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Roger Marolt: Roger This

Why must Aspen’s economy grow? That’s a dumb question. It’s so stupid, in fact, that I’ve never heard it addressed, much less answered. Perhaps that’s because the answer is so easy – “it just does.” And that’s basically what the authors of Aspen’s most recent economic-sustainability report seem to assume because they didn’t waste any discussion on the question, either, before eagerly warning us that someday, in the not-so-distant future, Google might be bringing up maps of Colorado without “Aspen” right in the middle of them. (Never mind that it probably already does occasionally; you get my point.)

The opposite of “growing” is “shrinking,” and you are either one or the other. “Maintaining” is not a word we use often. That’s life in a holding pattern. Perhaps it is because we see it as synonymous with “contentment,” and that word appears nowhere in the Modern Dictionary of Successful Living.

We’re not creating new jobs. Our sales tax base is stagnating. Our visitor numbers are flat. It’s nearly impossible for developers to build anything worth building because of all our regulations. The extinction of Aspen is nigh. The state of affairs couldn’t be worse unless Mick were running for something again. We’d better turn things around and start growing – for the sake of our children. And I’m sure we can tie it into the stemming of global warming, too, if we brainstorm a little more and add an addendum to the report in order to emphasize the gloom. Yes, we must even do more to do less.



The Aspen Economic Sustainability Report reads like a synopsis of the lingering effects of the Great Recession of 2008, emphasizing the dire consequences of slow to stagnant economic growth. Even in Aspen, nearly all of us have felt the effects of the national economic implosion. Obviously, a recession teetering on the verge of becoming a depression is disconcerting to everyone in the country. This kind of talk gets our attention.

However, Aspen is not a sovereign nation despite our efforts to promote that image by keeping it alive in our own minds. Things are different here. While stagnant job growth is a disaster for the country, it is, and has been for quite some time now, a cornerstone to Aspen’s success.




The major differences between our economy and that of the United States stem from our respective populations. Our county’s population is, for the most part, set to continually grow. Ours is the country of opportunity and freedom. There is plenty of space here, and everyone who enters, either through the birth canal or LaGuardia, will find a place to live. It is imperative that our national economy continue to grow so that everyone who wants a job can have one and to expand and maintain the infrastructure to support the burgeoning population.

The difference in Aspen is that we can effectively control our city’s population nearly completely. Stop building employee housing and approving larger and larger buildings in the commercial core that create space for new jobs, and you take away the two primary reasons to move here. Second homes are already effectively restricted, so that part of the population is limited already.

By expanding Aspen’s economy, we might create more problems than prosperity, including more traffic and the necessity of bigger hospitals, airports, schools and government. We eventually might be able to maintain our own industrial-military complex, but that’s not necessary unless Basalt develops a nuclear-weapons threat first. Thankfully, in order to make sure that the people who are here are making decent livings, we need only to make sure that we are maximizing the value of the product we are producing and ensuring that we are selling it to our current fixed capacity. But do we need to grow? No.

Admittedly, this is a selfish approach to conserving what we perceive as the character of our town. It’s the “Now that I’m here, let’s close the gate” approach to keeping the nest pristine. Is it our moral obligation to keep Aspen open as a refuge for those desperately seeking escape from the “real world,” as it was for many of us? Now, that truly is a difficult question to answer. I don’t know. It certainly is a different question from that of keeping Aspen’s economy viable, though.

Roger Marolt thinks it is better to let them eat cake than political baloney. Contact him at roger@maroltllp.com.


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