This op-ed was written by Stephen Rampolla, an intern at Libertas Institute, and originally appeared in Daily Herald on October 19, 2023.
It’s not often that a New Jersey Catholic ends up in Utah for the summer. But that’s exactly where I find myself, and I couldn’t be happier. As an intern for the Libertas Institute in Lehi, I have been able to experience Utah’s culture while also serving on the front lines of public policy. Although my religious creed makes me distinct in Utah, I have never been around people who are so passionate about a way of life that is practical and solution-oriented, rather than tribal. It’s a product, certainly, of what I’ve learned is called the “Utah Way.”
G.K. Chesterton, a literary giant among Catholics, once postulated in his autobiography that the chief idea of his life is “taking things with gratitude, and not taking things for granted.” So, in service of the former for my own benefit, and in service of the latter for the benefit of all Utahns, let’s go over what I see here that I don’t see in other states.
Let’s start with something obvious to me: Utah has a thriving economy. When you strive to keep taxes and regulations low, you are bound to attract the best that American capitalism has to offer. I’ve learned the phrase “Silicon Slopes” and seen Utah’s strong, diversified economy firsthand. It’s clear to me that Utah not only attracts young talent but also gives residents incentives to stay. For example, I learned that Utah’s property tax burden is less than half of my home state’s. In other states, the economy is bogged down to the point where residents and young talent consider leaving.
Utah delivers on many more staples conducive to liberty-minded endeavors. In short, I believe Utah lives up to the hype, to the point where I have considered moving here. But what is my biggest impediment? The fact that housing prices have skyrocketed. Seeing that almost every home’s cost is out of reach for those with middle-class incomes is disappointing. As I’ve researched the causes of the high prices, I’ve found that Utah regulates land development to such an extent that it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to build enough smaller, affordable homes. This has resulted in a shortage of homes, which has driven up prices.
Some feel that strict zoning is necessary to reign in the negatives that come with the massive growth Utah is experiencing. A common quip I hear is that “growth for the sake of growth is cancer.” But how could anyone see positive net migration as analogous? Growth is what an economy needs to thrive: It leads to more funds for infrastructure, increased entrepreneurship, higher wages and other benefits. These benefits more than make up for the downsides that growth can bring. People are not flocking to Utah just for the sake of moving. There are reasons for the growth, serving as a stamp of sound public policy that unleashes the powers of the market and the common man’s creativity.
New Jersey will always have a special place in my heart. If my life story continues there, I can take comfort in the pizza, bagels and Jersey shore, which are all second to none. But for the sake of others like me, and for the sake of Utahns who want to continually embody freedom, it’s time that government barriers are lifted on housing so Utah can fully shine as the sanctuary it has always encompassed.