All things considered, it’s been a good summer for Colorado Springs. Tourism is booming. Our town is growing, has a reasonable budget, and is attracting investment. Southwest Airlines now flies to our airport. The new Summit House on top of Pikes Peak is awesome. Amazon is building a warehouse and hiring like nobody’s business.
Real estate isn’t just booming, it’s completely bonkers. My house has appreciated a ridiculous amount, even though I’ve done nothing much except live in it. My heart goes out to all those people who want to buy a home and join us here. We should be rezoning and building more housing for you. But that’s another column.
If we want to understand why our community’s future looks bright, we should first beware of the “cargo cult” mentality.
Cargo cults are a real thing. They sprouted up independently on various islands in the Pacific, when indigenous peoples first encountered Western civilization and its abundance of material goods. Lacking an understanding of how such wealth was possible, they began imitating the soldiers that brought it.
After World War II, when the soldiers left, the natives developed rituals where they would stand on abandoned runways, waving landing signals and lighting fires. They even cleared makeshift landing strips in the jungle to attract the planes and their cargo of goods.
And why not? Human brains are constantly making connections. It’s an evolutionary adaptation that’s helped us a lot. If we see black clouds on the savannah, it’s a good survival instinct to connect them with a thunderstorm and get back to the cave. If we hear a predatory growl in the underbrush, we’re more likely to survive another day if we connect it with a crouching tiger ready to pounce.
Fast forward a few hundred thousand years. In the modern world, constantly making connections doesn’t help us as much, and can actually hold us back. If A happens and then B happens, that doesn’t mean A caused B. Even though our brains want to convince us that’s what’s going on.
Black clouds don’t cause a thunderstorm. Modern science (also a product of our brains) has shown us there’s something deeper going on. The growl doesn’t make the tiger appear. Standing on a bare strip of land and waving torches doesn’t make planes land. People can die after they get COVID, they can die after they get vaccinated. That doesn’t mean either one killed them. In modern parlance, correlation is not causation.
The same is true when trying to understand why the Springs is doing well. It’s not because Southwest now flies at our airport. It’s not because there’s a new Summit House. Those and similar outward signs are correlated with growth. They don’t cause it.
Causality is a complicated thing to unravel, but I might suggest a couple of things to ponder. What is it that made Southwest decide it was now worth investing resources in flying here? Why are various public agencies and private sources willing to put money toward a new Summit House?
I’d suggest the deeper reasons for those things are worth trying to get a handle on. Colorado Springs, for example, appears to be a pretty good place to do business. Wealth creation isn’t so much a target of the envious here, it’s something to be admired.
We should also admire how welcoming we are to folks who are different. In an underreported but thoroughly detailed report titled “The Roots of Structural Racism Project”, researchers at Berkeley developed mathematical standards for measuring the amount of integration in a metropolitan area. Of the 133 largest cities analyzed, only two have had increased integration over the past 30 years. One was Port St Lucie, Fla. The other? You’re living in it. Good on us.
These two factors are important, but they’re just the start. I’m sure there’s more we can learn. Learning about what’s being built here is great. But as we move forward, let’s have the discussion about why people want to invest and live in our community. Over time, that’ll be far more rewarding.
Barry Fagin is senior fellow in technology policy at the Independence Institute in Denver. His views are his alone. Readers can contact Fagin at firstname.lastname@example.org.