I remember going through Billings, Montana as the boys and I went to meet Leonard for our backpacking trip to Beartooth Plateau. It was hot and dry, which worked well as we dried our gear in a parking lot. We had discovered that my old tent leaked like a sieve during our soggy stay in the Badlands the night before.

Billings has topped the Wall Street Journal/ Emerging Markets Index. This trend is happening way later than I thought it would. When I moved to Iowa to watch over my grandpa in 1977 there were two things that baffled me. First, what’s with this farm program, where filling out forms nets thousands of dollars? Second, why are there so few people leaving the cities to move here? People don’t fence their backyards here because they like their neighbors for crying out loud.

I remember cursing Governor Terry Branstad because he was pushing for ways to grow the state’s population and consolidate schools. How could someone be so misguided as to not see the benefits of rural life? The schools I attended in California were so big that one teacher I had didn’t even notice a drugged student passed out and drooling on her desk.

What are the benefits of huge schools? They say that they can afford better resources. So what? Many teachers I talk to point out that students merely “study for the test.” Curiosity, skepticism, and evaluation often make for troublesome students.

This has dire consequences that are becoming more evident today. The division of labor is certainly necessary for a prosperous society. But we are reaching a point where specialized knowledge is crowding out critical thinking skills. So what if we can know about chromosomes if their function is ignored, eh? Pick an expert and go with the opinion that makes us feel good, rather than the one that makes sense?

As people from Portland buy houses in Billings they find they can chat with a neighbor while hanging clothes on the line or cultivate their garden. This is a joy I didn’t know existed as a kid in California.

Branstad is in China now. He’s an ambassador. China is a neighbor on a different scale than Willard Weibke was to my grandpa. I was floored when Willard and Helen offered to take Dawn and I out for pizza; still recovering from my California antisocial upbringing.

But China is a great example of large scale neighborliness. Are there some things you hire done? Of course. I don’t rebuild engines and I’m still finding out that my curious urge to fix everything can be costly. China’s people make clothing and electronics at a fraction of the cost of what workers are willing to make them here.

In China, after an agrarian society became a communistic one which didn’t yield wealth, just sameness, people welcomed blossoming free markets that allowed them to improve their lives by furnishing us with such luxury that we own nose hair trimmers and rent mini-storage for all the junk we don’t need.

Now politicians who have only the skill of getting and staying in power are claiming that China is a threat. If their dreams come true how will we like $75 shirts at Walmart and $2,000 smart phones?

Decent people see those on the other side of the fence as friends. Politicians lack the skills necessary to benefit their fellow man so they drum up fear and loathing in order to maintain their unearned position.

Iowa doesn’t have a town in the top 50 Emerging Markets Index, thank God. In our little world, we can remain neighborly.

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