Category Archives: Blog

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.

Continue reading citizen referendums are not the best way to do tax reform

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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Let’s take a break to be grateful

Originally published in Utah Business.

I served as an associate administrator for public affairs at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the George W. Bush Administration. It was the most difficult job I’ve ever had. In its mission to protect human health, the agency regulates every business, household, and government agency in America. Regulation is not for the faint of heart, and that’s why they say your two best days at the EPA are your first and your last!

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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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Salt Lake City’s mayoral race has been a refreshing class act

Originally published in the Deseret News.

There’s not much inspiration in politics these days. This year, Utahns witnessed a rare exception: the Salt Lake City mayor’s race. The race hit the mark of substance, civility and class. Both state Sen. Luz Escamilla and Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall campaigned in Utah’s capital city with grace, dignity and competence. We are all better for their leadership and example.

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The danger of the escalating trade war

Originally published in Utah Business.

When I think of the People’s Republic of China, my mind goes to lots of places. I think of communism and the country’s red flag with gold stars. I think of the Olympics, both as a venue and remarkable athletes. I think of rice and tea and even Peking duck (yes, I’ve tried it before). I think of intellectual property disputes, the two-child limit, and the brilliant Shanghai skyline, framed by the waterfront of the Bund. But mostly, I think of the world’s most populous country―approximately 1.4 billion people… about one in every five humans on planet Earth.

With a population like that, there was once a time when China comprised much of the world’s poor people. Today, thanks to the introduction of market reforms, China has moved into the ranks of the global middle class. It’s an international success story, as an estimated 800 million people have been lifted out of poverty over the past four decades. 

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Remarks at Titan Event

Note: I recently received an honor and spoke at the South Valley Chamber Titan Awards Dinner. After thanking my co-award winners, parents, in-laws, children, husband, mentors, and community leaders I shared these thoughts.

I’m a Murray resident and I spend a lot of time along the Jordan River Parkway. It’s a haven for birdlife. Near my home is the confluence of Little Cottonwood Creek with the Jordan River. It creates marvelous marshlands that most of the year are teeming with ducks, geese, grebes and, for part of the year, Great American white pelicans.

It’s very common when you’re on the Parkway, especially this time a year when there are few, if any leaves on the tree, to see a bird perched on the very highest branch watching what happens below.

It’s from that highest perch that you can see how everything comes together – the river, the shore, the plant and animal life, and people.

My training as an economist and time in public policy, locally and nationally, has provided a perch for me to observe the inner workings of this community and the broader trends affecting our world.

I’d like to share with you three observations I see from that perch.

First, the pace of change is accelerating and it is difficult to keep up. It’s frazzling our nerves and detracting from our peace of mind. With this in mind…don’t lose sight of the basics:

  • A good book,
  • A walk with your dog,
  • A real face to face conversation,
  • A listening ear for a friend,
  • 24 hours without a smart phone, and
  • Faith in a living God.

Second, not everyone is rewarded by this economy. We need to help those around us who are hurting. Best-selling author Michael Lewis writes:

“Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck — and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.”

Let’s actively seek out and help the unlucky among us.

Finally, I am inspired by the grandeur of our mountains and the solitude of our red rock. I feel a greater obligation to honor our plant, to love our land, and beautify our surroundings. The gift of creation requires our stewardship.

Mother Earth has given us much. Let’s give her something back.

Thank you for this honor.