A few days ago, my pastor (Rev. David Sarafolean, Christ Covenant Church in Midland, Mich.) based a Sunday sermon on Philippians 4:6: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

It was a moving, inspirational message for any time of the year, but especially for the holiday season. It put me in a more grateful frame of mind. I’ve given considerable thought since Sunday to the endless roster of things I’m thankful for. Some are lofty or personal, others more mundane and universal. Contemplating reasons to give thanks is itself a healthy, spiritual, character-building exercise that cultivates both humility and inner peace. I recommend it.

Applying the virtue of gratitude to the professional world in which I labor, I find myself immensely thankful for the rise of organizations like ours. Twenty-five years ago, there were none outside of Washington, D.C. Inspired in part by the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, state-focused groups appeared on the scene in the mid 1980s. By the time the Mackinac Center for Public Policy was formed in 1987, fewer than a half dozen similar groups were up and running. Today, more than 40 states have at least one such organization, putting ideas of liberty and limited government on the policy table that was once monopolized by the tax-and-tax, spend-and-spend crowd. Take a look at the directory map at www.spn.org and you’ll see what I mean. (For a directory of the many free-market groups overseas, see www.atlasusa.org.)

I am thankful for these organizations for multiple reasons. Each one is its own entity, not a franchise or an offshoot of another, thoroughly rooted in the culture of its respective state. Many are still headed by the entrepreneurs who started them and who, in many cases, work long hours at deep, missionary discounts. They often encounter setbacks and disappointments — such as when a bad idea becomes law or when a prospective contributor doesn’t possess the vision to see the value of what they do — but they are a persevering lot.

From their offices spring innovative solutions to the real problems faced by real people. They are on the front lines of battles for school choice, limited taxation, spending discipline, freedom from compulsory unionism, health-care and tort reform, and market-based alternatives within every important area of public policy. Without them, I would fear for the future of both our liberties and our pocketbooks.

Few, if any, public school history books will tell you this, but the first Thanksgiving (www.mackinac.org/3857) took place after several years of bad harvests resulting from bad ideas. The Pilgrims had organized themselves communist-style. Property was held in common and what the people produced was deposited in a common storehouse and distributed equally. Rewards were not tied to efforts. The people faced starvation as a result. Ultimately, it wasn’t a poverty conference or even a federal department that fixed the problem. It was private property, free enterprise and individual initiative. It was perhaps Americans’ first lesson in Economics 101, one that we should never forget. Teaching that lesson, and how its principles relate to current issues, is what think tanks like the Mackinac Center in Michigan and its counterparts in other states are all about.

Thank you, fellow free-market think tankers, for reminding our citizenry of what it means to live, work and govern ourselves in a free society.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.