Category Archives: Deseret News Columns

Here’s How Utah Can Avoide a Double-Dip recession and end the covid-19 economic misery

Originally published in the Deseret News.

The economic pain from COVID-19 continues to build. Since late February, approximately 125,000 Utahns (8% of the workforce) have been furloughed or laid off. More job separations are certainly on the way. We are all asking, “When will the economic misery end?”

Perhaps the most important insight regarding this question came from the nation’s top immunologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci. He said, “You don’t make the timeline; the virus makes the timeline.” With this in mind, I’d like to share insights on common economic questions.

How much worse will this get?

Let’s be honest … it’s hard to imagine it getting much worse. In 42 days, Utah wiped out nearly all of the jobs that our nation-leading economy created in the past three years. More job losses will follow, but I expect April 2020 will be the highpoint for job losses, with each subsequent month tapering down. The leveling off will occur because we now operate with more information, more adaptation and innovation, and more financial and regulatory assistance. We will slowly claw our way back, moving from the urgent phase, to the stabilization phase, and ultimately to recovery.

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Six economic rules to help during a pandemic

Originally published in the Deseret News.

The onslaught of information about the coronavirus can do as much harm as good, particularly when it comes to the economy. In what some have called an “infodemic” Utahns like me are asking questions:

  • How do I keep myself and the people I love safe?
  • What sources of information should I trust?
  • Is our response proportionate to the risk?
  • Are we overreacting and hurting our economy in the process?
  • How do we synchronize the public health imperative with sound economic reasoning?

I can’t answer these questions with precision, but it’s clear the virus will impact some of us, while an economic slowdown will impact all of us. It’s important we take calm and rationale actions to minimize the economic impact even as we follow public health guidelines.

With this in mind, I’ve crafted six economic rules to help Utah during a pandemic. The rules are the economic equivalent of hand-washing and not touching your face.

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What was tuesday’s impact on utah? pretty super

Originally published in the Deseret News.

The results are in. Super Tuesday was super for Utah. Candidates campaigned here, voters participated in record numbers, vote by mail worked and Utah’s voice became relevant on the national stage. Kudos to the Utah Legislature, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox (state’s chief election officer), state election officials, county clerks and the political parties that made this success happen.

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by finding common ground utah sets an example for the nation

Originally published in the Deseret News.

Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt tells a memorable story about being at an intersection in downtown Salt Lake City and seeing two contrasting bumper stickers. One said, “Earth First! We’ll mine the other planets later.” Another said, “Save the planet. Kill yourself.”

These extreme statements, as inappropriate as they are, convey a timely lesson — a lesson that is needed as the Utah Legislature meets, Utahns vote in their first Super Tuesday election and a competitive gubernatorial race heats up. The lesson? Seek common ground.

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beauty is in the eye of the beholder: the trump and obama economies are surprisingly similar

Originally published in the Deseret News.

After the Iowa caucus mishap, a friend of mine tweeted: “The Iowa caucuses were a perfect symbolic start to a Presidential campaign where Democrats will pretend that results don’t matter and @realDonaldTrump will focus over and over on his results.”

I thought it was a clever tweet for two reasons. First, the Iowa caucuses were a disaster and a worthy target for criticism. Second, a common refrain about President Trump is disdain for his tone and character, and enthusiasm for his results. After all, aren’t we experiencing the longest sustained economic expansion in U.S. history?

Indeed, we are, but the U.S. economic expansion is more than a Donald Trump story, just like the Great Recession was more than a George W. Bush story. Economic expansions, like the current cycle, often cross over presidential terms. Presidents also exert less control over the economy than many people imagine.

Continue reading beauty is in the eye of the beholder: the trump and obama economies are surprisingly similar

citizen referendums are not the best way to do tax reform

Originally published in the Deseret News.

I love to shop at Harmons grocery stores. Like so many others, I enjoy the salad bar, homemade soups and salsas, extraordinary cheese selection, high quality meats and fresh produce. They are very good at what they do, and I love that they are locally owned.

Because I count on Harmons to provide groceries for my family, it gave me pause when they got involved with tax policy. Even under the best circumstances, tax policy is complex and difficult to address in representative government; it’s almost impossible to address at a checkout stand.

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tsunami trends to keep an eye on in 2020

Originally published in the Deseret News.

When a pebble falls into a shallow pool it creates a series of ever-widening circles cascading toward the edge. What was once smooth, still and stable changes to be undulating and unstable. Change the pebble to a boulder and a tsunami occurs.

The new year will bring plenty of pebbles, but will it also bring boulder-sized disturbances? I took a peek inside my crystal ball to find tsunami trends worth keeping an eye on in 2020.

Economic uncertainty

A group of researchers from the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and Stanford University constructs an index of economic policy uncertainty. The index includes the number of news articles discussing economic policy uncertainty from 10 large U.S. newspapers, a list of temporary federal tax code provisions set to expire, and the dispersion between the forecasts of professional economists.

Beginning in about 2015 the economic policy uncertainty index started a precipitous rise. In August 2019, the index reached an all-time high. It has since dropped a bit, but still stands at elevated levels. Clearly, trade policy, presidential impeachment, Brexit, political unrest in Hong Kong, Middle East conflicts and labor shortages are creating a high level of uncertainty for the new year.

Net in-migration and apartments

Utah’s population growth continues to surge. Last year an estimated 24,987 more people moved into the state than moved out, marking the fifth consecutive year of net in-migration of over 20,000 people. I’m impressed by the level of net in-migration, but that’s not the story. Net in-migration has occurred in 28 of the past 30 years and topped 30,000 twice in both the 1990s and the 2000s. The real story is the form this new growth is taking. Utah is building apartments at a record pace.

In 2010, local government permitted 1,723 apartments. By 2018, the number of units permitted tripled to 5,185. Final numbers for 2019 are not yet tallied but through September the number of units has more than quadrupled over 2010 levels reaching 7,188. Analysts expect an unprecedented 9,000 units statewide by year-end.

It’s an open debate why so many apartments are being built, but the economics are clear — vacancies are low, absorption is fast, and rents are high. Housing affordability remains a challenge. A majority of the new apartment construction is in Salt Lake City. People in the Beehive State are living more compactly. It’s a tsunami trend I expect to continue.

Urbanization

Utah continues to urbanize. In the 1940s, 7 in 10 Utahns lived in one of Utah’s large urban counties of Cache, Davis, Salt Lake, Utah, Washington and Weber. Today, nearly 9 in 10 call these counties home. The Census Bureau ranks Utah as the eighth most urban state.

Utah is not alone in the urbanization trend. Our nation’s history is one of changing from a predominantly rural and agricultural nation to an urbanized and industrial nation. What makes Utah’s urbanization unique is our topography of high mountain valleys and limited private land. As we grow we struggle with congestion, air pollution and housing affordability. It requires careful planning and massive investment to preserve our life quality.

Globalization

The world gets smaller every day and this is increasingly true for Utah. Nonstop flights take off each week from Salt Lake City to Mexico City, Calgary, Paris, Amsterdam, London and more. Utah exports $12 billion worth of products all over the globe each year and a worldwide missionary force from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spans the globe.

A globalization trend worth watching is the surge in Utah’s foreign-born population. In 1990, Utah’s foreign-born population totaled 51,686. Today it’s quadrupled to 245,665 Utahns. As the global economy continues its thrust, Utah continues to welcome the world and diversify our population.

Other tsunami trends in Utah I’m watching are the growth in short-term home rentals, explosive Chinese visitor spending, youth vaping rates and growth in electric vehicles. 2020 promises to be a year of change.

Christmas reminder: Success in life depends on human kindness

Originally published in the Deseret News.

Sheep and Goats, by Utah artist Kathy Peterson

I will be a recipient of a beautiful painting this Christmas painted by Utah artist Kathy Peterson. The painting, titled “Goats and Sheep,” depicts five goats and six sheep in a green pasture. Like all works of art, the painting leaves room for extensive interpretation. It’s precisely the interpretation of the painting that drew me to it.

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Utah’s fertility rate falls below replacement level

Originally published in the Deseret News.

Last week the National Center for Health Statistics released final birth data for 2018. The verdict is in. Utah’s total fertility rate dropped for the eleventh consecutive year and, for the first time, dropped below the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman. Utah’s fertility rate now stands at 2.03 births per woman and three states — South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska — have higher fertility rates than Utah.

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How the Utah Legislature’s tax proposal will assist the most vulnerable

Originally published in the Deseret News.

Approximately 9% of Utahns live in poverty. Many others struggle to meet basic subsistence needs. The reasons for their financial struggles vary, but all Utahns benefit when people live in a stable and healthy environment. The question is, what is the best way to help?

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