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There is nothing wrong with being hopeful and keeping your fingers crossed as you try something new. But when hope and magical thinking become not merely your attitude but the entire rationale behind your actions, you should be prepared to be disappointed. After all, magic is not real. Only reality is real, and as Stephen Colbert once sagely observed, reality has a well-known liberal bias.
I thought of that line repeatedly watching the news this past week, in several contexts. For example, there's the town in Texas whose teenagers are suffering from a Chlamydia outbreak after years of abstinence-only sex education in their schools.
There was last Friday's national jobs report, which was again fantastic, continuing to prove all those who claimed that the liberal policies of the Barack Obama era – health care reform, in particular – would kill jobs and depress the economy completely wrong.
But more than those, it was news from here in Wisconsin that did it – notably news of the continued lawbreaking at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the continued failure of Wisconsin Republicans' tax-cut regime to increase state tax revenues.
Both schemes – WEDC's public-private partnership to funnel state money to state "job creators" and the theory that tax cuts lead to higher tax revenue growth – are classic examples of Republican magical thinking. State Assembly Leader Robin Vos (R-Disney's Magic Kingdom) admitted as much at a press conference about the revenue issue last week: "For those of us who have been crossing our fingers and going to church on Sunday, it didn't work," he said.
Of course it didn't work. It never works. There is no contemporary example in this country, at the state or national level, of anyone tax-cutting their way to growth and savings. Art Laffer drew a curvy graph on a napkin once in the 1970s, and now it's the GOP's policy bible, but even in Kansas – where Laffer is a hands-on advisor and has gotten everything he wants – the state's been in a constant fiscal crisis following his tax cuts.
It's the same in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker and his GOP allies have launched dozens of conservative magical thinking initiatives, none of which are working out as hoped.
As the local paper noted when reporting that reality trumped fantasy, "Walker, an all but certain presidential candidate, and legislative Republicans have said for months that a revved up economy, fueled in part by their tax cuts, would lead to more tax money than projected through June 2017."
But there's been no revving of the state economy. By almost every measure, our economy is lagging behind the national average, and last week's budget prediction is just the latest example. Though Walker's budgets get bigger every year, the basic things a state government should be doing are not getting funded adequately, from schools to roads and other infrastructure.
The WEDC – which was also supposed to help rev the state's economy by turbo-charging the process for bringing employers to or keeping them in Wisconsin, as well as creating jobs – has done no such thing. What it has done is turnover leadership at a remarkable pace and waste taxpayer money while it ignores its own policies and state law. And every year since its creation, various audits and investigations have come to those exact same conclusions.
From the beginning, the WEDC was premised on magical thinking, thinking that the economy would boom if we butter up and throw money at "job creators" rather than actually invest in this state and its people. Scores of school districts state wide have been going to referendum to simply maintain the level of service they provide since Act 10 and the subsequent deep cuts to state K-12 spending, but the WEDC is just handing out millions in taxpayer dollars to profitable companies with weak, if any, oversight.
Walker is busy jetting around the country and around the globe on his (so far unannounced) campaign for president. His campaign seems determined to run on the same kind of magical thinking, as he glibly references these failed policies in his stump speech. Walker is happy to spread the old news of Act 10 and tax cuts without mentioning the actual news of underfunded schools budget disarray.
Last weekend, while dodging questions about the WEDC and poor tax revenue predictions, Walker even magically turned the Laffer Curve into the Kohl's Curve, because apparently someone told him that being a normal was better than being a career politician. But even that clever turn of phrase, premised on Walker's ability to use a coupon, is magical: You can't run a state budget on Kohl's Cash (or on the backs of cheap Asian garment workers) any more than you can on crossed fingers and Sunday prayers.
It's time to start dealing with reality instead.