If Kansas Jumped Off A Bridge, Would Other States Do It Too? Apparently Yes!

You may be familiar with the state of Kansas, where Governor Sam Brownback and the ruling GOP have conducted what Brownback has called a "great experiment" in conservative economics. They've radically slashed income taxes, especially for top earners, on the theory that liberating this money will supercharge the economy; businesses will flock in, new jobs will be created, and an orgy of private sector commerce will fill the budget hole caused by the tax cuts.

None of this has occurred. Quite the opposite, in fact! Kansas is now worse than average in both job growth and personal income growth, while the state faces a deficit of $334 million, or about 5% of the total budget.

Now we're in Phase II of the experiment: Kansas is making up the budget shortfall by shifting the burden onto the poor and middle class with new consumption taxes and cuts to public education and transportation. If the states are "laboratories of democracy," as Louis Brandeis put it, the people of Kansas are the lab rats.

And now, according to the NYT, they may be getting some company:

A number of Republican-led states are considering tax changes that in many cases would have the effect of cutting taxes on the rich and raising them on the poor [...]

Gov. Paul R. LePage of Maine, who wants to start taxing movie tickets and haircuts, is also proposing a tax break for the lowest-income families to relieve some of the pressure.

At the same time, some of those governors — most notably Mr. LePage, Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina and John R. Kasich of Ohio — have proposed significant cuts to their state income tax.

It might seem strange that several other states are interested in replicating Kansas's experiment when it's very obviously harming many people while delivering none of the promised results. But it's only strange if you assume that the conservative leaders of these states want broad-based prosperity for their citizens. They do not.

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See, it's not that wealthy conservatives and their Republican agents in government "don't care about the poor," as liberals say, nor that they only care about keeping their own taxes low. The truth is, they do care about the poor; specifically, they care about the cheap labor the poor provide, and making sure it stays cheap or gets cheaper.

This is plain as day, yet it's overlooked even by much of the left, which tends to view poverty as a side effect of conservative policies, rather than their intended result. But it's no accident that one can draw a straight line from virtually every GOP labor policy preference to lower wages for average workers. Unions and minimum wage laws raise worker pay; Republicans fight both. Social insurance like welfare, unemployment, and Medicaid make workers less willing to accept low wages; Republicans rail against all of these programs -- again, not in spite of the fact that they help poor people, but because they help poor people. So it makes sense that companies and executives of companies that rely on cheap labor to generate profits give overwhelmingly to Republicans, and it makes double the sense when those companies are where the poor shop and eat. For them, more poor people means more cheap labor and more customers. It's like a double-ended dildo of capitalism.

Of course, few rich conservative business owners are dumb enough to say "The less I pay my peons, the more I pay myself and my shareholders, ha ha ha" within earshot of a journalist, and media outlets striving to appear objective aren't in the business of connecting the dots when doing so would necessarily look like an ideological critique. It's safer for them to simply repeat what they're told, which goes something like: "Republicans and business owners say that government spending and regulation are getting in the way of hiring."

Yeah, and we say the toilet was clogged when we got here.

So in this sense, the Kansas experiment has been a success, and it's no surprise that other GOP-controlled states are seeking to replicate its results. Desperate people are exploitable people, and exploitation can be very profitable.

For a while, at least.

[CJOnline /BLS / BEA / TNR / NYT / American Prospect]

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