Lawrence W. Reed Inducted Into JA Hall of Fame

(Editor's note: On Oct. 28, 2009, Lawrence W. Reed, president emeritus of the Mackinac Center, was inducted into the Junior Achievement Hall of Fame. Below are the edited introductory remarks by Joseph G. Lehman, president of the Mackinac Center, and Reed's acceptance.)

Joseph G. Lehman

Thank you.

Larry is a good man, but he's also a great man. He's been my friend and professional mentor for nearly 15 years. His resume is stuffed with great achievements that you don't hear him blowing his own horn about.

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Larry has degrees and honorary degrees, as you might expect. He was head of the economics department at Northwood University where he made the "dismal science" exciting to hundreds of students for the first time. But he had a passion to change the world that the classroom could not contain.

He tried politics in 1982. But getting elected to Congress may be the best thing that never happened to Larry.

By the way, Larry enjoys reminding Bill Schuette that Larry softened up Congressman Don Albosta so Bill could pick him off in the very next election in 1984!

So instead of academia or politics, Larry would draw from the roots he sank as a teenager when the world watched Soviet tanks roll into Prague and brutally crush citizen demonstrations. Later, as an economist and historian, Larry came to believe that personal political freedom and economic freedom were inseparable. He decided to use his academic training to advance freedom wherever, and however, he could.

And so he became a globe-trotting champion of free enterprise, or, as one newspaper called him, "the Indiana Jones of Michigan." Traveling to every state and at least 69 countries — including several behind the Iron Curtain before it fell and later inside other totalitarian regimes — he has given more than 1,000 speeches that have educated and inspired tens of thousands of people.

He has written about his experiences in more than 1,000 articles and five books, published in multiple languages around the world.

In his spare time, he was president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland for 20 years. He led the Mackinac Center to become the nation's largest institute in a national network of state-focused think tanks.

Three years ago Larry was the central focus of a two-part feature in The New York Times. The Times documented not only the Mackinac Center's influence on public policy, but also Larry's role in training hundreds of think tank leaders around the world, right here on Main Street.

Last fall, Larry took the helm of America's oldest institute devoted to economics and freedom, the Foundation for Economic Education.

Our late friend and co-worker, Joe Overton, once told me, "Larry doesn't do anything that three men couldn't do."

Not only is Larry a hard worker, he's enormously talented. Being his editor or speechwriter is a little like being the Maytag repairman. Larry Reed writes all his own stuff, and it doesn't require much editing.

I would forgive anyone for not knowing all this about Larry. He's not one to brag, and he's a down to earth guy. He's more likely to talk to you about dogs and your favorite movies than he is to mention Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage or some other economist's jargon.

Undergirding all this is Larry's unquenchable optimism. Maybe I should say pathological optimism. Larry's the only guy I know who said, at his birthday party: "It's sobering to wake up at 50 years old and realize one-third of your life is already gone."

Junior Achievement and Larry Reed both believe in investing in the potential of young people, and in the power of free enterprise to make the world better for those young people, and those who follow them. I can't think of a more appropriate way to honor Lawrence Reed than this induction into the Junior Achievement Hall of Fame.

Lawrence W. Reed

Thank you, Joe, the Junior Achievement board and staff, ladies and gentlemen. Congratulations to the other laureates, Dan and Rick, and to the rising stars we've recognized tonight.

I am grateful for this recognition and hope I am indeed worthy of it. This is one of those occasions where right up to the last moment, you half expect someone to say, "Oh wait a minute. We got the names mixed up. We meant GARY Reed. Never mind."

I am deeply honored, but I am not speechless. I have a few prepared remarks to offer.

Of the many reasons this occasion means a great deal to me is this: Junior Achievement represents so many of the values that have animated my life and career. Free enterprise, individual initiative, private property, self-reliance.  JA not only fosters those values, it promotes the character traits that are so indispensable to the success of a free economy. My biggest concern these days is the erosion of character across our culture, the corners that are cut every day by so many with so little care or concern for the consequences to their personal character or for the future of the country.

One of the most important lessons we can learn from life is that, on the whole, success depends more upon character than upon circumstances of birth, intellect or fortune.

"Good character," it's been observed, "is more to be praised than outstanding talent. Most talents are to some extent a gift. Good character, by contrast, is not given to us. We have to build it piece by piece through thought, choice, courage and determination."

When it comes to character, there's not a day that goes by that I don't lament its erosion or feel the need to do my part by working night and day to improve my own. I would hope that all of us would want to go to our reward some day and be able to look back and say, "Well, though I fell short, at least I did the best I could to be a good example. I mustered the courage to do and say what I thought was right. I tried to fix problems instead of adding to them. I helped others to see the value of courage, honesty, humility, responsibility, patience and integrity."

Junior Achievement is an entirely voluntary, privately supported initiative. It gets no stimulus payments from Washington. It is a proud part of the indispensable efforts of a free people to pass on the right values to the next generation. I know its strongest supporters would agree with this, from an author whose name I wish I knew:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch your words, for they become actions.

Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

Thanks again for this honor and for everything that all of you in this room do to keep our community, state and nation focused on the right values!


Joseph G. Lehman is president and Lawrence W. Reed is president emeritus 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 authors and the Center are properly cited.