Kansas’ Experiment in Right-Wing Economics Is Still Failing Miserably

Every few weeks I feel it’s important to return to the ongoing disaster in Sam Brownback’s Kansas. It doesn’t get nearly as much play as it should in the media, which is unfortunate because Kansas’ experience is definitive proof of the failure of supply-side, Laffer-curve-based economic theory.

Under the leadership of Brownback and one of the most conservative legislatures in America, Kansas dramatically slashed the tax rates of Kansas’ wealthy and its corporations. According to ideology, the cuts should have jumpstarted Kansas’ economy and led to rapid growth that created jobs and helped the tax cuts pay for themselves. Of course, nothing of the sort happened.

The effect was disastrous, a slow-rolling series of budget shortfalls followed by cuts to essential services like education and roads, which only slowed the economy further. A series of punitive and regressive sin taxes on tobacco and other goods were instituted to make up for the cuts to the tax rates of the wealthy, which of course only further undermined consumer spending.

Officials in Kansas have tried to blame the problems on a slow national economy, but that is hogwash. Say what you will about the unequal distribution in gains from national economic growth, there is no doubt that the national economy is performing well by traditional metrics. It is not doing so in Kansas. Moreover, Kansas’ neighboring states are doing far better than it is.

It’s not local economic variations. Kansas’ troubles really are directly the fault of its tax cuts. They didn’t boost the economy–they slowed it down.

And now Kansans are paying the price. Even more cuts are coming, including devastating cuts to road maintenance through thefts from its already plundered Department of Transportation. These cuts to transportation (totaling over $2 billion in a small state!) are leading to deferred maintenance that will, of course, be incredibly expensive to deal with at a time when borrowing costs will likely be far higher than they are now.

This is on top of the damage Brownback is already doing to the state’s K-12 and university education systems, causing good teachers and professors to flee to more hospitable states. It’s a complete disaster.

The nation’s eyes should be trained on Kansas. This is what happens when you put Republicans in charge with the freedom to pursue their economic ideology. It’s not just a moral train wreck in terms of inequality and shared prosperity. It doesn’t even work to keep the lights on and make the trains run on time. Conservative economic orthodoxy is completely dysfunctional for running governments and society because it’s built on assumptions that aren’t true: rich people don’t create jobs, cutting their taxes doesn’t stimulate growth, cutting government services doesn’t “free up” capital to be spent on private sector growth, etc. What actually happens is that the rich simply hoard more money, corporations build up savings in their balance sheets, government cuts damage public confidence and infrastructure, and regular people don’t have as much money to spend, which dries up the consumer confidence and spending that is the real driver of job and economic growth.