From Arbroath to Austin

Speaking at SPN
Mackinac Center President Lawrence W. Reed celebrates a 20-year, 50-fold increase in U.S. free-market think tank leaders.

(The following remarks were delivered in Austin, Texas at an Oct. 22 reception hosted by the Mackinac Center. The event was part of the State Policy Network Annual Meeting, a gathering of leaders of free-market state think tanks.)

It’s very fitting that we’ve been treated to the strains of Beethoven’s "Ode to Joy" this evening. As the unofficial anthem of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of tyranny in Eastern Europe in 1989, its stirring tune resonates with supporters of liberty everywhere.

A few months ago, Kendra Shrode, my assistant at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, noted that this fall would mark the 15th "leadership conference" at our headquarters, and that we shouldn’t let that moment pass without some special recognition. That program has been a great source of pride and joy for all of us at the Mackinac Center, because it has produced so many friendships with good people like you — some 350 people from 44 states and nearly as many countries. We are looking forward to many more such conferences in the future, because we will host them as long as the demand for them exists.

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But we’re not holding this reception tonight to pat ourselves on the back. We want to pat you on the back and offer a hearty thanks.

Twenty years ago, a meeting of free-market think tank leaders might have drawn a half-dozen people. Here we are at the 12th annual State Policy Network meeting with a record audience of nearly 300. That is one of many exciting measures of the progress our movement has made, and we should feel good about that. It has happened because of the hard work and perseverance of all of us in this room, and that of many others who are not here this evening.

Similar good news has occurred in other places too, all over the world. I’m especially pleased to report that in recent weeks, thanks to the energy and passion of a young professor who has already translated works of Mises and Hayek into Vietnamese, a brand-new free-market institute is up and running in Hanoi, Vietnam!

At the Mackinac Center, we’ve always defined "leaders" and "leadership" broadly. These terms are not defined only by the position you hold, or the character or skills you possess, or the following you command, or by taking time out to "sharpen your axe," as you do at this SPN event, an Atlas Foundation forum, the Heritage Foundation’s Resource Bank meeting, the Mackinac Center Leadership Conference or similar gatherings. Leaders and leadership also mean seeing the bigger picture — the really big picture of building a movement for liberty.

One of the greatest strengths of our movement is that it is not composed of dozens of isolated, atomistic entities. We are not ships that pass in the night. We know each other, confer with each other, visit each other. We help and strengthen each other. We collaborate and thereby magnify our respective resources.

We understand that when any one of us scores a victory, it’s a win for all of us — a victory that each can leverage into new successes in his or her locale. We really are a genuine, interconnected movement of people who share a big picture.

Thank you very, very much, for thinking and acting in that fashion. It’s the way our movement will grow and ultimately win the battle of ideas.

As you mix and mingle and enjoy the desserts tonight, take a moment to thank each person with whom you speak. Thank them for being compatriots in a common cause. Thank them for the diligence and hard work that sometimes come at great cost, but are always worth the effort. Thank them for what they are doing for liberty.

Finally, let me say that the Scots of the year 1320 would also view you and what you do with approval. What those brave men said in that year in their Declaration of Arbroath describes all of you rather well: "It is not for honors or glory or wealth that we fight, but for freedom alone, which no good man gives up except with his life."

Thank you!


Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.