Ask Me No Questions

March 21, 2016

in Economics,Politics

Oliver GoldsmithFrom my younger days I recall a quotation by Oliver Goldsmith (1730 – 1774), an Irish novelist, playwright, poet and physician: “Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies.” Of course, he was unfamiliar with the Republican party and present-day American ‘journalism.’

Perhaps the world was simpler in the 18th Century. Now it isn’t necessary to ask a politician a question to get a lie. They are impossible to stop.

On the other hand, what we laughingly call journalists seem reluctant and/or incapable of crafting questions that might elicit useful responses. Then again, given the targets of those putative questions, they may be well aware of the futility of such efforts.

This article is by Eric Levitz and was published in the New York magazine. He presents evidence that the implementation of the nonsense that passes for conservative economics has devastated the economies of Kansas and Louisiana. This is the very same prescription every conservative politician has for the entire country.

When will people realize that all ideologies are merely simplistic constructs which purport to offer devotees answers without requiring them to think?

Over the course of 12 debates, the Republican presidential candidates were never asked to address the budget problems in Kansas. That may not sound like an odd omission but it is.

You should demand that Donald Trump, John Kasich, and Ted Cruz explain why their tax policies won’t fail America in the same way they’ve failed the people of Kansas.

In 2010, the tea-party wave put Sam Brownback into the Sunflower State’s governor’s mansion and Republican majorities in both houses of its legislature. Together, they implemented the conservative movement’s blueprint for Utopia: They passed massive tax breaks for the wealthy and repealed all income taxes on more than 100,000 businesses. They tightened welfare requirements, privatized the delivery of Medicaid, cut $200 million from the education budget, eliminated four state agencies and 2,000 government employees. In 2012, Brownback helped replace the few remaining moderate Republicans in the legislature with conservative true believers. The following January, after signing the largest tax cut in Kansas history, Brownback told the Wall Street Journal, “My focus is to create a red-state model that allows the Republican ticket to say, ‘See, we’ve got a different way, and it works.’ ”

Governor Brownback
[ed]: Kansas Governor Brownback: Ignorance personified Photo: Orlin Wagner/AP

 

As you’ve probably guessed, that model collapsed. Like the budget plans of every Republican presidential candidate, Brownback’s “real live experiment” proceeded from the hypothesis that tax cuts for the wealthy are such a boon to economic growth, they actually end up paying for themselves (so long as you kick the undeserving poor out of their welfare hammocks). The Koch-backed Kansas Policy Institute predicted that Brownback’s 2013 tax plan would generate $323 million in new revenue. During its first full year in operation, the plan produced a $688 million loss. Meanwhile, Kansas’s job growth actually trailed that of its neighboring states. With that nearly $700 million deficit, the state had bought itself a 1.1 percent increase in jobs, just below Missouri’s 1.5 percent and Colorado’s 3.3.

Those numbers have hardly improved in the intervening years. In 2015, job growth in Kansas was a mere 0.1 percent, even as the nation’s economy grew 1.9 percent. Brownback pledged to bring 100,000* new jobs to the state in his second term; as of January, he has brought 700. What’s more,personal income growth slowed dramatically since the tax cuts went into effect. Between 2010 and 2012, Kansas saw income growth of 6.1 percent, good for 12th in the nation; from 2013 to 2015, that rate was 3.6 percent, good for 41st.

Meanwhile, revenue shortfalls have devastated the state’s public sector along with its most vulnerable citizens. Since Brownback’s inauguration, 1,414 Kansans with disabilities have been thrown off  Medicaid. In 2015, six school districts in the state were forced to end their years early for lack of funding. Cuts to health and human services are expected to cause 65 preventable deaths this year in Sedgwick County alone. In February, tax receipts came in $53 million below estimates; Brownback immediately cut $17 million from the state’s university system. This data is not lost on the people of Kansas — as of November, Brownback’s approval rating was 26 percent, the lowest of any governor in the United States.

Bobby Jindal[ed]: Bobby still doesn’t get it.

Louisiana has replicated these results. When Bobby Jindal moved into the governor’s mansion in 2008, he inherited a $1 billion surplus. When he moved out last year, Louisiana faced a $1.6 billion projected deficit. Part of that budgetary collapse can be put on the past year’s plummeting oil prices. The rest should be placed on Jindal passing the largest tax cut in the state’s history and then refusing to reverse course when the state’s biggest industry started tanking. Jindal’s giveaway to the wealthiest citizens in the country’s second-poorest state cost Louisiana roughly $800 million every year. To make up that gap, Jindal slashed social services, raided the state’s rainy-day funds, and papered over the rest with reckless borrowing. Today, the state is scrambling to resolve a $940 million budget gap for this fiscal year, with a $2 billion shortfall projected for 2017. Like Bizarro Vermont, Louisiana can no longer afford to provide public defenders for all its criminal defendants. Its Department of Children and Family Services may soon be unable to investigate every reported instance of child abuse. Education funding is down 44 percent since Jindal took office. The state’s hospitals are likely to see at least $64 million in funding cuts this year.

Mr Personality[ed]: Mr. Personality?

What has happened to these states should be a national story; because we are one election away from it being our national story. Ted Cruz claims his tax plan will cost less than $1 trillion in lost revenue over the next ten years. Leaving aside the low bar the Texas senator sets for himself — my giveaway to the one percent will cost a bit less than the Iraq War! — Cruz only stays beneath $1 trillion when you employ the kind of “dynamic scoring” that has consistently underestimated the costs of tax cuts in Kansas. Under a conventional analysis, the bill runs well over $3 trillion, with 44 percent of that lost money accruing to the one percent. John Kasich’s tax plan includes cutting the top marginal rate by more than ten percent along with a similar cut to the rates on capital gains and business taxes. Even considering Kasich’s appetite for Social Security cuts, his plan must rely on the same supply-side voodoo that Kansas has so thoroughly discredited. As for the most likely GOP nominee, even with dynamic scoring, his tax cuts would cost $10 trillion over the next ten years, with 40 percent of that gargantuan sum filling the pockets of Trump’s economic peers.

If any of these men are elected president, they will almost certainly take office with a House and Senate eager to scale up the “red-state model.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said of Brownback’s Kansas, This is exactly the sort of thing we (Republicans) want to do here, in Washington, but can’t, at least for now.” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s celebrated budgets all depend on the same magical growth that has somehow escaped the Sunflower State.

This campaign cycle has inspired an unusual amount of soul-searching in Republican circles. The rise of Trump has forced many conservatives to reckon with the moral odiousness of Nixon’s Southern Strategy — a blueprint for GOP electoral success that relied on coded appeals to white racial animus. Unfortunately, the fall of Kansas has failed to inspire a similar reckoning with the policies that those ugly advertisements were designed to sell. The GOP front-runner’s praise of mob violence and religious discrimination has spurred much righteous outrage from the National Review. Kansas’s shortened school-years have spurred none.

When Donald Trump makes a gaffe, reporters confront Republican leaders and demand a response. When the GOP’s economic platform decimates two U.S. states, a similar confrontation is in order.

Signature.

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