SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is worried that a surge of interest in socialism among younger U.S. voters is the result of their collective lack of familiarity with the tenets and benefits of free market capitalism.
Herbert shared his thoughts on the issue during a Friday keynote address to about 1,000 attendees of the 13th annual Utah Economic Summit at the Grand America Hotel.
Herbert noted a widely circulated post-2016 presidential election season data point from Tufts Universitythat indicated "self-proclaimed socialist" Bernie Sanders garnered more primary votes from young people aged 19-29 than candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined. Those numbers, according to Tufts Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, showed 2 million primary votes from under-30 voters for Sanders against 1.16 million total for both Clinton and Trump.
"We need to have a better and more accurate understanding of free market capitalism, I believe, because we seem to have a growing fascination — especially among the younger generation — of a more command and control form of government, particularly socialism," Herbert said.
"Part of this fascination could be, I think, a misunderstanding of what capitalism truly is. When I think of capitalism, I think of the opportunity to dream big … then having the opportunity to go out and work and realize that dream."
Herbert went on tout the success of the free market as measured by the gains of Americans in the last century or so in metrics like health, longevity, infant mortality, earnings, homeownership and recreational time. He also noted the failed attempts at socialist experiments, highlighting food production systems as an example of why the approach doesn't work.
"A number of experiments in socialism in the mid-20th century … had the goal of prosperity for one and all," Herbert said. "Food production plummeted and tens of millions of people died from starvation in the USSR, China, North Korea and other countries where the governments took a command and control approach.
"Socialism doesn’t lead to shared prosperity. History tells us that it leads to mediocrity and shared poverty."
The governor said he believes younger Americans share the goals of their parents' generation, but their lack of confidence in the free market approach is sowing the seeds of interest in other economic systems.
"They have the same goals, they just wonder if free market capitalism will give them the future they hope for for themselves and society," Herbert said. "They worry that free market capitalism is failing and that it’s a win-lose system … and they also believe that there’s something better out there, hence the attraction to socialism."
Other featured speakers at the summit included former Hewlett-Packard CEO and one-time presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, Boeing missile expert Rich Choppa, Price Waterhouse Cooper partner Stephanie Hewlett and University of Utah Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute Director Natalie Gochnour.
Fiorina, notable as the first women CEO of a Fortune 20 company, has also dabbled in politics both in her home state of California and on the national stage in the candidate-rich primary lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. Since then, she founded the One Woman initiative with former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and is on the boards of several nonprofit efforts.
On Friday, she lauded Utah leaders for continuing the work to grow and improve the economy, even amid the longest sustained growth cycle in state history.
"People here in Utah could be forgiven if they said, 'Everything's going great, let's just keep doing what we’re doing,'" Fiorina said. "And yet you're holding this economic summit at this unprecedented point in prosperity … because you see possibilities beyond the way things are right now."
After her presentation, Fiorina offered a weigh-in on the trade war being waged with China by her former Republican primary opponent, President Donald Trump.
"Having done business in China for a long time, there’s no question that China has engaged in unfair trade practices," Fiorina said. "So we need to tackle this problem. On the other hand, we will never find a solution unless China also has a win here. We need to win some things, they need to win some things. I get very concerned as the rhetoric ratchets up and the tweets get more extreme on all sides that we’re not coming to a win-win, we’re setting up for win-lose."
Gochnour offered her annual assessment of the state's economic performance, which continues to ride a wave of success.
"Next month, June 2019, Utah's economy will celebrate 10 straight years of expansion," Gochnour said. "The longest on record."
Data released Friday by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics showed Utah's unemployment at 2.9 percent and job growth coming in at No. 2 in the country, with the state adding some 45,000 jobs since April 2018 and trailing only Nevada in annual growth rate.
Gochnour said the state's biggest current challenge is to successfully navigate another top Utah stat — population growth.
"If you take not just the migration, but the births, we've added a population the size of Weber County in just the past five years," Gochnour said. "That is a challenge for life quality."
Gochnour also noted the explosive growth of apartment development in the state's capital city. She noted from 1910 to 2010, about 5,200 apartment units were developed in Salt Lake City. From 2010 to 2020, another 5,200 apartment units will be coming online.
The annual event also recognizes state business leaders with awards. The 2019 Utah Economic Summit awardees included Utah Businessperson of the Year, Crystal Cal Maggelet, CEO, FJ Management; Utah Business of the Year, Pluralsight; and Utah International Business of the Year, Qualtrics.