Years and years ago, during my first official public speech in Utah, I mentioned, “I don’t envision Utah for anyone.” My remark was a not-so-subtle jab at Envision Utah, perhaps the largest private-sector government-planning group in the state. Back then, in its early stages, it was run by Jon Huntsman Jr.
Today, I am much less suspicious of its objectives than I was 15 years ago. Let’s face it, for a variety of social and economic reasons, Utah’s population will grow dramatically over the next few decades – with limited natural resources, along with the unnatural limits to potential land use placed upon Utah by the federal government, somebody is going to have to figure out future growth and how we entertain perhaps doubling the state population.
Before I raise a few concerns about Envision Utah, and get to my bigger point about the future of Utah politics, let me defend it. Utah really is a unique state – culturally, demographically and jurisdictionally. While every resident is proud of their corner of Utah, we are all Utahns. Under our state constitution, every local municipality is a subordinate of state government. Yes, you live in Logan and have local rule but, ultimately, Logan is granted that rule and state government can set your rules for you if it thinks you’re misbehaving. In this sense, and a few others, we’re all one happy family throughout this state. So Envision Utah’s idea of collective planning is not radical, even if it disturbs our sense of local autonomy and pride.
Furthermore, the people involved with Envision Utah are first class movers and shakers. From its inception, it has involved nearly every key political and financial big shot in the state. It is a public/private partnership, meaning its influence is leveraged and felt everywhere it wants. These are smart and experienced people and, honestly, under the circumstances, I’d much rather have these folks at the helm if there is to be a helm.
All that said, the helm remains suspiciously self-interested. Early on, Envision Utah focused its brand on Utah’s pioneer heritage, comparing its work to the work of Brigham Young. Of course, the problem is that all of the land and economic planning accomplished by Brigham Young was done within a theocracy. It’s the difference between LDS consecration and FDR’s New Deal. Envision Utah’s leaders are smart but not inspired; they are prescient but not seers; they are insightful but not prophetic. In other words, the changes they seek in Utah require raw government coercion to take effect, not the gentle influence of the Spirit and voluntary persuasion.
As with most other businessmen, if you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail. I have preached for years in Utah politics, ad nauseum, that family is the fundamental unit of society, if freedom and human happiness are your goals, and that family is the filter through which all public policy is subordinate and to which it must bend its interests. Despite the personal beliefs of those involved with Envision Utah, its filter is business and through that filter it is highly susceptible to crony capitalism and crony politics. And that’s its biggest problem – I trust Brigham Young’s vision for Utah, while every other vision is subject to review by anyone motivated by freedom.
I share all of that in connection with the recent launching of the new Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. Not a few years ago, certain people approached the state Legislature and asked them to formally recognize a new institute as the official think tank of the state Legislature. That think tank is the new Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute and, while its invitation was unceremoniously rejected by the Legislature, its gesture revealed a new concern for freedom-loving Utahns.
Like Envision Utah, the new Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute is comprised of some very impressive names in Utah business and politics. So impressive, in fact, any other voice or political interest in Utah should think twice before acting without its consent. Trust me when I say, this new institute is not in the freedom business. It’s in the business of business. It has a vision for Utah not unlike Envision Utah. And like Envision Utah, its implicit mission is a better quality of life for all. Sounds good. But the problem is that “quality of life” is not intrinsically a business decision. There’s no question that hard work and individual pursuit of higher standards of living are key components in any serious measurement of quality of life. But those are not business decisions. Businesses might provide a context for hard work, but businesses do not create it. The center of a quality life remains faith, family and service to our fellow man. That center is also the basis of a free society.
In so much as Envision Utah and the Gardner Institute seek to improve the Utah economy, I applaud them. But a business-centric, centralized attempt to improve our economy can often conflict with principled limited government, faith, family and a true entrepreneurial spirit. It’s those conflicts that concern me. I wish their VIP rosters of support were an indication of great ideas. My concern is that their VIP rosters of support are a bulwark to quash differences of opinion and dissent. I’d feel much more comfortable if their outreach was focused on honest persuasion, not power politics. Generals do not gather for peace, they gather for war. Decks of cards are stacked to win, not to lose.
Freedom-loving Utahns need to brace themselves for conflicts to come. These conflicts will compound as these organizations naturally reach out to any other person or entity who can “make afraid,” such as outreach to the LDS Church and prominent businessmen throughout the state.
Like I said, I hope this is all for the good. Trust me when I say I hope both groups prove my concerns ill founded. But, in terms of a free society, when business and crony capitalism are substituted for family as the fundamental unit of society, little good can be expected. As the most authentic “central planner” in Utah history knew – Brigham Young – Babylon is not the basis for a quality life, Zion is.
Originally broadcast on KVNU for the people. Reposted with permission.