This article originally appeared in the winter 2002 issue of IMPACT!, the quarterly newsletter of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
To some eager beavers who want instant results, focusing on ideas seems to be an unbearably long-term strategy. They yearn for the magic button that, when pressed, will make things better. They think everything depends on who wins the next election, so they put their money and time into yard signs and bumper stickers instead of books, studies, commentaries, seminars and other thought-provoking educational tools.
These impatient friends fail to understand that politicians rarely operate outside a box framed by public opinion. A wealthy patron of hundreds of candidates over the years expressed his frustration to me once: "I wish I could do something so that once the people I support get elected, I won't have to keep calling them to find out why they cast so many bad votes and make so many wrong decisions." I told him that the one most effective thing he could do is to invest in ideas. Give someone a good book, I said, not a bumper sticker.
Making the case for liberty stick, so that it isn't simply some rhetorical exercise, is a multi-faceted program. It draws from a range of intellectual disciplineseconomics, political science, sociology, history, to name a few. It encourages a patient, long-term perspective over the instant gratification of short-term obsessions.
Too many battles for liberty and sound policy are lost because of a misplaced and hard-to-shake faith in government. For all its many failures, government is still regarded as real and tangible while free market alternatives are often thought of as nebulous and imaginary.
Far too many Americans think that if government provides education, it may do so poorly but at least education will happen. Likewise, they think that if government gets into the low-income housing business, the result may be scandal-ridden but at least the poor will be housed.
Defenders of the free market are often expected to offer certainty and perfection while government only has to make promises and express good intentions. Many times I've heard people say, "A free market in education is a bad idea because some child somewhere might fall through the cracks" even though in today's government schools, millions of children are falling through the cracks every day.
We must reverse this sad state of affairs. We must explain the real and tangible achievements of free markets and civil society. And we also must call attention to the painfully real and tangible failures of government and politicized society that result from promises of nebulous and imaginary benefits.
With your support and the hard work of the most talented staff in the business, that is what the Mackinac Center for Public Policy will continue to do.