The reasonable road to a clean environment: Avoiding policy potholes

In addition to energy development, transportation policy is another illustration of the damage that radical environmental thinking does to people’s lives and the hope that conservative environmentalism brings for crafting reasonable solutions to environmental problems. And no area illustrates radical environmental transportation policy better than Portland, Ore.

Portland has a long history of, among other things, being the centerpiece for “environmentally friendly” urban growth and transportation policies – sometimes referred to as “smart growth.” In the 1970s, the Oregon State Legislature passed a law establishing stringent restrictions on urban growth. Portland city officials immediately jumped on board with the radical environmental thinking behind this “urban growth boundary” law and began canceling road construction and maintenance projects in favor of public transit projects like light rail (e.g.,  Utah’s TRAX system is a light-rail system).

What has decades of such “eco-friendly” thinking and policy produced for Portland residents? Recently, a local Oregon newspaper chronicled the pathetic state of Portland’s crumbling road system – a city assessment found that nearly half of neighborhood streets and more than a quarter of major roads are in “poor” or “very poor” condition – and the reasons behind its sorry state of affairs. Further, in the face of this dramatic need for road repairs, the Portland Transportation Bureau recently decided to put off any major road paving until “at least” 2017, and the city cut its road services budget (e.g., bridge monitoring, street cleaning, etc.) by $15 million. Read more

Energy and conservative environmentalism

How we think about the environment and human beings’ place in it can dramatically impact people’s lives through public policy. This becomes evident when it comes to energy development and regulation.

Radical environmental thinking – which values the existence of “soils, waters, plants, and animals”[*] the same as it does human life, and which sees traditional values and human beings generally as the enemies of Mother Nature – holds as its ideal a purely abstract, unrealistic fantasy: a world in which mankind’s existence and activities have no negative impacts on the environment. Hence, the appeal of the radical environmentalists is that we abandon all fossil fuel energy development because of its harms to the environment in favor of “environmentally friendly” renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal power.

Since most people are reasonable enough to recognize that renewable energy can only provide a portion of our energy needs, and that abandoning fossil fuels altogether would severely impact millions of people’s lives, policy progress towards the radical goal of eliminating fossil fuel use has (thankfully) been very slow. What it has created are policies that limit the growth of fossil fuel production as much as possible. It has also led radical environmentalist groups to use legal action as a tool to achieve their utopian dreams, even when new fossil fuel energy production would use cleaner energy sources than we’ve relied on in the past. Read more

Going upscale in downtown S.L.

Five years ago backhoes started ripping two old, not-so-upscale malls and surrounding buildings in downtown Salt Lake City into rubble. Now, after an immense amount of construction, the new City Creek Center is open.

City Creek is remarkable not only because of its size, architecture and array of retail offerings, but it’s also being hailed as possibly “the largest privately funded development project in the United States,” even as the U.S. retail industry lingers in its state of stagnancy.

On that last point, City Creek is especially impressive, given that it’s privately funded while other developments and businesses seek government assistance through tax breaks, subsidies and other special favors. It’s good to be reminded that true private enterprise is possible.  Read more

Government-created jobs? Pure fiction


Jobs are a hot topic in politics these days. President Barack Obama is pushing his jobs plan; his Republican challengers are wrangling over who can create the most jobs; and Governor Gary Herbert has announced a goal to see 100,000 Utah jobs created in 1,000 days. All this talk about jobs raises a question: Can government create jobs?

[pullquote]Government should create only what it can: a legal and policy framework in which entrepreneurs – the real job creators – can do what they do best without government getting in the way.[/pullquote]The way many presidential candidates talk, you’d think they can simply pull a lever or wave a magic wand, and poof – a new job appears out of thin air. In reality, government can do very little, if anything, to create jobs.

Governor Herbert acknowledges this. While announcing his jobs goal he declared, “In Utah, we recognize it is the private sector – operating in free markets – which produces jobs, opportunity, and prosperity for our citizens.” He understands that government cannot create jobs but can promote policies that allow businesses to expand. Read more

KCPW brinksmanship shows how businesses dupe policymakers

A very instructive interaction recently concluded in Salt Lake City between the city council and KCPW, a local nonprofit radio station. It helps illustrate how private-sector businesses can (and often do) dupe policymakers into giving them special, privileged deals that their competitors do not enjoy, and which are not even necessary to accomplish the stated goal of the deal.

It all began in the second week of October when KCPW officials approached the city because they had an outstanding loan that was about to expire and, according to KCPW’s general manager, their “backs [were] against the wall.” Without the loan from the city, KCPW would be going off the air. The city’s citizen loan committee had recommended that the city council turn down the loan because “KCPW had not proven it could repay” it. Ignoring this warning, the city council chose to override the loan committee recommendation and award the loan to KCPW anyway. Read more

100-year-old patriarch is witness to staggering change


My grandpa, Martin Buer, turns 100 today. Born in 1911, Grandpa went on to become a top breeder of grand champion cattle out of his Minnesota ranch. To keep the peace with a disgruntled family member, Grandpa gave up his renowned, award-winning ranch, which he ran with his brother. Then he focused solely on farming. That’s a quick glimpse into the character of my dad’s dad.

Grandpa has witnessed staggering changes in just about every aspect of life while building an ever-growing family tree.

I’ll try to put his 100 years in perspective with a few historic milestones: Read more

The price of a blender and the market economy


The other day, I stopped at a yard sale with a friend. He had spotted a blender as we drove by and wanted to take a look at it. He picked it up, pulled out the glass jar and examined all the blender’s parts. After determining it would serve as a suitable replacement for his worn-out blender at home, he asked the homeowner how much she wanted for it.

She pondered for a moment and then threw out an offer, “How about $3?” Her manner indicated that she was likely new to the yard sale business and had little knowledge of what her blender might be worth. I thought for sure my friend would accept the offer. He replied, “OK, I’ll think about it.” Read more

Obama jobs plan: math or class warfare?


During Monday’s press conference from the Rose Garden of the White House, President Obama used a nifty sound bite to describe his new jobs proposal. He said, “This is not class warfare, it’s math.” And then, it seems, he forgot the math and preached class warfare.

Is it math or class warfare when he says, “We shouldn’t balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the middle class. … For us to solve this problem, everybody, including the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations, have to pay their fair share … Middle class families shouldn’t pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires”? Read more

Free market competition improves public education, too


Free market advocates and thinkers argue that market forces and competition motivate businesses and entrepreneurs to innovate and create new goods and services that improve peoples’ lives. Over time those goods and services become better and often less expensive. For instance, consider how free-market-driven innovation has led to better and in many cases cheaper computers, telephones, cars and home appliances over the years. More importantly, think about how such free market innovations have improved the lives of almost every Utahn in the state.

School choice advocates in Utah have similarly sought to apply free market ideas to education policy in order to establish competition, thereby motivating innovation and leading to better academic outcomes for children and parents in Utah’s public schools. It seems that those efforts are working. Read more

Why has no one replicated America?


Here’s a question: If America’s Constitution, Bill of Rights, system of government and free market economy are the best solutions humankind has ever conjured to govern itself, why has no other country closely replicated our systems and, correspondingly, our success?

By the way, theUnited States of America is indeed the most successful country in the world if success is measured by a combination of freedom, security, infrastructure, lack of hunger, limited government, (relatively) low taxes, education, standard of living, innovation and justice. Read more