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Op-ed: A new economic dialogue can emerge from our fiery election season

Originally published in the Deseret News.

After this bitter election season, America would do well to reflect on this ancient Chinese proverb: “Out of the hottest fire comes the strongest steel.” It is our low points that often create our greatest opportunities to move forward and become stronger. This is especially true in the area of jobs and the economy: Hard times refine businesses, family budgets and economics, making them stronger over the long term.

This is the opportunity we have before us. We can move beyond the divisiveness of this election season toward a new, elevated economic dialogue on economic issues in our communities — the kind of dialogue that produces practical solutions to real problems. This community-driven dialogue should be grounded in the American economic principles of earned success in the free market, and the values of work, education and family.

Among Americans who graduate from high school, obtain some form of full-time employment, wait until 21 to marry, and have children only after marrying, the poverty rate is only 2 percent, according to research published by the Brookings Institution. And nearly three-fourths of this group achieve middle-class status. In other words, the values of work, education and family are guideposts toward financial security.

When these values are combined with free market principles, they become an engine of economic prosperity. When the market is not tilted toward the politically connected by corrupted government regulatory and subsidy schemes, then hard-working and educated employees and entrepreneurs, motivated by those they love, are driven to tirelessly produce and innovate by the natural moral imperative of the free market: Financial and economic rewards go to those who serve the needs of others.

This dialogue will require political and thought leaders who offer something more than a sentiment of “tough luck” to the millions of working Americans who have spent decades contributing to their country, only to be left behind by their nation’s economy. They have watched as leaders have scrambled to bail out jobs in failing multibillion dollar corporations, banks and government-subsidized organizations, while they lost their access to the American Dream and were offered welfare programs and told their jobs were not coming back.

What does this dialogue mean for Americans?

For working Americans, it means policies that promise to return America’s traditional middle-income jobs — manufacturing, construction and natural resource development — to a level playing field nationally and internationally. It also means new, affordable pathways to stable employment that avoid the mountain of debt that comes with typical higher education. Utah’s system of “stackable” credentials and Sen. Mike Lee’s proposal to expand accreditation options are promising starts.

For those in poverty, it means welfare policies that offer the promise of a better life through the “success sequence”: graduate from high school, find full-time employment, get married (and stay married) and have children — in that order. It also means recognizing that solutions to poverty come from individuals and communities, not distant governments and bureaucratic rules.

Individuals in poverty have innate and unique economic talents and abilities, and they deserve freedom from nonsensical professional licensing regimes crafted by industry insiders with an interest in making a license expensive and difficult to obtain. Similarly, community-based organizations and institutions — private and public, religious and secular, nonprofit and for-profit — should be freed from one-size-fits-none welfare regulations and programs that prevent them from customizing welfare resources to the needs of real people in poverty. Because they are closest to the situations of those in poverty, community-based groups are better situated than distant governments and bureaucracies to know the sources and solutions to poverty.

By elevating the economic dialogue within our individual communities, we extend not only the promise of political and societal renewal to ourselves, but we extend hope of a better life to the millions who have lost or never had access to the American Dream. A polarizing election season can instead be remembered as the moment we chose to cast aside the Pyrrhic victories of status quo politics and rhetoric, and found strength through one of our hottest political fires.


The road to happiness

Politics has been important from the founding of our nation – but strong individuals and community-driven solutions regularly serve us better than our political parties.

With both political parties holding their conventions over the next two weeks there will be an overload of analysis in the media. So this week’s Principle Matters is going to take a little journey off of the beaten path. Rather than focus on the government-driven solutions, we are going to focus on a set of principles that will create change, improvement and happiness – beginning with each of us as individuals.

The road to happiness and prosperity is never as difficult as we try to make it. In the late 1800s an unknown author penned a set of principles titled “The Road to Happiness.” The years have flown, the centuries have turned, times have changed, and technology has transformed the world, yet the road to real happiness remains unchanged. It is never to be found in the halls of Congress or emanating from some central government agency for happiness. It is found by following a set of simple principles.

Here is “The Road to Happiness”:

  • Keep skid-chains on your tongue; always say less than you think. How you say things often counts far more than what you say.
  • Make promises sparingly and keep them faithfully, no matter what it costs you.
  • Never let an opportunity pass to say a kind and encouraging thing to or about somebody. Praise good work done, regardless of who did it. If criticism is merited, criticize helpfully and never spitefully.
  • Be interested in others: interested in their pursuits, their welfare, their homes, and families. Make merry with those who rejoice and mourn with those who weep. Let everyone you meet, however humble, feel that you regard them as a person of importance.
  • Be cheerful. Keep the corners of your mouth turned up. Laugh at good stories and learn to tell them.
  • Preserve an open mind on all debatable questions. Discuss, but don’t argue. It is the mark of a superior mind to disagree and yet be friendly.
  • Let your virtues, if you have any, speak for themselves, and refuse to talk of another’s vices. Discourage gossip. Make it a point to say nothing to another unless it is something good.
  • Be careful of others’ feelings. Wit at the other fellow’s expense is rarely worth the effort and may hurt where least expected.
  • Pay no attention to ill-natured remarks about you. Simply live so that nobody will believe them.
  • Don’t be too anxious about getting your just dues. Do your work, be patient, keep your disposition sweet, forget self, and you will be respected and rewarded – on the road to Happiness!

Simple, powerful principles to build a better individual, family, neighborhood and nation. Imagine what could happen if everyone, especially our political leaders, pursued such a path?

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary aired on several radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here

Dallas, Louisiana, Minnesota—and you

To see Boyd Matheson deliver this via a Facebook Live video, click here.

The horrific and senseless scenes from the tragedy in Dallas, combined with officer-involved deaths in Minnesota and Louisiana, bring us as a nation to stand in front of the mirror of evaluation.  Questions will be rightly raised in the days ahead about race relations in America, criminal justice reform, law enforcement, Second Amendment rights, police and community trust and many, many others.

We should also ask some questions individually, as communities and as a country. Who are we? What have we become? What will we be in the future? Do the brutal and despicable acts of the few taint the scores of good and honorable individuals or are they simply a reflection of where we are headed?

Many Americans have responded by sharing on social media Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Do we need to hug it out as a nation? YES! But that is not enough. Do we need to talk it out as communities? YES! But that is not enough. Do we need to listen it out with people who are different from us?  YES! But we will need more. We need a new dialogue, a new focus and a new direction for our interaction as a society.

Many Americans have expressed a sense of being powerless in the face of the tragedies of Dallas, Minnesota and Louisiana. And that is exactly what the evil and undermining forces want you to feel. You may feel powerless – but you are not. You may be asking yourself, “What can I possibly do?” We must recognize and remember that individually and collectively we are immensely powerful.

We often look to the greatest generation who rose up in a time of war to unite the nation, preserve freedom and provide a place where individuals, families and communities could thrive and prosper. The greatest generation showed just what a united America can do when everyone sacrifices, everyone gives something up, everyone helps a neighbor in need, everyone looks for the good in people, everyone discovers opportunities to make a difference.

Like the greatest generation – we too are being asked to rise up in a time of war. The war we face is different – but the consequences are every bit as real.

We face a battle against the MYTH that we are too divided as a nation to confront and defeat the challenging issues of our day. 

We are at war with the idea that we are so divided as a nation that we have no choice but to retreat to our classes, races and special interests.

Lincoln asked, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

So, what can each of us do individually? A lot! You are immensely powerful. Strident voices tell us that our society is sick and broken beyond repair. Remember, though we are individuals, together we create our culture, our society and our future.

At times such as this we often quote great leaders like Lincoln and Dr. King. We need to stop just talking about them, and start acting like them. 

What can you do? Act on these questions:

What am I sending out in my words and rhetoric?

Am I reaching out in positive ways?

What will I do today to strengthen my family and community?

Do I treat those different from me with respect and kindness?

Am I engaged in elevated dialogue?

Do I listen with an open heart and mind?

Will I admit when I am wrong?

Do I seek to serve?

Am I a good example to my children, friends and neighbors?

If we all would act on one of those questions – TODAY – we would begin to the heal the wounds in our families, neighborhoods and nation. Government is not, cannot and should not be big enough to solve these issues.

We commit to honor those we have lost by our actions, not just our words.  We pray that those who are left behind to mourn and carry on will be blessed and strengthened. We will decide that as individuals our better angels will prevail.  We will decide that our communities will become more heroic.  We will decide to celebrate the strength that comes from our diversity and our commitment to the values that are the bedrock of our nation. E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one.  “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.”

We invite every American to be “here highly resolved that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…”

For all of us at Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson.  Thank you.

Intergenerational families: Humanity’s keystone species

self-controlAt Yellowstone last summer, we heard about keystone species, “a species that has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance.” These species solve large ecological problems that would otherwise threaten the very existence of an ecosystem.

Consider the challenge of transmitting virtue. It was commonplace among the Founders of the United States to note that a free society requires a virtuous people. They accepted Edmund Burke’s observation: “Men qualify for freedom in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power is put somewhere on will and appetite, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.”

In an authoritarian state, social order of a sort is maintained by extensive controls from outside the individual. In a free society, virtue must be transmitted into the hearts of individuals—but not by the state. Consider this powerful observation of Professor Bruce C. Hafen:

[I]t remains fundamental to democratic theory that parents, through this institutional role of the family, control the heart of the value-transmission process. As that crucial process is dispersed pluralistically, the power of government is limited. It is characteristic of totalitarian societies, by contrast, to centralize the transmission of values. Our system thus fully expects parents to interact with their children in ways we would not tolerate from the state—namely, through the explicit inculcation of intensely personal convictions about life and its meaning. Read more

Before you vote, take these 3 easy steps

Here are three easy steps to help you decide whom and what to vote for.

Besides the major federal, state and county office candidates, your ballot can include choices for judges, amendments to the Utah Constitution and county propositions.

To get a handle on all of those choices, follow these easy steps:

1. Go to and enter your information in the fields provided. If you are not registered to vote, you can do so by clicking the link in the “Not Registered to Vote?” box under the voter lookup box. Read more

Away with the speed traps!

What would you do if you were king or queen for a day in Utah? If you could make any decision to create any law or repeal any law or pass any regulation you want, what one thing would you do? Would you get rid of the state income tax? Would you create a new tax that would only help to feed people? Would you legalize drugs? What one thing would you do if you were king or queen for the day?

As odd as it might sound, I think I would get rid of speeding tickets and speeding traps. Not that I’m plagued by speeding tickets – I’ve had three speeding tickets in 40 years of driving. It’s just that I have a visceral and palpable animosity every time I see a speed trap. I think to myself – or sometimes say out loud in my car – “Don’t you guys have anything better to do than to sit there waiting to make criminals out of otherwise innocent people?”

I should say up front that I don’t oppose laws against reckless driving, just speed traps. Read more

Positive signs for Orem taxpayers after 8-hour tax hearing

After an eight-hour Truth in Taxation Hearing, the Orem City Council voted 4-3 at 1:45 this morning to approve a 25 percent property tax increase for the Orem portion of the property tax bill, instead of the proposed 50 percent increase. That will raise $1.7 million and the city will forego city employee pay raises and other purchases to cover the remainder of the $3.3 million city budget shortfall, $2.8 million of which is due to a UTOPIA bond payment. 

But Deputy City Recorder Rachelle Conner said she personally believes Orem residents will file a petition to make the tax increase a referendum item to be voted on by Orem residents in November of 2013. If the petition gets the necessary signatures and is validated, the tax increase will be put on hold until the vote, leading Conner to state that the city will have to make $3.3 million in cuts to city services to balance the city budget.

Read more

Isn't a dollar still a dollar?


While waiting in an excessively long line in the grocery store the other day, I overheard a little girl say to her mom, “Can I have this? It’s just a dollar.” The girl’s mother didn’t respond. But the child persisted and began listing the reasons she had to have what she wanted, her main argument being “It’s not like it’s a lot of money; it’s just a dollar.” The mother’s response was “I’m using my credit card, I don’t have a dollar.” The child retorted, “You don’t have to spend any money if you use the credit card.”

After about five minutes the child had moved on to the next shiny wrapped thing that had caught her attention and asked, “No, wait … can I have this instead? It’s just five dollars.” At this second request, the mother rolled her eyes, obviously having given up even trying to reason with her daughter, and added the item to her pile of things.  Read more

Overspending will kill your Christmas cheer


“Christmas is the season when you buy this year’s gifts with next year’s money.”


With the holidays nearly upon us, I was thinking about all the good memories I have about Christmas and the good feelings associated with the holidays. As a child, seeing all the gifts under the tree created such a powerful anticipation for the day we would open them. As I grew older, I started to understand how expensive the holidays were for my parents and how burdensome it was for them to pay for our gifts for months and years afterward. It was difficult to see the tension it caused in their marriage, which spilled over to us kids. Read more

The gift of self-reliance, stitch by stitch

My 10-year-old daughter just presented my husband and me with a Christmas wish list in the form of a letter:

Dear Mom and/or Dad,

Please, please, please get me a sewing kit for Christmas. I dearly want a junior one and I really want to learn how to sew like you, mom. Or get me something electronic. Like I’ve told you, most people (like, literally 8/9) have cell phones.  … Really those are the two most parent-acceptable things that I want.

Oh, no offense, but I secretly am getting tired of getting so many books for birthdays or Christmas! Just get me one or two! I do like to read, but I have plenty of books. I SAID no offense! …

Your Hopefully Humorously persuasive Daughter Read more