Be Careful What You Ask For

(Editor's note: This commentary was adapted from a letter Mackinac Center President Joseph G. Lehman sent to Center supporters in April 2009.)

Ideas matter, especially when they influence high government officials. Contrast these two statements.

"The trouble with socialism is you eventually run out of other people's money."
— attributed to Margaret Thatcher

"We'll take it. We'll take your money. ...I'm going to be first in line...."
— Gov. Jennifer Granholm,
Fox News Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009

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The first statement explains why socialism is bad public policy. The second illustrates what happens when someone ignores the first statement. Gov. Granholm, in her statement above, was shouting "first dibs!" on the federal "stimulus" cash that some governors say they will reject.

Of course, the stimulus cash doesn't grow on trees. Government taxes it away from productive people. The allure of redistributionist policies is the hope of getting something for nothing. For a politician, it means making friends with some people by giving them things paid for by other people. It should be clear that such policies can't work in the long run and will only serve to increase the government bubble. They don't work so well in the short run either.

Michiganians were shocked at the news of GM CEO Rick Wagoner's ouster at the behest of federal car czars. That was quickly overshadowed by President Obama's pronouncement that Chrysler would be forced into some sort of bankruptcy that seems to have been decided before it ever reached court. It's either that or no more federal cash. Meet the new boss.

We argued — nearly alone — last year that Chapter 11 bankruptcy was probably the best among bad options for one or more of the Detroit Three. At that time the companies still controlled their own destinies, more or less. They soon discovered that asking for and receiving more federal cash has certain strings attached. Is that what we want for the whole state?

A brief commentary isn't the place to analyze every detail of state and federal fiscal policy. But it is a good place to affirm ideas that work and warn against those that dig us deeper into the hole. The Mackinac Center is the one voice in Michigan you can always count on to advocate for free markets and limited government. We aren't deterred or discouraged when politicians ignore those principles. Rather, it's times like these that we see the greatest opportunity to explain why our ideas are needed more than ever.


Joseph G. Lehman 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.

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