Opinion briefs: Thoughts on a few current topics

A good adversary can be helpful. It seems contradictory, but a good enemy can provide a lot of benefits. For example, Pres. Obama was an avowed opponent of the gun rights lobby. But he sold more guns than any president in history. Every time a crackdown on gun sales was proposed, sales skyrocketed. Gun proponents loved having a good antagonist.

Pres. Trump, by contrast, is the avowed opponent of the ACLU and other liberal groups. But because of his presidency, those groups are raising money and expanding membership like never before. The ACLU is growing fast and raising so much money it barely knows what to do with it.

Would an international trade stalemate be good for the U.S.? I was asked a serious trade question the other day, posed essentially like this:

The U.S. trade deficit is over $550 billion, meaning we import $550 billion more in goods than we export. So, if we had such a nasty trade war that all international trade ended, would not the U.S. economy be better off? We would keep the $550 billion circulating in America, rather than sending it overseas. That would assume U.S. businesses would step up to provide the goods domestically that would no longer be imported. Even accounting for all the export revenue we would lose, we would still be $550 billion ahead, according to this line of reasoning.

The person who asked me this question acknowledged that certain companies and sectors that do a lot of exporting would certainly be hurt. But he argued that, overall, the U.S. economy and businesses would benefit to the tune of more than half a trillion dollars. He argued that U.S. companies would gear up to replace the imports and the $550 billion would circulate in our economy instead of going to other countries.

I know how I would respond to this reasoning, and I’ll share it in a future Opinion Briefs column. But what do you think? Send me your answer to this trade deficit question at [email protected].

Is Utah growing too fast? I recently received this comment from a reader:

“From your column last week, I assume you are in favor of the Inland Port project.  Don’t we have enough people here in Utah already?  When I graduated from BYU in 1967 I thought Provo and Utah would be a great place to live one day.  When I returned to Utah , in 1984, after 17 years in the Air Force, for my last duty station at Hill AFB, the population of Utah had grown to 1.6 million.  My first time driving off base that evening I was nearly run over by a huge pickup truck barreling down the road, confirming what I later heard, that Utah drivers are among the worst in the nation.  Nevertheless, we decided to retire and stay here.

“Ever since, all I hear is incessant clamor for growth.  Now we have 3.2 million people.  The schools are crowded, the air pollution is bad and there are rumors of water rationing etc., plus forecasts of 5 or 6 million people!

“I read your column every week and obviously you know much more about these things than I.  Why the clamor for growth?  When a new company moves in, bribed with humongous tax breaks, it seems that half the jobs created are taken by people who move in from out of state!  And this results in more pollution, over crowding etc. 

“I don’t get it.  Would you please take a few minutes and explain this to me?”

Here’s my response:

Thanks for taking the time to write and for your thoughtful comments. I understand your sentiments and share some of your concerns. I grew up in Utah in the farming area of west Orem and enjoyed tromping the fields and marshes and working for the farmers. Now it is entirely covered by residential development and strip malls. I often wish we could go back to those idyllic times.

But while no growth might be good for you and me, who are retired (or nearly so) and are secure financially, it wouldn’t be good for our children and grandchildren who are looking for jobs, trying to start or expand businesses — and who will be paying our Social Security and Medicare.

Economic growth brings more people, and more people bring economic growth. And we must remember that most of Utah’s growth is internal — our children and grandchildren growing up and having children of their own.

So, I believe, all in all, despite the inconveniences, that economic and population growth are preferable to the alternative. I’ve lived through recessions when our population declined and the economy was stagnant. Those were very tough times for people seeking jobs, or seeking better employment so they could purchase a home for their family.

Growth is good, but it must be planned well or it results in gridlock and chaos. I think our state and local leaders are trying their best to keep up. And, remember, this boom won’t last. It will inevitably slow down and give us some breathing room.