December 6, 2004


What's the Matter With Kansas?: Not a thing, it turns out. (STEVEN MALANGA, December 6, 2004, Wall Street Journal)

[M]r. Frank's characterization of the Jayhawk State is completely--bizarrely--at odds with the facts. Kansas's economy has actually outpaced the nation's for years. Throughout the 1990s and the first part of this new decade, Kansas had a lower unemployment rate than the U.S. as a whole. In fact, when the country's unemployment rate dipped below 5% from 1997 to 2001, Kansas's fell under 4%--a level so low that economists basically consider it full employment. Overall, the state's economy added 256,000 new jobs during the 1990s, a 24% growth rate, compared with a 20% national gain in the same period. Even when the economic slowdown set in and the recession finally hit in 2002 and 2003, Kansas lost jobs at a slower rate than the national economy did.

It's the same story in the state's agricultural sector, which Mr. Frank claims the free market has driven "to a near state of collapse." Yes, Kansas farm jobs shrank by about 9% in the 1990s, a result of farms becoming larger and more efficient (and producing more), but the state's total agricultural economy grew by 10%, some 30,000 jobs, as areas like food processing and agricultural wholesaling expanded.

The objects of Mr. Frank's particular concern, his hometown of Shawnee and the rest of Johnson County, have done especially well. For three years in the 1990s, the Shawnee area's unemployment rate actually dipped below 3%, making it one of the tightest labor markets anywhere.

When the recession hit, Shawnee's unemployment rate did rise, but it still stayed below the nation's. And though Mr. Frank describes the place as practically desolate, Shawnee's population grew by a robust 27% during the 1990s. Even more astonishing, today, only 3.3% of its citizens live below the poverty level, compared with about 12.5% nationally. "It's possible his view of us is outdated," says Jim Martin, executive director of the Shawnee Economic Development Council, in classic Midwestern understatement.

No wonder it votes Red.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 6, 2004 3:13 PM

Orrin, you should review the book. The WSJ guy radically mischaracterizes its argument. I've found Republicans often do that with people they're afraid of.

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at December 6, 2004 7:27 PM

Basically he makes an argument that the way the Kansas economy has developed is inconsistent with classical republicanism, you might say.

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at December 6, 2004 7:28 PM

The NY Times panned it in its Sunday book review.

The Kansas economy suffered for years from the high cost of its extractive industries in the southeast which hemorrhaged population for most of the last century. The agricultural economy has required fewer people and there is a significant immigrant work force in places like Hutchison and Dodge City, especially in the slaughterhouse industry.

The Kansas City suburbs have boomed since the 60s. The affluent suburbs are on the Kansas side of the border, although Kansas City, KS is a corrupt dump sort of like Trenton. However, the area between Kansas City and Lawrence, the home of KU, is booming like many other university towns near major airports.

Kansas has been growing in population at a slower rate than most states, as is evidenced by its loss of 2 House seats in the last 40 years.

I tend to avoid nonsense formulations like 'classical republicanism' so I wouldn't say it.

Posted by: Bart at December 6, 2004 8:04 PM


His argument makes no more sense when he makes it. The classic mistake of the left, most obvious in Marxism, is that Man's primary concern is economic equality.

Posted by: oj at December 6, 2004 9:34 PM

Either you haven't read the book, or you missed the point--excusable; most conservatives do; it doesn't serve their purposes to notice--that his whole point is corrosive moral values and the lack of spiritual fulfillment. He just blames out-of-control capitalism. And makes an argument as to why. Which all conservatives have--again, conveniently--ignored.

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at December 6, 2004 9:43 PM


Obviously 70 years of liberalism produced corrosive moral values and the lack of spiritual fulfillment. Why would Kansans want more?

Posted by: oj at December 6, 2004 10:05 PM

I read the reviews, the books sounded like marxist nostalgia crap.
I read articles by Mr. Frank and he sounded like a nostalgic marxist dingbat.
perlstein endorses the book.
strike three. you're out.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at December 7, 2004 3:39 AM