Why does Utah have such a successful economy? | Opinion

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The last few years have been a successful time for Utah, with the state doing so well on so many nationwide rankings, we’ve seemed unstoppable. Former Gov. Gary Herbert would glowingly describe himself as the state’s CBO or “Chief Bragging Officer” at public events. 

Some of the highlights were Gallup calling us “the best U.S. state to live in” and Bloomberg (almost begrudgingly) running the headline “Utah keeps the American dream alive.” Utah is always ranked at the top for fiscal responsibility, governance , volunteering and charitable giving. We’re always ranked among the best state for business — which The Economist directly credited to Latter-day Saint culture — and USA Today gave ultra-conservative Provo the No. 1 economy in the country. 

Most recently, the American Dream Prosperity Index ranked Utah No. 5 out of 50 for most prosperous, using standards like quality of governance, infrastructure, ease of doing business, environmental protection and other factors. The group ranked Utah No. 1 in the category of social capital, something Sen. Mike Lee has talked about for years.

But can we keep it? 

This success has driven many, many, many newcomers to move to Utah, but could this prove to be too much success for our own good? Everyone is concerned about our limited useable land (and even more limited water). Will all this growth dilute our social capital? Will our infrastructure be taxed beyond its capacity? 

And can we in Utah be protected from the haystack of backbreaking straws coming out of Washington the last two years: self-destructive energy policy, out of control spending and inflation, and impending recession with no plan to stop it? 

With mortgage rates higher than ever in 20 years, many first-time home buyers will continue to sit on the sidelines or in their parents’ basements in hopes of a Fed pivot. Again, given all the new move-ins, housing in Utah will be pushed even farther out of reach for many. 

The rate hike has been in part a reaction to the Treasury’s unprecedented money printing in the years since the financial crisis, free money to pay for ever-exorbitant deficit spending may have reached its limits. 

Now contrast this backdrop with the way Utah policymakers and business leaders keep our state on track — in Utah we brag about budget surpluses in the billions, not deficits. 

Earlier this year we learned that Utah’s pandemic response turned out to be the best in the nation. This was largely due to synergistic leadership among the business, health and government leaders on the Economic Response Task Force — there’s that social capital at work. Its leader, Salt Lake Chamber CEO Derek Miller, said that the goals of good health and good business “weren’t mutually exclusive, they were mutually supportive.”

Those critical first steps to keep the state open and safe were consequential and determinative. This is one of the reasons Utah continues to be a working model to the nation of responsibility, opportunity and unity. 

But several tributaries are funneling into a flood of wokeness set to crash on Utah’s shores, given the kindhearted, accommodating nature of so many Utahns who want to play nice and assume everyone else does too. Alas that’s not the game plan for the high priests of wokeness, who have alienated all on the right, most in the middle, and even many traditional liberals. 

That’s part of the insidious nature of ESG (Environmental Social Governance) rankings, which aim to replace universal measures of outcome with artificial measures of conformity, as State Treasurer Marlo Oaks has written

If we want to keep our track record of success, the Utah Legislature needs to hold the line against these encroachments to our state. 

“Real conservatism cannot aspire to lofty principles, because its task is to defend what already exists,” bestselling political author Robert Kaplan wrote. “The conservative dilemma is that conservatism’s legitimacy can come only from being proved right by events, whereas liberals, whenever they are proved wrong, have universal principles to fall back on.” 

Given the last two years, that legitimacy appears to have been won. 

Utah leaders can use this next legislative session to set the markers for a prosperous future, one that protects the state from the mistakes of our federal government, woke policies, ESG reporting and so on. Let’s make sure the coming years remain a good time for Utah. 

Jared Whitley is a longtime Utah and D.C. politico, having worked in the Senate, Bush White House, and defense industry. He has an MBA from Hult International Business School in Dubai.

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