Economics in the Land of Oz

By Rod Haxton, editor

Maybe it’s part of our unavoidable connection to the Wizard of Oz that allows Kansans to be caught up in a fantasy world where the great and powerful Oz promises that we can do more with less.

He’s both great and powerful, so that makes him incapable of being wrong. And when Oz says something is possible, we believe it.

That’s the conclusion to be drawn from a Docking Institute opinion survey of Munchkins (aka, Kansans) which says that 58% want to see more funding for K-12 public education.

That’s good. We support our kids.

In addition, 47% want to see increased funding for social services.

That’s good. We support our seniors and the less fortunate among us.

At the same time, more than half of those surveyed say that overall spending by Kansas government should be reduced.

That’s good. It means we’re normal. We want more without paying for it.

Who doesn’t?

But here’s where things get a little murky.

Getting more for less is a tricky proposition, unless you have the inside track on a sweat shop in the Philippines. Laborers who will work for a buck a day may be a good deal for Wal-Mart and Nike, but it doesn’t translate well when it comes to putting teachers in our classrooms, or providing medical care for our poor, or fixing potholes in our highways.

So, how is it possible to do more with less?

Well, when you live in the Emerald City our legislators can abandon reality for fantasy.

When the Wizard of Oz says that we can cut corporate and personal income taxes and it won’t affect school funding, that’s all the assurance we need. When we’re told that tax cuts will create an additional 22,000 jobs over and above normal growth, and that 35,000 more people will be moving into Kansas over the next five years, then you might as well carve it in stone.

When the Wizard says it will happen, then it will most assuredly happen.

And when the number-crunching Munchkins declare that the Wizard is wrong - that state revenues will be reduced by between $4.5 billion and $4.7 billion over the next five years - then the Wizard and his loyal followers do the only logical thing.

They ignore the Munchkin economists and bring on the Lollypop Guild to lift our spirits.

Of course, the people in Oz had an excuse for their ignorance. They really were living in a fantasy world.

We don’t.

When confronted with the public’s desire to do more with less, Gary Brinker, director of the Docking Institute, stopped short of saying that Kansans are being naive or, to put it more bluntly, ignorant.

“It does suggest the public does need to be educated in order to logically and effectively contribute to policy decisions,” he said.

Hold it. Now we’re expecting the public to be both educated and logical?

In what fantasy world does Brinker live?

The Docking Institute survey confirmed the obvious when it found widespread opposition among Kansans to the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare). More than 60% of Kansans responding to the survey said the U.S. Supreme Court made the wrong decision by upholding the health care reform law.

After all, as any educated person knows, we are much better served when millions of people are forced to rely on hospital emergency rooms as their primary source of health care.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 41 percent of the people surveyed were “confused” about the health care law. In another poll, 31% believe it rations health care and 27% still believe it creates “death panels” that decide on health care for sick and elderly patients.

It’s our own ignorance about taxes, government services, labor unions, health care, free trade agreements, public education and female reproduction that allows poor candidates to become elected officials and which allows bad ideas to become law.

We are forced to live with the consequences of our collective ignorance.

If a state legislator or a Congressman wants to promise lower taxes and less government, great. It’s our obligation to ask what the consequences will be. How will it affect our schools, our hospitals, our infrastructure and the social services that serve our elderly?

We’re failing our obligation as responsible citizens when we don’t ask the tough questions.

We need a Toto in the room who will pull back the curtain and reveal the truth about our elected officials and the government they promise, the government we expect and the government we’re actually receiving.

Rod Haxton can be reached at

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