Toto: We Aren’t In Brownback’s Kansas Anymore

Remember Sam Brownback? When he was elected Governor of Kansas, he vowed that the GOP’s economic theology–aka “trickle down”– would create an economic paradise, and he immediately set about implementing that theology.

In 2012, with the help of Kansas’ overwhelmingly Republican legislature, Brownback completely eliminated income taxes for more than 100,000 businesses and significantly reduced taxes on the wealthy.

For years, Republicans have been telling us that such steps would boost economic growth, and that they would more than pay for themselves, and Brownback was evidently a True Believer. Ardent belief notwithstanding, Brownback’s policies not only failed to deliver the promised prosperity, they devastated the state’s economy.

State revenues fell dramatically. School years and school days were shortened, public construction projects came to a screeching halt, Medicaid benefits were reduced, and job creation simply stopped.

As Harold Myerson has reported (link unavailable),

By 2016, Kansas voters—including Republicans who objected to seeing their children’s educations shortchanged—revolted. As the Prospect’s Justin Miller reported at the time, Republican primary voters, joined by Democrats, ousted legislators who refused to repeal the tax cuts, and in 2017, the new legislature overrode Brownback’s veto of a bill repealing the cuts. In 2018, voters elected Democrat Laura Kelly as their new governor, and today, with adequate funding restored, Kansas has resumed its support for education, infrastructure, and the basics of civilization.

This month, CNBC came out with its annual list of America’s Top States for Business, a ranking on which states don’t move up or down very much from one year to the next. Which is why attention must be paid, as Americans for Tax Fairness has pointed out, to one massive exception to this rule. On this year’s list, Kansas placed 19th—which is a full 16 places higher than it placed last year.

There’s a lesson there, but some people–and political ideologues–refuse to learn.

Trump and Mitch McConnell repeated what I’ve come to call the “Brownback Argument” to justify what Myerson dubs “the Great Federal Tax Giveaway to Corporations and the Rich Act of 2017–18.”

In consequence, share buybacks have soared to new heights while wages and infrastructure investment have barely risen, when they’ve risen at all. The federal government, of course, can run deficits, while states are constitutionally prohibited from doing so—which is why the Trumpistas have chiefly engaged in targeted rather than across-the-board cutbacks in federal spending. (The targets, of course, have been the poor and minorities.)

Brownback was politically run out of town on a rail—resigning early in 2018 to become the Trump administration’s Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. (Unlike Tsarist Russia, our government lacks a position like Procurator of the Holy Synod, a sort of directorship of pogroms, though Stephen Miller at times seems to have become that position’s functional equivalent.) Is it too much to hope that American voters relegate Trump to history’s dustbin as their Kansas compatriots did to Brownback?

We can hope–for reasons including but definitely not limited to idiotic economic policies.

If there is one thing that the cult that is today’s Republican Party has repeatedly demonstrated, it’s that both religion and political ideology rely on faith rather than evidence.


  1. As a relatively sane American I cannot comprehend how people who understand family economics fail to apply the same framework to municipal, county, state, and federal budgets. We do not expect to live in our homes without expenses for purchase, upkeep and improvements, so how does that not apply to our larger community?

  2. Another excellent post, Sheila. Anita, you contribute a refreshingly brief point based on good common sense without all the hyperbole.

  3. In a nutshell, which would hold the mental abilities of the current Republican government and its supporters; common sense will tell you less money going into any account – including the state and federal government tax bases – means less money to pay debts incurred.

    How close has Trump’s wild ride on the government’s dime brought us to bankruptcy as we watch him throwing away our hard earned money as Republican state by Republican state by Republican state follows his example?

    “Trump and Mitch McConnell repeated what I’ve come to call the “Brownback Argument” to justify what Myerson dubs “the Great Federal Tax Giveaway to Corporations and the Rich Act of 2017–18.”

    We have become a nation of golf widows and widowers as we wake up each morning asking, “What’s next on their agenda?” as we watch a steady decline in middle class ability to keep up with costs of everything.

  4. $am Brownback, the Flim Flam Man.
    Thank you again, Sheila! You’ve summed up what can happen when a minority of wackos take control of a society simply because most people don’t vote, or if they do vote, don’t vote from a body of common sense and knowledge.
    But, we must remember, the Brownbackians were not trounced but, rather, were divided.
    The results:

  5. Thank you, Stephen. I looked at the Kansas results you cited from NYT and Republicans dominated the rural counties all over the state. Remember the story line from the movie: Money Game? It is a very insightful baseball story. The manager brings in a statistician few in established baseball culture listened to. The players who win ball games more consistently get on base supported by hitters unknown for home runs but have consistently strong RBI’s. Democrats will not beat Trump with players known for home runs in far left field. Democrats will win with deft insight in the psychographic mapping of the Electoral College with players who do not seek glory but consistently get on base supported by hitters with strong RBI’s playing to the vulnerabilities of opponents to secure a win no matter the margin of victory.

  6. Norris,

    The movie was “Money Ball” and it starred Brad Pitt.

    In 2009, Naomi Klein wrote “Shock Doctrine”. In that book, she showed and explained in graphic detail how this cockeyed concept of “supply-side” economics destroyed nations well BEFORE even the Reagan “revolution”. Brownback was our first politician to actually sell this “magic” only to discover the hard way that it was all bullshit from the start. Too bad the people of Kansas had to pay the price.

    In my book, “Killing the Dream: America’s Flirtation With Third World Status”, I used the Brownback initiative to illustrate its fallacy. Remember, another Trump suck-up, Chris Kobach, is also from Kansas. Then, Republicans have a very short bench. Somebody on this blog attacked me for condemning Republicans at every turn. The Kansas thing, Moscow Mitch, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Grassley, Devin Nunes, Jim Jordan, et. al., keep proving my points every day.

    2020 can’t get here soon enough.

  7. Trump’s magic economics will come home to roost as did Brownback’s. The only reason that economics haven’t held him accountable yet is the strength of Obama’s recovery from the same mistakes made by the previous Republican President and the fact that despite Trump’s bumbling efforts the world still is one connected economy with the growth in Asia carrying everyone at the moment.

    Trump et al of course will take our money and run and leave the next President blamed for the reset coming due to energy re-sourcing, recovery from now inevitable extreme weather and sea level, and civilization’s adaptation to the unprecedented climate that capitalism has bequeathed to the human race.

  8. What, no mention of Ronald Reagan and Arthur Laffer, the co-authors of trickle-down economics and Neoliberalism?

    Thomas Piketty has stated that trickle-down is the cause of income and wealth inequality using mountains of evidence but even ley economists can understand the concept will not work. The rich get richer and the poor get the shaft.

    The question for the 2020 election is whether economics trumps racism/hate. Will people’s racism trump their own economic interests.

    We shall see…

  9. Historically, the concentration of wealth and political power in the hands of the few has never ended well, especially for the few. Brownback and his crowd are lucky they could be voted out. Elections are our first option for removing cruel and stupid leadership. We took a step in that direction last November. The current GOP should hope we keep it up.

  10. Todd,

    In Naomi Klein’s book she noted how the “Chicago Boys” and Milton Friedman destroyed Chile with their idiotic economics. The CIA was involved – of course – to keep Chile from going communist. That occurred in the 1970s, before Reagan. Reagan simply picked up the fumbled ball and ran the wrong way.

  11. Norris – Kudos! There is a room somewhere where every electoral vote is tracked that Trump could possibly win and they are zeroing in on it. A commentator the other day noted the very careful alignment of this with the site of each and every one of his rallies…

    DEMS get smart!

  12. We can be sure that Koch Industries, aka the Koch brothers, had nothing at all to do with Kansas’ libertarian tax debacle. (eye roll)

    Mike Pompeo represented Kansas in DC during the years that Brownback was Kansas’ governor. We can also be certain that former Gov pence had nothing at all to do with bringing a crazed evangelical into trump’s Cabinet. (eye roll again).

    Between trump and pence we have the most crazed and dangerous U.S. leadership that I have seen in my adult lifetime. It just keeps getting more frightening every day.

    Now we are going to have a trump worshiper placed as our Director of National Intelligence to replace Dan Coats. Dan Coats spoke out against trump’s lies and that is why he lost his job. Will that man do what is right for our country and defy trump’s lies when our country’s safety is at risk? Or will he silently obey trump at our peril?

    This is all SO frightening.

  13. The idea that only the GOP is responsible for economic policies that harm the 99% producing income equality and a lack of taxes to fund the public good is wrong. Bill Clinton and his gang of Wall Street Boys, took Reagan and Bush the Elders into Neo-Liberalism.

    John Atcheson writes in Common Dreams:
    “Democrats could and should be setting the agenda rather than reacting to Trumps’. But that would require them to abandon their centrist fantasy, and embrace programs that are popular with the majority of Americans. Or to be more accurate, it would require them to take on the corporations, rich folks and Wall Street types that they rely on for campaign contributions, by backing popular ideas like a wealth tax, the Green New Deal, and Medicare for All.

    But they won’t take on their patrons, so instead, they’re running on how bad Trump is, and relying on capturing the “center” — the same strategy that over the decades has turned them into a minority party.

    Instead of spending their time and energy on telling us how bad Trump is they could be setting a winning agenda.”
    We did have to bail out Wall Street in 2008 and 2009, both parties agreed on that (that’s when you know, the 99% are getting screwed).

  14. Trump sells power to those who blindly follow him. There is zero chance he will deliver what he sells except to those who feed him the wealth he needs to pretend power but those desperate to control as many others as possible ignore that reality.,

  15. Vernon … Money Ball it is. My apologies to Brad Pitt and crew. As I put on my new orthopedics … I stand corrected. ?

  16. Monotonous Languor – you pinpointed the problem with the Dem leadership. They are not at all interested in doing anything that would benefit their voters if it means angering their financial donors.

  17. And the Brownback scenario is being replayed by a president who doesn’t give a fig about how many he hurts or how many lives are destroyed in the process. Proving that there is some merit to Republicans’ misguided theology is not their point. The point is to transfer public money to the already rich, and Trump has proven himself peerless in this effort.

    Speaking of which…Republicans led by McConnell and Trump will do everything conceivable to buy or steal or scam or nullify or pervert the 2020 elections. Re-enforced by the Russians and the Chinese and perhaps the Iranians, they will stop at nothing to prove that minority rule is the will of the people. They will try to purchase the loyalty of participants in the electoral college to change their votes to favor our first fascist president. They will actually alter votes in states where accounting procedures to verify election results are weak. They will exploit psychographics and other techniques honed by Cambridge Analytica’s successors. They will make Facebook even more prosperous by purchasing reams of advertisements charging Democratic candidates with socialism. They will inspire and sponsor even viler forms of racism to get their supporters to the polls. In key districts they will undertake voter suppression activities never seen before and never thought possible in America. Trump is undermining the intelligence community by firing Coats, so the sycophantic new DNI can declare that none of the heinous foreign election interference activities are actually occurring (a la Mick Mulvaney explaining how Trump is not a racist). They will continue to denigrate Mueller and anyone who agrees with him that there is something happening worth investigating. It’s not even certain that he can be stopped by a 2018-like demonstration of voter determination to kick him out.

    So what are Democrats – Tom Perez in particular – doing to expose and prevent such fraudulent fiddling with our election processes? Maybe we – in Sheila’s blog – can contribute to that dialogue by enumerating the many ways – mostly unprecedented – that the gang who can’t think straight will employ to enhance Putin’s role in governing America. It’s our patriotic duty to kick Democrat officials’ asses until they face up to the danger that is speeding toward us in 2020. And we needn’t remain permanently on the defensive. We must find ways to re-kindle the 2018 passion to try to eliminate the gravest home-grown threat this country has ever faced.

  18. Yes to Terry’s and Pete’s analyses. The trickledown theory is just that, a theory, and one that has never withstood the test of reality in the rough and tumble marketplace. The fundamental underpinning of the theory (aside from facades of pretense and propaganda) is that you can get something for nothing. You can’t, as Brownback discovered, but extensions of this phony idea by the greedy continue to spill over into the political world.

    Thus there is no such thing as “free” this or that. Education costs money. Medical care costs money. It costs money to fill chuckholes, to repair the library’s AC etc. etc. etc., and it matters not whether your society is organized communist, capitalist, nihilist or whatever. Piketty, Stiglitz, Krugman and Pressman state and restate the obvious to those of us who, unblinded by greed and ignorance, can understand reality.

    There is no free lunch, as the adage goes, and there is no free medical care, education et al; all cost money, and all are or should be financed by what we call taxes. The Romans called it tribute, but whatever the handle, someone along the chain of costs for public goods and services has to come up with the boodle – and there’s the rub > who, how much and what for? The battle is not that we have costs (however our society is organized) but who takes the hit. Brownback’s problem is that he wanted to go back to the cave in this day and age of Silicon Valley. We aren’t going.

  19. Brownback’s stupidity is that he is a true believer in the economic theory while most Republicans understand this as a tactic – cut taxes, cry balanced budget, cut the social safety net – rinse and repeat.

    I will remind people that “common sense” is usually neither. I think I am typical. I don’t have a balanced household budget every year. I bought a house on credit. By standard accounting practices, I ran a deficit that year. The same †hing happened when I purchased my car. Of course, I ran a surplus in other years, so I could stay out of debt. However, the Federal government should run deficits when there is a recession. The problem is to then pay down the debt (at least partially) during good times. They certainly shouldn’t be cutting revenue now.

    ML – you are correct. The Democrats have become afraid of the word “taxes” and have believed that the way to win the White House is to pander to the rich like the Republicans do. They ignored everyone else to a large extent. Obama picked Simpson and Bowles, two “cut taxes and cut spending” people, to plan our economic future.

    On the other hand, among the top five Democratic contenders (at the moment), they would all be a massive improvement. Whether it is BIden, Sanders, Warren, Harris or Buttigieg, there will be about 200,000 new young voters (based on past participation rates) since 2016. Most will not vote for Trump. African-American turnout was down, even where their registration wasn’t suppressed. “Normal turnout would have kept the Midwestern states Democratic. Since then, Trump has done nothing to broaden his appeal. I don’t see unemployment numbers or stock market records as making middle class suburban women say “oh, the hell with reproductive rights and health care, I’ll go with that ‘economic genius’, Trump”.

    I am optimistic, but not complacent – as Joe Hill said – Don’t mourn, organize.

  20. Capitalism robs from the poor, and gives to the rich.

    And people wonder why there is a call for Canadian style Socialism?

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