Why I Am Optimistic About Utah’s Future

By Gary R Herbert


Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am an optimistic guy.

Sometimes, people seem incredulous about my optimism.

They say to me, “Gary, it is downright illogical that you are so optimistic when everything is falling apart. Our country’s economy is a mess, we’ll never be able to pay down the national debt, and our kids are falling behind their counterparts in foreign countries! We’re running out of energy, we’re running out of space, climate change is going to wipe us all out, and they just closed the Marie Callender’s in my neighborhood and now I have nowhere to get freshly baked pies!”

Now, I’m well aware we have real problems, many of which are long-standing and seem completely unsolvable. The economic downturn through which we have been laboring in the past three years has exacerbated existing problems, and has brought new ones to the fore.

While always acknowledging that times are tough, the reason I’m optimistic is I believe in the people of Utah and our ability to find innovative solutions to our most complex challenges.

Consider, if you will, the intractable problems 100 years ago. Back then, one of the most grave fears of parents was simply keeping their children alive. Tuberculosis, typhoid, smallpox, whooping cough, polio, malaria, and diphtheria claimed the lives of a disturbing number of children. Most of these diseases have now been nearly eradicated.

The death rate of children under age 15 has fallen by 95 percent since 1900 in the United States. Human innovation – in this case the invention and widespread adoption of modern medicines and vaccinations – solved this formerly “unsolvable” healthcare problem.

Think of all of the innovations and technologies which were either exceptionally rare, exceptionally expensive, or non-existent 100 years ago. Electricity in the home, cars – often multiple cars – for every family, air conditioning, dishwashers, clothes dryers, televisions, cell phones, computers, and more, are now nearly universal in our country.

Not only is the gross amount of modern technology available to us increasing at an ever-expanding rate, its cost continues to shrink relative to income, which leads to more rapid diffusion. Our information technology age has accelerated this process, and has provided a quantum leap in the creation and adoption of new technologies and the availability of information.

Can you imagine if you could go back in time and have a conversation with one of the newly arrived pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley – who were subsisting on biscuits made of cricket meal, and who were lucky to have had room in their handcart for the family Bible – that in 160 year or so, two of the problems their progeny would face would be obesity and information overload?

I am optimistic about the future because I believe that in 160 years or so, our progeny will look back on the issues bedeviling us today and be amazed they were ever problems at all.

I believe we will find new and novel solutions to the challenges we face in our education system, to the challenges of energy development and conservation, to the shortage of opportunity in rural areas, to the hyperinflation in healthcare costs, to air quality issues, to our need for increased economic growth and stable jobs.

I am optimistic in our future because I believe in the human capacity to innovate.

Nowhere is that capacity manifested more clearly than right here in Utah.

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