Nick Wagner, Austin American-Statesman
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, waves to the audience during South by Southwest on Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Austin, Texas.

A few years ago the ambassador from Azerbaijan visited Utah to meet with government officials and business leaders. In a private moment, the ambassador leaned across the table and asked me in a hushed tone, “Why are so many in the United States flirting with socialism?” The ambassador went on to say, “I have lived under socialism and I can tell you the only people who want to live under socialism are those who never have.”

I don’t have a good answer to the ambassador’s question but I do know the problem is getting worse as some are turning that flirtation with socialism into a full-blown romance. We see it from college campuses to the campaign trail. Who could have imagined a few short years ago that candidates in a major political party in this country founded on principles of free enterprise would be so near the brink of a socialist economic agenda?

Last week I met with executives from chambers of commerce across the country. The discussion centered around the assault on free enterprise from the far right and the far left, from the halls of government to the sidewalks of Main Street. An anti-business, anti-jobs, anti-economic development sentiment is spreading across the country at an alarming pace.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is leading the charge from the left. She is an articulate advocate for socialism but her words and actions demonstrate the danger of ignorance in a position of power. For thousands of New Yorkers, Ocasio-Cortez’s fictitious fears directed at Amazon cost real people real jobs.

I left that U.S. Chamber meeting with two thoughts: First, I am grateful to live in a state where entrepreneurs, business owners and job creators are venerated not vilified. Utah has benefited from the principles of free enterprise as a leader in the nation for job growth and upward mobility. These accomplishments are not by accident or coincidence. They are the direct result of an intentional and purposeful effort to make Utah a business-friendly environment with a great quality of life. We recognize that capitalism is not perfect but it is certainly better than the alternatives, and Utah makes free market principles work better than almost anywhere else.

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The second thought is that we must be vigilant in preventing socialism from taking root in our state. We already see anti-growth, anti-job sentiments creeping in. In his State of the State speech, Gov. Gary Herbert addressed the dangers when government controls production, allocates resources and picks winners and losers in the economy. He noted the best way to combat fascination with socialism is through education, by calling for financial literacy courses in high schools throughout the state. The goal is for students to learn the economic principles of free enterprise that lead to prosperity. The governor’s call to action received a rousing applause from most state legislators, but not all, as a small group of lawmakers sat on the back row in silent protest.

It is unfortunate when we can’t applaud the economic system that has brought more wealth, more choice, more freedom and more opportunity to any other nation, at any other time, in the history of the world.