The Online Encyclopedia of Wyoming History

The Paradox of Plenty

The Paradox of Plenty

By Rebecca Hein

Wyoming: The Paradox of Plenty: The Allure and Risk of a Mineral Economy, by David Freudenthal. WordsWorth Publishing, Cody, Wyo., 2022, 237 pages. $20.00 paperback.

The author’s blunt, tell-it-like-it-is style permeates this engaging history of Wyoming’s mineral economy and its associated politics. Drawing on his experience as Wyoming’s governor from 2003-2011 plus substantial personal research, Freudenthal paints a compelling picture of our long dependence on the extractive industries.

He begins with the background of our early reliance on property taxes, including taxes on “household furniture and appliances, musical instruments, jewelry and clothing,” and continues with the 1935 adoption of the sales tax.

His severance tax discussion includes three early, unsuccessful attempts to tax mineral production before the tax was finally adopted in 1969 under Gov. Stan Hathaway. Freudenthal comments, “A certain folklore exists in Wyoming suggesting the state was forced to pass the severance tax because the government coffers were empty. State financial documents for the time do not support such a claim.”

Discussing coal, oil, natural gas, uranium, bentonite and trona, the author notes that in the four years from 1966 to 1970, the year Hathaway was re-elected, production increases ranged from 15.8 percent for oil to 122.8 percent for uranium. In his chapter on federal policy and Wyoming’s economy, he goes on to analyze world and national events after World War II, particularly in regards to oil production, over which Wyoming had no control.

The opening of this chapter illustrates Fruedenthal’s forthright tone: “While we in Wyoming speak boldly of controlling our own destiny, the reality is much different. External events, markets, technological advances, and national policies related to energy, minerals, and the environment drive change in Wyoming.”

Devoting one chapter each to boom and bust, he winds up with an epilogue salted with choice observations: “Our citizens have not demonstrated a willingness to accept fewer governmental services. Everyone talks about reducing government, except for the services personally important to them or their family.” He continues, “According to the Wyoming Taxpayers Association, we pay only about 20% of the actual costs of the public services we receive as citizens. … We are not exactly the rugged, carry-your-own-weight Westerners embodied in the Cowboy Ethic adopted by the Legislature and signed by me, as Governor.”

Wyomingites might wince, viewing the author’s portrait of us. But from this thoughtful analysis, all readers will learn an important component of our state’s history, politics and finances.

Available from the publisher, at Amazon, other online outlets and at various locations throughout the state.

For more on Wyoming’s reliance on mineral revenues, read: