporate headquarters in sleepy suburbs? One key reason is that businesses need to be near their customers, while customers — who are also workers — need to live near their employers. This basic principle was key to the theories of Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman. Krugman’s idea is surprisingly powerful, and can explain many features of how countries — and even the entire world — develop.

There’s a second reason cities are so crucial to a nation’s productivity. When knowledge workers — engineers, designers, managers and other creative folks — live near each other, ideas tend to flow freely between them, increasing innovation and progress. Companies that rely on these workers can also take advantage of having a lot of them in a small area — an effect known as a thick market. The innovative potential of cities is especially key to the modern knowledge economy.

This is why immigrants are so vital. With a growing population, agglomeration effects work their magic. With a steady influx of new people, new businesses form to take advantage of local labor and local demand, while creating high-value products to sell to the rest of the world. But when population shrinks, the virtuous cycle can become a vicious one — businesses don’t want to invest in a place where the labor supply and the demand for their products are going to shrink.

Economists such as Sari Pekkala and William Kerr have studied whether skilled immigrants create virtuous cycles of agglomeration, and so far the evidence points to yes. Others, like Yale’s Michael Peters, are investigating whether refugee flows have a similar effect, and initial results are encouraging. Immigration really does help create the dense clusters of economic activity that make countries like the U.S. rich.

This isn’t just an academic issue, though. In order to maintain its position as the world’s leading economy, the U.S. must avoid the ills of a shrinking market that now plagues countries in Europe and East Asia. With China rapidly growing wealthier, the world’s economic center of gravity is shifting in that direction. The size of the Chinese market is tempting every global company to locate its factories and offices and research centers close to that huge, dense market instead of in the graying U.S.

So far, the U.S. has resisted this pull because of its wealth. China’s huge numbers of workers and consumers now have total purchasing power roughly equal to the U.S.’s richer, more productive population. But as China continues to develop, that balance will shift. Unless the U.S. population continues to grow, particularly with skilled, highly productive workers, it could find itself slowly regressing.

So continued immigration isn’t just safe for the U.S.; it is an economic imperative.

Stapilus: Racial magnets

Some years back we toured the Statehouse at Mississippi and got a courteous tour of the place from one of its legislators. He asked where we were from and, told Idaho, replied that he knew little about the state other than references to its famous potatoes and famous neo-Nazis.

A week ago, Charlottesville, Virginia took the spotlight on the neo-Nazi front, but Idaho is not out of the racial extremist picture. The 24/7 WallSt. website compiled data on hate groups from the Southern Poverty Law Center—which for decades has been tracking such organizations—and found Idaho has the second largest number of such groups in the nation, per resident. (Montana was first, but it has a smaller population; Mississippi was in third place.)

Back when the Mississippi legislator offered his perspective, I felt obliged to clarify something. The neo-Nazis he (and so many other Americans) had heard of did exist, and then still had their compound in Kootenai County. But never were there more than a few hundred there, and usually no more than a few dozen. They were never popular in the state. On the few occasions when someone associated with them ran for public office, they always lost by overwhelming margins.

It would be more comforting to stop there and suggest that there may be a few bad eggs in every basket, but it’s only a very, very few.

Still. Reputations can feed on themselves; prophecies can self-fulfill.

Idaho, especially (not exclusively) northern Idaho, became known as a place where white supremacists or separatists or nationalists might feel comfortable.

That isn’t entirely about attitudes. Idaho is relatively remote from big population centers. As a matter of demographics, it is more homogenous than most of the country: Low percentages of minorities, ethnic, religious and otherwise.

It evolved in a certain cultural mythology as part of a region where people uncomfortable with multi-cultural environments could go to withdraw from the rest of the country.

According to 24/7 WallSt., we get to this: “There are 7.1 hate groups for every 1 million people in Idaho, nearly the greatest concentration of any state considered. One of the least diverse states in the country, some 91.5% of the state’s population identifies as white, nearly the largest share of any U.S. state. Despite the state’s relative racial homogeneity, or perhaps because of it, one of the dozen hate groups operating in Idaho is a KKK chapter based in Hayden.”

Listen to state Representative Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, in a statement (from radio host Dave Hodges) she reposted about Charlottesville: “The way the media has set this up, the mention of white nationalist, which is no more than a Caucasian who (sic) for the Constitution and making America great again, and confusing it with term, ‘white supremacist’ which is extreme racism. Therefore, if one is ‘guilty’ of being white, one is clearly racist. And if one is white AND loves America, they are a white supremacist capable of carrying out violent acts against nonwhites.”

The terminology may be slippery, but the attitudes, and stances, are not. The message gets out. Idaho’s top elected leaders, including many of those in current posts, have for many years denounced racism in the state. Idaho has its Anne Frank memorial and plenty of leaders who fight racism in the state.

But the lower-level, sometimes underground, message often is more welcoming—to white race-based groups, and often not so much to everyone else.