Over the holidays my wife and I joined friends to watch the Christmas classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” at a local theater. A despondent George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) contemplates suicide when facing a ruinous business scandal.

Just before he ends it all, an unpretentious angel named Clarence appears and shows George a world in which he doesn’t exist and where the impact of his integrity has been erased. George realizes that he shouldn’t measure life by its ease, but by his ability to ease it for others.

The Mackinac Center team is not inclined to stare in the rear-view mirror, but as we celebrate the Center’s 25th year, we imagined for a moment what we’d all be missing without a free-market advocate in Michigan.

Twenty-five years ago, a right-to-work law in Michigan was unthinkable. Employees could be required to support a union as a condition of employment and unions could take money for political causes without a worker’s permission. Over the course of two decades the Mackinac Center moved the idea of worker freedom from “ludicrous” to “reality.”

Twenty-five years ago, a family’s residence dictated which school a child could attend. The Center proposed and championed an expansion of educational options, including charter schools and online learning, and today hundreds of thousands of students get to choose the school that’s right for them.

Twenty-five years ago, “privatization” was a dirty word. Public schools had to get union permission to use non-union support services, wasting millions of dollars a year. The Mackinac Center’s work led to a 1995 reform, and we continue to stress the value of competitive bidding. In 2012, 61 percent of school districts contracted out for support services, freeing up more money to focus on teaching children. (You can read more about this in our Privatization Report 2012, available online.)

Twenty-five years ago, people relied on legacy media for news out of Lansing. Today, MichiganVotes.org and Michigan Capitol Confidential are empowering citizens to communicate effectively with elected officials through increased government transparency, and by providing the news stories that will truly inform them.

Policy — good or bad — affects real people. The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation vigilantly defends liberty by representing individuals who are affected by harmful public policy. Consider day care provider Sherry Loar, who was snared into a union simply because she cares for children from low-income families who receive public assistance. This scheme affected 40,000 home-based day care providers. With the help of our legal team, Loar and others exposed the stealth unionization and successfully terminated the scheme.

Liberty has advocates around the world and many of them came through our doors. The Center has trained hundreds of think tank executives in the public policy business. Add to that the 10,700 students we have trained (so far) to analyze issues from a free-market perspective at our high school debate workshops; there’s hope for the future.

Since 1988, the Center has doggedly stressed the importance of fiscal integrity, free markets, and non-invasive government. Those were worthy ideas in 1988, and we’re relying on them to make the next 25 years even better.