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Kansas' Red Dawn
The Surprising Effects of the Brownback Government

Under Governor Sam Brownback, the state has gone all red at a rapid pace, putting in place scores of conservative policies like huge tax cuts and welfare restrictions. We’ve previously suggested that experiments like Brownback’s Kansas (or their blue equivalents) might give us great data on what kind of policies work. But unfortunately things seem less clear-cut. The Times covers the progress Brownback has made, in light of his upcoming re-election fight. So far the results seem neither mainly good or mainly bad, but mixed:

Unemployment fell to 4.9 percent last December, the lowest level in more than five years and lower than the national average of 6.6 percent in January. When he started his term in January 2011, the state had $876 in the bank; now there is more than $700 million in cash reserves and Kansas personal income, a measure of family earnings, is growing. The state had more than 15,000 new business filings in 2012, a record, and sales tax receipts have risen […]

But there is far from universal agreement. Personal income and gross state product are growing at a slower rate than the national average. And the state’s nonpartisan legislative research department has projected that the budget will face a $213.6 million shortfall in fiscal 2017, in large part because of the deep tax cuts that are expected to cost the state about $3.9 billion over the next five years.

The experiment in Kansas is still ongoing, and it’s important to note that many conservatives themselves think Brownback’s agenda is too extreme or too simplistic. Still, this result is somewhat surprising because it suggests that even drastic policies changes might ultimately have only mild effects. We’ll be watching closely for any further data coming out of this experiment. In the meantime, read the whole thing.

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  • PKCasimir

    Who writes this nonsense? Kansas has $700 million in cash reserves and a projected short fall of $231 million three years from now and the state is in trouble? Where did this nonsense come from that because a state agency is reportedly non- partisan (which doesn’t mean non-ideological) it is somehow more reliable, more perspicacious and more accurate in predicting the future?

    • Kavanna

      Yes. The Times also keeps trying to vilify the massive success of Texas (creator of nearly half the new jobs in the US since the 2001 recession). Better Blue State bankruptcy, with your narcissism intact.

    • Agim Zabeli

      Exactly right. 4.9% unemployment is a “mixed” result? Kind of irritating WRM would take at face value an article from NYT about how the results of hard-right Republican policies are “mixed”. Even a child knows by now the smart money bet is that “mixed” in this context means “GOP-policy-results-way-better-than-we-will-ever-admit”.

      Those “mixed” results would be touted by NYT as unequaled and glorious successes in blue Illinois or California.

  • Vadim Pashkov

    “Personal income and gross state product are growing at a slower rate than the national average.”
    look at the price of agricultural commodities: wheat for example declined by 20% last year,
    should force your interns to do more research

  • charlesrwilliams

    These policies will take more than 2 years to transform Kansas, especially if there is some chance they will be reversed.

  • gabrielsyme

    “even drastic policies changes might ultimately have only mild effects”

    Firstly, the actual difference between centre-right Kansas policy pre-Brownback and current conservative policy under Brownback simply isn’t that huge in the scheme of things. Cutting taxes helps, and reducing bureaucracy helps, but Kansas hasn’t become a libertarian utopia, and it wasn’t a socialist state before.

    Secondly, economies are sticky things, and it often takes time for policy changes to produce their full effects.

    Brownback’s policies appear to be succeeding, but clear and incontrovertible evidence may be a while in coming.

  • qet

    I agree with the commenters here who observe that time will have to be taken. It is another symptom of our policy-drunk academic and media culture (and sadly, Via Meadia often seems intoxicated on this potion) that it is considered both sound governing and sound analysis to change a policy–reduce a marginal tax rate, for instance, or remove one or two regulations–and then immediately set about data collection and statistical operations and projections and conclude that something has or has not been, will or not will be, a success, with “success” being simply some numeral at the end of a long computation chain. Extricating human freedom from the swamp of government policy into which it has increasingly been mired over a period of more than half a century will not be accomplished in any one or two election cycles nor will any budget or unemployment rate projections be relevant measures. The results of free human action are not expressible as a sum of least squares or state budget projections. And we should also remember that what any policy change might “cost the state” is of no importance whatsoever except to people (a) who work for the state. and (b) people who write about state policy for a living (including all of those “nonpartisan” policy research services). That $3.9 billion will be retained by Kansans, no? Why is that not presented as an unqualified good?

  • TommyTwo

    My name is TommyTwo, and I approve these comments.

  • Jim__L

    Hi VM,

    Please define “drastic”.


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