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State departments of motor vehicles are often maligned for being behind the times, but in Utah, they seem to be nearly a century ahead of the politicians.

The Utah DMV was truly prescient in 1942 when the Utah license plate proudly proclaimed Utah as the "Center Scenic America." The first Utah chairlift had started spinning a few years earlier at Alta, but the economy was still centered around agriculture and mining.

At that time, Park City and the Cottonwood canyons were still active mining areas, and Arches had been designated national park but was quite remote considering the roads and automobiles of the time.

The 1940 Utah workforce reflected those different conditions, as farm-related occupations accounted for nearly 20 percent of the labor force and represented the single largest industry in the 1940 Census. Mining also accounted for almost 7 percent of Utah workers in 1940, a year in which Utah was one of the leading states in terms of production of gold, silver and copper. However, by the 1950 census, agriculture and mining in Utah employment had begun a long-term decline, with increasing mechanization and productivity growth.

As a result, farm workers were outnumbered by skilled craftsmen and clerical workers, and mining had dropped to about 5 percent of the workforce. Although the license plate message made another appearance in 1945, there were 40 years of unadorned Utah plates until the iconic "Ski Utah!" plates began in 1985. Ski Utah! was joined by the Arch on the Utah Centennial plate in 1996. For the past two decades, those images have dominated Utahn views while idling at traffic lights.

It is not only the images on the license plates, but the current Utah employment picture also bears little resemblance to the economy of the 1940s. Based on 2017 statistics, mining in Utah now employs 0.5 percent of Utah workers, and agriculture less than mining. In contrast, the leisure and recreation industry now employs about 10 percent of Utah workers and, when other "clean" industries such as high technology are included, the numbers are even more lopsided. Both education and professional service industries are able to attract workers to Utah partly because of the quality of life, and these industries employ 14 and 13 percent of Utah workers, respectively.

So at this stage, jobs that benefit from cleaner air, water and protection of natural lands outnumber mining and grazing by huge margins, and all Utahns stand to benefit from cleaner air and water. Yet both the Utah delegation to Washington as well as leadership in the state behave as if we still have the 1940s economy.

So, in addition to the question of how the 1940 DMV was able to see so far into the future, it is also a puzzle as to why the current Utah politicians are living so far in the past.

Loren Yager, of Park City, formerly served as the chief economist of the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.