Tag Archives: free markets

Property Rights, Provo Grocers, and Zoning Laws

We each have equal God-given (or natural) rights that end where the rights of others begin. All of our rights can arguably be derived from a few basic ones, which may be categorized as rights (1) over our bodies, (2) over the fruits of our labors, (3) over our children within reason as they mature, (4) to interact contractually via mutual voluntary informed consent, and (5) to defend ourselves against others’ aggression. Those last two rights justify us in chartering political systems, to which we contractually delegate limited authority to assist us in defending our rights from others’ aggression so that we may remain free.

It’s sad when our public officers reject their proper role as rights-defending servants to become rights-violating masters, instead, even to the point of behaving like Earthly monarchs to rule over us, dictating how we citizens will exercise our rights as if we exist merely to serve their interests. This is not only immoral but also impractical, as the grandiose central plans that a few mere mortals arrogantly devise to coerce upon the rest of us are generally inferior to the plans that many mere mortals (especially with divine guidance) freely work out amongst themselves through persuasion coupled with voluntary cooperation.

This is also true of zoning, which originated among European socialists. This municipal variety of central economic planning curtails development, reduces competition, promotes false “order” and/or aesthetics over genuine needs, reduces housing supply while raising housing costs, excludes “undesirables,” wastes people’s valuable time with needless paperwork, retards economic progress, and lowers standards-of-living. Every one of its alleged benefits is provided better within genuinely-free markets, which allow the most economical allocation of resources. Houston developed well with hardly any zoning laws and, as a result, enjoys exceptionally affordable housing, while California’s zoning laws (combined with other regulations) have rendered housing so unaffordable that prices are driving residents away.

People often migrate in the direction of greater freedom, which is one reason why many Californians are currently migrating to Utah County, although they are mostly bypassing Provo for now. Their reasons for avoiding Provo remain unclear to us at present in the absence of any professional survey results. However, it’s possible that Provo is repelling new move-ins with its own proliferating regulations, as Provo’s city code more-than-doubled from 2001 to 2021.

Provo’s regulation explosion is partly guided by Provo’s Vision 2030 (or Vision 2050), which is a grandiose central economic plan that mayor John Curtis instigated in 2011, and that Provo’s city councilors have since attempted to translate (as they’ve openly admitted) from abstract vision statement into concrete city code. These efforts have included city council discussions about enhancing Provo’s existing mostly-1970s-era zoning laws that regulate buildings’ function with additional laws that regulate their form. At one Vision 2030 discussion in 2016, Provo’s city councilors even discussed the possibility of requiring all Provo homeowners to landscape their yards in a manner dictated by municipal law. During this surreal discussion, one attendee remarked something about how, if Provo residents didn’t like their local aesthetics, then they could fire their mayor for a successor with better taste.

Such form-based code, like traditional zoning, originated among socialists and has been touted as a means to implement “Smart Growth” policies. These are an attempt to forcibly redirect municipal development away from a city’s outskirts toward its center in the guise of “saving the natural environment.” Such overt environmentalism arguably conceals socialism, as socialists have long understood that rural landowners tend to be more patriotic and conservative than urban dwellers—so, by forcibly confining a town’s growth so that its city center develops in an urbanesque manner, socialists can perhaps help their ideas to flourish more easily within it. Such “Smart Growth” policies are also blatantly part of Provo’s Vision 2030, along with its successor Vision 2050.

Even without such form-based enhancements, Provo’s existing zoning laws still violate our equal God-given (or natural) rights to both property and contract, which form the basis of genuine free markets. For example, Smith’s bought some land long ago in west Provo with the intent to construct a shopping center on that land someday, and Smith’s management has since been waiting for it to make financial sense to do so. But Provo’s city councilors recently decided to forcibly hasten this process by rezoning this land so that Smith’s could no longer use its property to construct what it intended, while hoping that this impediment to competition will encourage other grocers to build stores in that same area. And those city councilors have also been examining alternative locations in west Provo on which competitors might build. Their primary motivation is reportedly to prevent west Provo residents from leaving town to buy their groceries, as this reduces city tax revenue.

Whenever the state forcibly overrides the market, the results are invariably detrimental. Frederic Bastiat wrote expertly about the persistent difference between the overt intent of public policy and what those same policies unintentionally achieve through indirect effects upon a complex system. For those same reasons that he stated so eloquently, forcing a grocery store into existence where it does not (yet) make economic sense for it to exist causes economic inefficiencies that hurt every consumer generally. Rather than centrally control or manipulate markets, it’s better to allow free people to freely work out such things amongst themselves. And, more importantly, it’s also the right thing to respect everyone’s property rights.

The “bottom line” is that zoning must end, including in Provo. Zoning violates rights and it does more harm than good. But zoning won’t end without significant changes in the sort of municipal politicians that Provoans have been electing. And those politicians won’t change unless/until more liberty-lovin’ Provoans involve themselves in municipal politics. And involvement won’t increase unless residents like YOU choose to engage in precinct-level activism by engaging your neighbors, motivating them, educating them, informing them, organizing them, mobilizing them, et cetera. Please choose to do so. And you’re welcome to use this website if it help any.


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Envision Utah’s Statist Vision Debuts

Although Free Provo focuses mostly upon municipal issues, city issues are sometimes closely connected with broader trends in Utah County. This site’s previous blog entry warned about attempts by local politicians to reorganize Utah County’s commission, arguably so that it can shoulder greater responsibilities for centrally-planning Utah County’s economy. These efforts roughly coincided with related efforts to devise some central planning guidelines, as composed by Envision Utah.

Envision Utah is a group of prominent Utahns who dislike free-market-driven growth for being too “chaotic” and “accidental” (as they’ve been quoted in the local news) and, as such, prefer our political system to assert control over that growth in order to start centrally-planning it. Envision Utah has devised central plans for other parts of Utah and, now, it’s apparently Utah County’s turn.

Envision Utah started a “Valley Visioning” initiative about two years ago under the excuse of managing Utah County’s rapid population growth. Its carefully-refined visioning process has involved (1) hosting various surveys and workshops and such to determine Utah County residents’ wants and values and priorities, then (2) using this input to develop a communal vision for Utah County’s future that will serve to guide county-level central planning in the coming years, and finally (3) leveraging Utah County values to sell this central plan to residents after it’s finished.

Envision Utah’s statist vision of Utah County is apparently finished now, and it will be presented publicly on November 17th (Tuesday) at 2PM during a news conference. It will then coordinate/guide local statist politicians in planning where new move-ins will live, what sort of homes they’ll inhabit, how they’ll landscape their yards, et cetera, rather than leaving such decisions to free people in free markets.

Central economic planning has devastated both entire nations like the USSR and great cities like Detroit, and it will innately do likewise here. It will greet Californian move-ins with the same sort of heavy-handed state policies that created the terrible conditions from which they’re currently fleeing in droves. The plans of the few, no matter how expert, are always inferior to the plans of the many. Some may denigrate free societies as “chaotic” and “disorderly” and “selfish,” but others perceive the beauty of virtuous free people spontaneously creating order amongst themselves.

So, let’s keep our politicians focused on defending our rights (and maybe maintaining our infrastructure) and NOT expect them to exercise their coercive powers to guarantee us the future that we think that we want, which would be counterproductive. It’s better for us to work out out our county’s future amongst ourselves as free people, while our politicians defend our rightful liberty (NOT carefully limit it). So, let’s please regularly scrutinize our politicians’ actions, including whether-or-not they’re complying with this central plan, and then elect ONLY those who will fully respect our rights.

Sadly, it shouldn’t surprise us if Provo’s current city council embraces this central plan, since they’ve already endured a similar process at a city level. About a decade ago, mayor John Curtis initiated a similar citywide visioning process, soliciting input from residents that he used to create Vision 2030, which Provo’s city council openly admitted to using as a guide for centrally-planning the city, gradually transforming its abstract vision into concrete city code. Vision 2030 proved so successful that they began to replace it with an updated version called Vision 2050. You can read more about these vision statements elsewhere on this site.

We endure such municipal politicians not because most Provoans love statism, one might argue, but because most Provoans abdicate to it because they don’t bother to participate in municipal politics. Again, let’s please motivate, educate, inform, and organize our like-minded neighbors to involve themselves in municipal elections to help replace Provo’s central planners with free-marketeers. And why not make a plan for such activism today? If this website helps you at all, then please use it.



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Provo’s Budget for FY 2021

Provo’s city council recently adopted a budget for fiscal year 2021, which was reduced somewhat due to the COVID19 pandemic of 2020.

During this budgeting process, some citizens advocated defunding Provo’s police force in response to recent incidents of local police abusing their power to violate citizens’ rights. These calls derive from valid concerns because police, like other public officers, should act within the limits of their delegated authority (including due process) to expertly help people to defend their equal God-given rights from others’ aggression. And it’s sad when police become aggressors themselves. Such trends toward police aggression are arguably facilitated by ongoing nationwide efforts to nationalize and dumb-down and militarize our local peace officers. Such a national police force could be used as a standing army to conquer our nation from within, and is a normal part of totalitarian regimes. We should resist such trends, including abuse of our local SWAT team, but we should definitely NOT eliminate our police force. So, I applaud our city officers for rejecting such calls.

What they should actually defund—or, better yet, privatize—is most everything else in Provo’s municipal budget. As we’ve noted before, Provo’s city-owned businesses include a redevelopment agency, a power company, an airport, a television channel, a library, a performing arts center, a recreation center, a fitness center, a golf course, an ice rink, a water park, a beach, a park service, a gun range, a garbage-collection service, a recycling service, and a cemetery, none of which are involved in defending our rights. It would be better for Provo’s municipal officers to spin off all of these divisions fully into the private sector, and then sever all lingering ties with them. As competitive private enterprises, these former agencies would become far more innovative and efficient and effective, serving customers better—and simultaneously allowing public officers to focus better on defending rights, and perhaps also on a few other tasks like maintaining local roads. It’s always easier for public officers to focus on performing their core duties well whenever they aren’t needlessly overwhelming themselves with excessive responsibility over other parts of our local economy. And our economy always works best whenever politicians stop trying to subjugate it to their will and, instead, simply help defend everyone’s equal God-given rights from others’ aggression.

But such structural change won’t happen without electoral change. For at least 20 years, Provo’s public officers have remained rather enamored with big government. And this is partly because Provo’s municipal elections have remained dominated year-after-year by big-government voters. And they prevail NOT because they constitute a large percentage of Provo’s population, but because most voters don’t bother to participate. So, we who value our rightful liberty need to change this sad status quo. We won’t reverse these statist trends unless we grow our ranks in both numbers and effectiveness. And there’s no time like the present to begin—so, please make a plan and implement it.


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Public Health Never Justifies Municipal Tyranny

Provo’s city officers are currently using their “bully pulpit” to encourage Provo residents to voluntary follow Governor Gary Herbert’s guidelines to “stay safe, stay home,” which is certainly within the limits of their political authority. But this blog entry (unlike most) isn’t directly about them—it’s about our state legislators who are currently debating a bill to enable them with tyrannical powers. We’ll consider these alarming current events in a moment, but let’s first consider the principles involved…

Political systems exist NOT to reign over us, wantonly commanding us in all things, but ONLY to serve us—and, even in serving us, only in a very specific manner, which is by expertly assisting us in defending our equal God-given rights from others’ aggression. This is the only proper use of the coercive power that they wield over us. And, even in helping us to defend our rightful liberty, American politicians are all further limited by Constitutional law, which they have all sworn a solemn oath-of-office to uphold, and which includes various power-restricting civil liberties such as due process.

These principles do not change at all during alleged emergencies, such as the ongoing coronavirus (COVID19) pandemic; instead, emergencies are times for politicians to do what they should do at ALL other times—to defend our rightful liberty in accordance with Constitutional law. So, for example, its fine for politicians to thwart one sick person from knowingly-and-willfully exposing another person to a deadly disease, all within the confines of due process. But it’s never fine for them to enforce draconian policies that impede the vast majority of healthy citizens from peacefully exercising their basic rights to worship or work or protest.

Despite such facts, seeming crises may provide ample false excuses for power-hungry politicians to usurp power from us citizens, which is usually hard for us to ever regain fully. Sadly, many American politicians, especially governors and some mayors, are currently doing exactly this in the name of keeping the public healthier than it would otherwise be. Although public health is a laudable goal, it should never come at the expense of our rightful liberty. Instead, our politicians should be defending us citizens in our efforts to freely go about our daily business as long as we don’t infringe upon other people’s equal God-given rights. And this includes allowing us citizens to freely take our own sensible precautions to remain healthy.

Utah’s state legislature is currently meeting in an online special session to consider “emergency” legislation to deal with the ongoing coronavirus (COVID19) pandemic. Such bills include HB 3009, which would empower local public officers (such as Provo’s mayor and city council) to declare emergencies and then exercise unchecked power in the name of keeping the public healthier than it would otherwise be. Such power would include ignoring due-process-of-law, detaining us indefinitely without charge, wantonly closing our churches or businesses, and prohibiting our Constitutionally-acknowledged rights to assemble and even protest. Such laws are unconstitutional and, therefore, they are also innately invalid—but they still shouldn’t be enacted.

Some defend this bill on the basis that these same powers are already granted to local health departments, and that this bill would simply transfer these existing powers from unelected bureaucrats to elected politicians—but neither party should wield such power. Police should only have power (within the limits of due process) to restrain sick people from engaging in behaviors that carry a reasonable chance of injuring and/or killing other people. Anything more than this is tyranny and usurpation. Please contact your state legislators to remind them of their oaths-of-office, along with the implications of those oaths, and also to urge them to oppose this bill as long as it continues to defy our rightful liberty and/or Constitutional law!


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Utah County in Transition

Although this site focuses primarily on Provo’s political issues, we are definitely affected by politics at all levels, including the county level. And our Utah County government, over this last year or so, has been enduring three major trends that arguably merit the scrutiny of all Provoans who value their rightful liberty.

Firstly, some politicians are currently seeking to reorganize Utah County’s government from a simple three-person commission into something more complex. Proponents of this reorganization like commissioner Nathan Ivie (who spearheaded this process) have repeatedly asserted that it will allow effective separation of our county government’s legislative and executive functions, which is very sound in principle—but others like commissioner Bill Lee have expressed deep concerns about the details of the proposals that his fellow commissioners have embraced for reorganization, which he asserts could allow both ever-higher taxes and ever-more regulations, as has become characteristic of Salt Lake County. This is a very interesting observation, considering the other two trends that we’re about to highlight.

Secondly, our current county commission (by a 2-to-1 vote) has just raised county-level property tax rates by an astounding 67%. We applaud commissioner Bill Lee, who voted firmly against this needless tax hike and is now trying to rally opposition to it, but we feel severely disappointed with his fellow commissioners Ainge and Ivie, who apparently favor us spending even more of our hard-earned money on being told what to do. This huge tax increase may render a newly-expanded county government awash in cash to spend on new responsibilities.

Thirdly, new responsibilities are currently being contemplated by Envision Utah, which is seeking to lead Utah County (as it’s already done successfully with many other parts of Utah) away from its libertarianish past of both local control and free markets toward a statist future of regional central economic planning. Since late 2018, Envision Utah has studied public opinion, devised scenarios, and evaluated options, in order to compose a common vision for Utah County’s future—a central plan that will dictate where everyone will live, what sort of homes they’ll live in, how they’ll landscape their yards, et cetera. It’s not guaranteed that a newly-reorganized Utah County government will ever arrogate such responsibilities or not—but it’s definitely more likely if we keep electing candidates like commissioner Ivie, who has already stated publicly that he welcomes a countywide central plan for economic development, partly to inhibit development from spreading into undeveloped areas. Such goals happen to be consistent with longtime socialist goals to regulate markets, reduce land ownership, and increase urbanization.

It may be more than coincidental that these three trends are occurring simultaneously. Franklin Delano Roosevelt once asserted that: “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.” In any case, we would do well to monitor these ongoing trends and encourage the best possible outcomes, lest we end up living under Soviet-style central planning, whether overseen by Commissar Nathan Ivie or perhaps someone even worse. We don’t need a county government that reigns over us in all things, but one that helps us to defend our rights against others’ aggression so that we may remain free. The plans of the many, negotiated among free equals, are normally superior to the plans of the few, dictated by political masters.

As Edmund Burke once noted, “evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” So, please don’t do nothing. Instead, please shake off any apathy that impedes you, get educated and/or informed about these pressing issues, get active and organized, and help your neighbors to do likewise. And become the hero that our society needs. If our website helps, then use it. Ditto with these voluminous references below. And, if you do nothing else, then please sign commissioner Bill Lee’s Utah County Petition!


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