No More Czars, Please

For hard-pressed, taxpaying Michigan citizens who believe in limited government, April is not a favorite month. But something really good and worth noting happened a couple days before our taxes were due. On April 13, a Democratic governor chided a Republican legislature for trying to create a state “manufacturing czar.”

So far this year, Governor Jennifer Granholm has vetoed two bills (SB 840 and HB 5306) passed by a GOP-controlled legislature that would have created, respectively, small business and manufacturing czars. After vetoing the latest czar bill, she argued that we don’t need a state manufacturing czar because Michigan already has a Michigan Economic Development Corporation and a Department of Labor and Economic Growth that both have their own potentates or whatever their leaders are called.

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It isn’t as though Gov. Granholm opposes czars. She recently called upon President Bush to name a manufacturing czar (or czarina) at the federal level. So in the land of the free, czardom has become a bipartisan fetish. Both major political parties have given us drug czars, energy czars, trade czars, etc., and seem intent on blessing us with more such coronations in the future. When they find a tough issue that requires attention, why not pass the buck and anoint a czar? It makes you look like you’re really serious about doing something, instead of actually doing it.

It’s not as though we don’t know why Michigan is losing manufacturing jobs. High taxes, burdensome regulations, poor inner city schools and a generally unfriendly, union-heavy labor environment are major factors. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has handed policy makers dozens of proposals for fixing the problem, including making Michigan a right-to-work state, but instead of getting those things done and exhibiting real leadership, politicians would rather hire yet another leader, a “czar” no less.

My problem with all of this goes beyond the notion of hiring another bureaucrat. It’s the use of the term “czar” itself to refer to anybody at all in what is supposed to be a free society. Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and the others who risked their lives to fashion a constitutional republic must be turning in their graves. Just as Washington rejected a suggestion he be named a “king,” so should any self-respecting, freedom-loving American citizen eschew any offer to be a “czar” over anything or anybody.

The origin of the term is “Caesar,” who arrogated great power to himself and helped bring an end to the Roman republic. In more modern times we think of a “czar” as a tyrant of pre-1917 Russia. Look up the term in any thesaurus and you’ll find synonyms such as “autocrat,” “usurper,” “despot” and “oppressor.”

Please, Governor Granholm and the Michigan Legislature, give us no more czars. Give us no pharaohs, emperors, shoguns, sheikhs, sachems, commissars or monarchs of any kind. Just give us good and limited government. If that is too much to ask, or beyond your capabilities, then perhaps we sovereign voters should give ourselves a new Governor and a new Legislature.

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Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a nonprofit research and educational institute. He is the author of Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy .