LETTER: Professor says history refutes opinion

Tom Prasch

Dear Editors,

Reading Robert Burkett’s editorial on Kansas voters in the latest Washburn Review makes me hope that Burkett takes a few history classes soon. Of course, I think, for obvious reasons, that most students should take a few history classes. But in Burkett’s case, a bit of background in history would save him from embarrassing mistakes like the one he makes in his column.

In the course of arguing that “the assertion that growth in government jobs would provide stability to a sagging economy to me just smacks of fantasy and fallacy,” Burkett asks: “When in this state, that has almost always relied upon small business owners and family farmers to sustain economic growth, has there ever been an attitude that we should surrender our independence to the politicians in the Statehouse?”

Burkett means that to be a rhetorical question. But the answer is simple: in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. During that era, Kansans relied heavily on exactly the sort of government-stimulus-based job creation that Burkett derides as a “fantasy and fallacy.” And exactly that sort of job creation—the New Deal, we historians call it—had a central role in ending the Great Depression.

In Kansas in particular, Works Progress Administration projects  were extensive; still visible structures from the WPA efforts include the Caney High School football stadium, Stark High School gymnasium, Fire Station 1 in Hutchinson, the armory in St. Mary’s, the township hall in Nicodemus, and a range of structures at Marion County Park and Lake, to list just a few. The Civilian Conservation Corps, another federal job-creation program, had camps in at least 32 different counties of Kansas.

One of the reasons to study history is to learn the lessons of the past. And one of the clearest lessons of the Depression era is that federal stimulus money played a significant role in easing the dire conditions faced by people in Kansas and throughout America and in reversing the economic downturn. So Robert, please: take a few history courses.

Tom Prasch