Selling Our Birthright for a Mess of Pottage

The following op-ed by our president Connor Boyack was published in today’s Standard Examiner.

If you remember your Bible stories, you’ll recall Esau and Jacob, the twin sons of Isaac and grandsons of Abraham. By being born first, Esau was the legal heir to the birthright, set to preside over the family and receive a double inheritance from his father. Surprisingly, he exchanged this prized status for a mess of pottage—giving up something profoundly important to satisfy a momentary desire.

Of course, the fulfillment of a fleeting need for food was temporary, and Esau would once again be hungry at a later time. Perhaps for this reason—by abandoning his birthright in favor of something so ephemeral—we read that Esau “despised his birthright,” obviously placing little value on it.

Many politicians follow in Esau’s footsteps.

Consider the behemoth in our backyard—the NSA data center facility in Bluffdale. This mass storage site for the NSA’s unconstitutional, warrantless surveillance and gathering of our personal data was welcomed with open arms by some state leaders who were eager for the job creation it would bring. Governor Herbert, for example, called the facility a “godsend” due to the estimated 10,000 temporary construction jobs involved in the project.

More recently, Bluffdale entered into a contract to supply the facility with over a million gallons of water per day at a discounted rate in a desire to win the bid over other interested cities. Happy with his city’s success, Bluffdale City Manager Mark Reid stated that the deal “got us a ton of infrastructure… in places we wouldn’t have it,” allowing the city to attract more residential and commercial developments.

The myopic pursuit of economic development by political leaders in Utah comes, too often, at the expense of individual liberty and limited government. Government grants and loans are issued to companies that soon thereafter close their doors. Governments around the state own and operate businesses that compete with private sector alternatives. Tax breaks are regularly given to select companies looking to expand, while their competitors receive no such favors from the state.

The intent of the American Revolution was to secure and protect our unalienable rights—the birthright of liberty with which our Creator has endowed us. We should, then, learn from Esau’s mistake and be extremely wary of trading that birthright for short-term economic gains.

As the revolutionary rhetoric amped up in Boston in the early 1770s, Sam Adams produced a report with his Committee of Correspondence in which he passionately persuaded his associates to steer clear of this “Esau exchange”:

“Let us consider, brethren, we are struggling for our best birthrights and inheritance, which being infringed, renders all our blessings precarious in their enjoyments, and, consequently trifling in their value,” Adams stated. “Let us disappoint the men who are raising themselves on the ruin of this country. Let us convince every invader of our freedom, that we will be as free as the constitution our fathers recognized will justify.”

In other words, the infringement of our liberty is too often perpetrated by men who “rais[e] themselves on the ruin” of this birthright—those who seek for monetary gain while disregarding the far more important principles involved. The willful abandonment of this birthright reduces our ability to enjoy our blessings and cheapens their value. In short, like Esau, we “despise” our birthright if we so freely trade it away.

Government legitimately exists to help protect our rights—not to pursue economic opportunities at the expense of our liberty and property. Let’s not repeat Esau’s mistake; there is still time to learn from the past so as not to repeat it.