December 21st, 2009

GOED: Redistributing Utah’s Wealth

The following is an op-ed I wrote that was published in the Daily Herald today:

Republicans have rarely done a good job at identifying and rejecting socialism. Many seem to think that only Democrats enact such policies, and therefore anything passed by a fellow Republican must have some sort of basis in fiscal conservatism. Thus, conservative activists shake their fists in outrage at Obama’s stimuli, bailouts, and “spread the wealth around” administration, yet they ignore, excuse, or embrace similar policies being promoted in their midst.

For an example of this cognitive dissonance, one need look no further than the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) here in Utah. This agency has recently been in the news, with the board funneling nearly $2 million to a company owned by one of its own members, and the announcement of $4.4 million in incentives going to the company headed up by Fred Lampropoulos, the recent week-long Senate candidate.

GOED’s sole purpose, as stated on its own website, is to “provide rich business resources for the creation, growth and recruitment of companies to Utah and to increase tourism and film production in the state.” Its current incarnation dates back to July of 2005, when a bill sponsored by Craig Buttars transferred the responsibility for economic development and tourism from a couple of departments to the new entity operating under the purview of the Governor’s office.

Did anybody bother to ask, previous to that time or since, why we have empowered our government to be involved in the economic development and tourism business? At their core, these operations are based in socialist principles: tax the many to benefit the few. As with the most recent example, this office is giving almost $2 million to a company (owned by a GOED board member) that claims it will create about 300 jobs over the next ten years. By what moral authority am I taxed to financially benefit another individual or company?

In essence, we have permitted our government to arbitrarily pick winners and losers in the marketplace, and as always, the politically-connected stand to benefit. The majority of Utahns are furious over the redistribution of wealth at a federal level, but their rage is entirely absent when it comes to their own state. Why the double standard?

GOED pats itself on the back for enticing businesses and movie studios to select Utah as their location of choice. This, they claim, is a boon for the local economy. Here’s a radical alternative: if the goal really is to help Utah’s economy, why not eliminate GOED entirely, let citizens keep the corresponding amount of taxes required to fund their socialist stimulus packages, and disseminate the tax breaks—once offered to a select few businesses—among the entire state?

If nothing else, our state government would be one step closer to being a respectable entity that does not confiscate an individual’s wealth for the benefit of those who can best woo bureaucrats. Government should only promote economic development by lowering taxes and removing its sticky fingers from the marketplace altogether. The status quo of robbing Peter to pay politically-connected Paul may be nice for Paul, and may be crafted to look good on a press release, but at the end of the day, Peter the taxpayer has been robbed.

Ayn Rand once remarked that “a society that robs an individual of the product of his effort… is not strictly speaking a society, but a mob held together by institutionalized gang violence”. It’s time we stopped tolerating the theft and redistribution of our money by a few government thugs, even and especially when done in the name of “economic development”.

9 Responses to “GOED: Redistributing Utah’s Wealth”

  1. Lisa Greenhalgh
    December 21, 2009 at 2:54 pm #

    I appreciated your article! It is good to question this type of thing. As I was driving on I-215 I noticed the beautiful cement embossed mural on one of the underpasses. I wonder what that cost? Am I the only one who feels that beautification projects should be contributed to voluntarily? So many public projects (including schools) seems overly ornate and fancy when we could do with a more simple and cheaper alternative!

  2. Robert J. Norman
    December 21, 2009 at 8:28 pm #

    Good post Connor. I agree with you. Socialism is creeping into every aspect of our lives and most are not aware. Lisa, I too feel that the ornate underpasses are overly expensive. I am beginning to wonder if we have lost the principles and concepts of what makes us a free people. As Frederic Bastiat points out, we are using the law for legal plunder.

  3. TKC
    December 26, 2009 at 6:19 pm #

    WOW!! Great post. I had never thought of those things before for what they are, even though those ornate overpasses did upset me.

  4. Rock Waterman
    December 30, 2009 at 1:11 pm #

    Connor, very well said as always.

    And concise! Good heavens, man! How do you do it?

    I just finished a piece over at my own blog that was so long I had to divide it into two parts. And it probably should have been four.

    If I ever learn how to write as astutely and concisely as Connor Boyack, I will have attained my life-long dream.

    -Rock Waterman

  5. Brian Mecham
    January 2, 2010 at 11:54 pm #

    The majority of Utah politicians are Republican, but certainly not “conservative” in the sense of conserving our rights and freedom.

    The interesting thing is that it seems like an easier task to rally together to defeat Utah’s national politicians (i.e. Chris Cannon) than it might be to de-seat some of the local ones.

  6. Cliff
    January 3, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    Conner, You are wrong about this.

    Utah competes for tourism and business on a global level against no only the other states, but also other countries.

    There is no private, for profit business paradigm for this kind of promotion. i.e Why would I invest money with no possibility of a profit reward?

    In the other hand, we know that our tax payer investment in promoting tourism produces a positive return to the state in the form of taxes through increased production of goods and services.

    This is not socialism, it is smart business.

  7. Isaac
    January 8, 2010 at 2:45 am #

    Cliff, perhaps you could define socialism, because what you described fits my definition of it. Referring to taxes as “investment” doesn’t change the fact that it was an involuntary confiscation of property. If there is competition in the global market place, why not let individuals get together and invest their money in order to obtain a return on it? What has the state got to do with investments and returns? What does it benefit the individual when the state gets a return on the individual’s investment? That sounds like a loss to me.

    You say “our tax payer investment in promoting tourism produces a positive return to the state in the form of taxes through increased production of goods and services.” Aside from this being a classic example of the broken window fallacy, you are describing socialism (or collectivism if you want to call it that) while claiming that it isn’t. You rationalize this because “There is no private, for profit business paradigm for this kind of promotion.” It might seem like a good idea to you, but what if you thought it was a bad idea? Would you still support collective investment for the state’s profit?

    If socialism is the redistribution of wealth and the centralization of control of the means of production, then you have described it with your very denial. I don’t know what else socialism is.

  8. Cameron
    January 23, 2010 at 12:06 pm #

    What is the sum total of the tax breaks given out by the GOED, and what are the quantifiable benefits derived from them?

  9. Doug Bayless
    August 5, 2010 at 3:50 pm #

    Thank you Connor. I try to pay some attention to the way things work around here but I didn’t even know what GOED was. I’m aware that most governments (the rest of the states, certainly the Feds, even most municipalities) do this kind of thing (it’s often expected) but I think it is a fair question to ask if we really want to follow the path of ‘most governments’.

    With you, I question the wisdom of unelected (read: unaccountable) government groups getting to siphon off taxpayer money directly to big politically connected companies instead of leaving it with the taxpayers to invest into their own businesses and incur risk of their own choice.

    Your point about how we’re allowing our Utah State

    government to arbitrarily pick winners and losers in the marketplace

    is well-taken. That’s pretty much the polar opposite of the freedom and liberty our forebears gave so much to establish in this nation.

    All that said, however, it can be a big problem that expectation of those incentives is so entrenched in the system. My understanding of the reason Walmart (and their ginormous tax base) went to Springville and Payson (skipping unfortunate Spanish Fork) is that Spanish Fork (for whatever reason) didn’t want to play the non-level-playing-field incentives game — and their neighbors did.

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