(The following article first appeared in the Fall 2002 edition of Impact.)
In a display of profound economic ignorance by a top government official, then - U. S. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen said in a 1993 interview that the immense Mississippi River flood—at that moment smashing through $20 billion worth of property and on its way to killing 48 people—might be good for the economy. The former U. S. Senate Finance Committee chairman explained, "You have to look at all the jobs that will be created to repair the damage."
If economic growth comes from damage repair, why wait around for unpredictable natural disasters? Why not just burn down all our buildings, set the rebuilding crews to work, and congratulate ourselves for "stimulating" the economy? (No one demolishes this kind of fallacy better than Henry Hazlitt in his classic book, "Economics In One Lesson.")
Most sensible people realize that repair is not preferable to avoiding damage in the first place—even if, once damage is done, the repair and rebuilding crews are a welcome sight.
Words by powerful officials that propound economic ignorance or squishy principles can be more destructive than a flood. Sometimes the Mackinac Center has to come along afterward, like a rebuilding crew, to set the economic facts straight or articulate the principles that politicians swore to uphold but then abandoned.
For example, members of both major political parties claim to advocate good schools and greater parental involvement. But when they take more money from parents, give it to failing schools, and then deny parents more ability to choose safer and better learning environments for their children, the Mackinac Center points out the hypocrisy and harm.
When a candidate shows signs of wavering on a pledge to keep property taxes low, we shine a light on it.
When one party claims to defend the working poor, but then chops off the lower rungs of the economic ladder with political gimmicks like "living wage" laws, we show the resulting joblessness.
When public officials renounce corporate welfare on principle, yet become champions of it in practice, the Mackinac Center may be the only voice beckoning them back to the higher principles they once held.
The Mackinac Center’s independence gives us unique freedom and effectiveness in speaking out. "Speaking out" isn’t all we do—our core activity is policy research and education—and sometimes we get criticized for telling it like it is.
But candor and courage earn us respect and admiration, even from opponents. That may be why MEA President Luigi Battaglieri said at one of his news conferences that he "admires" what the Mackinac Center has done. The fact that he and his union are preposterously suing us for repeating his public praise does not deter us from speaking the truth, nor from fighting for our right to do so.
No matter which political parties control the governorship and Legislature after November, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy will be as vigilant as ever to promote principles of limited government, free markets, and civil society.