Tuesday, May 05, 2020

1889 Institute: Oklahoma is OK, but seriously, that's not OK

Oklahoma Is OK, but Seriously, That’s Not OK
By Byron Schlomach

The Americans at the table, negotiating a business deal, ask one of their number, “You can speak Dutch?” He replies, “I’m OK.” He proceeds to tell the Dutch that the Americans really need a hug when he was supposed to say they really need the deal. As one of the Dutch negotiators gives an American a hug, the AT&T commercial ends with the announcer saying, “When just OK is not OK.”

When I see one of those “Just OK Is Not OK” commercials, I think of the license plates that were once so common – “Oklahoma is OK.” As someone whose job is to develop policy suggestions to make Oklahoma better, that slogan – Oklahoma is OK – gets in the way.

In many respects, Oklahoma really is OK. We don’t have the best tax system, but it’s not the worst. Our taxes aren’t lowest, but they’re not nearly the highest. Our roads are pretty terrible, but eight states have worse. Eleven states have worse education systems, by one ranking. Oklahoma is now included in a list of “judicial hell holes,” but we have a lower unemployment rate than over half the states. It can’t be that bad, right?

But do Oklahomans tolerate their sports teams being “OK”? Would slogans like “OU football is OK,” “OSU football is OK,” and “Thunder basketball is OK” be stated with pride?

Suppose the coaches at OU and OSU were the best-paid in the country, and the Thunder’s payroll was above the league’s luxury tax. If these teams had mediocre winning records, would anybody brag they had the highest paid coaches and players in the land? No. It would be a mark of shame.

Yet, many of Oklahoma’s legislative leaders have made it a goal to raise average teacher pay to the highest in the region. Whether our students demonstrate a high degree of knowledge seems not to matter so much.

Oklahoma isn’t at the bottom in education, so hey, it’s OK. We’re fixing bridges, so hey, the highways are OK. New companies set up shop in Oklahoma now and then, and movies get made here occasionally, so hey, economic incentives (bribes) are OK. Oklahoma City spends money on artificial canals, artificial rapids, and trolleys to nowhere, so hey, it’s OK. Maybe we’ll get our share of millennials.

But is just OK really OK? Do we really know what to be OK about? Shouldn’t our leaders strive for being best? Would “top 10” ever be good enough for OU football? Why shouldn’t it be that way for Oklahoma government, in ways that matter, not just how much money we spend?

Don’t get me wrong. I live here. I’m glad Oklahoma is OK. I just want it to be so much better.

Byron Schlomach is 1889 Institute Director and can be contacted at bschlomach@1889institute.org.


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