What is the role of a think tank? The song “I’m Just a Bill” from Schoolhouse Rock fails to explain.
Most people have always preferred to live together in society. From that voluntary association emerge agreements or norms to guide human interaction, which John Locke called a social contract. Humans have learned a lot over the millennia. Some things work. Others don’t. We test, experiment, learn. We determine what sort of governing bodies to create, how to select leaders and how much power to give them. These conclusions are codified into law.
Over time, new ideas come into fashion. Political coalitions shift. Politicians propose government programs to appeal to constituents. Previous programs are evaluated, expanded or scrapped. New injustices are discovered. Laws are modified.
Here the think tank enters the stage.
The Mackinac Center exists to promote liberty and opportunity for all people. We rely on a three-part theory of change: We develop free-market policies, we challenge government overreach, and we foster a climate of public opinion that encourages policymakers to act in the public interest.
Our stock-in-trade is research, and our recommendations flow from our research. As we have written: “Mackinac Center research incorporates the best understanding of economics, science, law, history and morality — moving beyond mere cost/benefit analyses.” We also use litigation, journalism and government outreach to secure wins.
Unchecked, government’s power tends to grow. Thus, we analyze and often support mechanisms to constrain it. Examples include free and fair elections, separation of powers, federalism, government transparency, spending limits and balanced budget requirements.
We look to the future with optimism. To get there, we depend on forces for good outside the halls of government: civic institutions, religion, philanthropy and families.
We do not cheer or oppose any political party. We convey our ideas to policymakers, regardless of their affiliation.
The Mackinac Center works with a network of like-minded organizations. We offer our expertise and advice, and we celebrate with our friends when they win.
We highlight the long-term effects of policy, unintended consequences, incentives and trade-offs between competing ideas.
We reach for the seemingly impossible. The Overton Window helps us understand the ideal versus the feasible.
Finally, we value open discourse as an essential ingredient of a free society. America today needs more debate and dialogue. (Read Russell Kirk and Matthew Continetti on the rich history of intellectual tussles among conservatives and libertarians.) Freedom of expression is essential for persuasion, and it is vastly superior to the alternative of domination through force or violence.
None of this is possible without supporters who share these values. Thank you.