After the release of a Sutherland Institute-affiliated report on the rise of housing costs in Utah, "quality growth" advocates went on the defensive to protect their interests. The English language may never be the same again.

The Sutherland report highlights the fact that government regulations add costs to housing prices. This fact is indisputable. It also presents several regulatory ways in which local governments impose these additional costs. What the report does not do is to itemize the regulations imposed by Utah's local governments, encouraged by "quality growth" advocates. The Sutherland Institute would be pleased to offer this service if pressed.

Frankly, it is not needed. Just ask this one question: Has a Utah city or county council been involved with policies limiting the number of building permits because a community is growing too fast?

"Quality growth" is a euphemism for government interference in the housing market. It is steeped in environmentalist platitudes about how "people are the problem." It is a distorted reality afraid of future growth that uses the subterfuge of smart planning to address its fears. It is a scarcity mentality in a world of abundance. It believes in the myths of overpopulation, global warming and the immorality of the free market. And it ties up all of these concerns with a pretty bow of "Utah nice" — "we are only here to help."

In Utah, where convention, respectability and authority are often fronted to avoid serious debate, "quality growth" advocates persuade and then parade well-known community and business leaders to represent its public face. There is no socialist quite like a capitalist one — hard to argue with; even Mr. Capitalist agrees we should use government aggressively to pursue "green" agendas.

We can applaud anyone who will attempt to envision a healthy future for Utah. But these efforts should be honest in their representations. Call it "quality growth" or "smart growth," it all amounts to the same thing — a group of self-selected Utahns passive-aggressively using government authority to craft neighborhoods in their own "green" image.

A local government's interest in housing policy should focus on health and safety. The marketplace primarily should be relied upon to determine decisions about where we live and how we live. When the market fails for some of our citizens, such as the homeless, civil society, not government, should step in to fill that void. To say that "quality growth" planning saves taxpayers' money over time is disingenuous. Every totalitarian scheme is based on efficiency — do what we say, when we say it, and you will have a tremendous quality of life. It hasn't worked yet.

The Sutherland report is easy to understand. Government regulation adds unnecessary costs to Utah homes, especially new homes for first-time buyers. That "quality growth" advocates insinuate otherwise is embarrassing and reveals much more about their agenda than it does Sutherland's.


Paul T. Mero is president of the Sutherland Institute, a Utah-based public policy group.