Free enterprise is a powerful force.
Fortunes, fads and fancies roll in and out on the tides of the free market some riding high on the crest of success, others crashing against the jagged rocks of failure.
But as powerful as the forces of the free market are, they're highly susceptible to the subtle -- and not so subtle -- whims of politics.
Four years ago, our outgoing leadership set out to slow population growth and used some heavy-handed development policies to do it.
Those policies inflated the cost of housing and slowed growth some, but more significantly, they priced average families out of the market.
Families that didn't buy into town a few years ago before housing prices inched out of reach for the average wage earner are primarily out of luck -- at least for now.
Gila County wages, which averaged $11.52 an hour in 1998, are too low, and site-built housing costs, which currently average $153,310, are too high.
Housing starts have dropped by 140 a year from the town's peak growth year in 1997, but they continue at a respectable annual clip of about 250, indicating that many people -- primarily seniors and people of means -- are undeterred by the town's increased cost of living.
But the number of families moving to town is down, town and school officials say, and that means our population of new residents is less dynamic and diverse than it was just a few years ago.
And that establishes a dangerous economic cycle.
Smart business owners won't move their companies to communities where workers aren't available and their own employees can't afford to live.
And workers won't move to a community where jobs are scarce, wages are low and housing costs are high.
It's time for our leaders to consider some creative new ways to welcome families back to Payson.