This article originally appeared in the winter 2001 issue of IMPACT!, the quarterly newsletter of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

When you become acquainted with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, it doesn't take very long before the broad range of issues and subjects we address becomes apparent. Civil society, taxes and government spending, regulations, privatization, economic development, health care, and basic principles of a free economy are among those high on our list.

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Our friends recognize that we also devote considerable time and energy to labor and education reforms. Indeed, more of our work last year focused on those areas than on any others. Why? The answer is implied in this famous line from philosopher Henry David Thoreau: "For every thousand men who thrash at the branches of a tree, there is one who strikes at the root."

If we are to make progress in creating and sustaining a free and prosperous society—one in which citizens prize such values as family, self-reliance, entrepreneurship, and respect for life and property—we must first correct many deeply rooted problems in labor law and in our education system. Failure to correct them will not only impede progress across the board, it will likely turn back the clock and make us less free and less prosperous.

Workers are compelled to pay dues to labor unions that use much of those dues to promote high-tax, big government candidates and causes that many of those dues-paying workers themselves oppose. That's wrong, and it leads to poor public policies that erode our freedoms and well being. Children are schooled by expensive government monopolies that frequently fail to teach them basic skills and rarely instill an understanding of how the economics of a free society work. That's wrong, too, and it produces young adults by the millions who are unprepared for the modern workplace and uninformed in the voting booth.

The Mackinac Center champions reform ideas that would liberate workers and teachers, empower parents, and educate children. The ideas we've become known for would make unions more responsible to their membership and schools more accountable to their customers. Paycheck protection, voluntary unionism, school choice, better management of taxpayer dollars—all of these reforms are critical elements in strengthening a free society and assuring our future prosperity.

Labor and education are likely to be at the center of the Mackinac Center's multi-faceted research agenda for a long time to come because they are so strategically important. Good ideas often require time to take root and grow, and we don't walk away from a fight until it's won. But when noble goals like school choice and a free market in labor representation are finally achieved, other battles that seemed unwinnable will begin to go the right way, too.

"If we are to make progress in creating and sustaining a free and prosperous society, we must first correct many deeply rooted problems in labor law and in our education system."