[Photo of Dr. Burton W. Folsom]

Dr. Burton W. Folsom

Senior Fellow in Economic Education

Dr. Burton Folsom Jr. is a history professor at Hillsdale College and senior fellow in economic education for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He currently serves on the Mackinac Center’s Board of Scholars, and from 1994 to 1999 was the Center's senior fellow in economic history.

For the Mackinac Center, Folsom has authored dozens of widely reprinted articles about Michigan's rich and varied past as well as a 1997 book, Empire Builders: How Michigan Entrepreneurs Helped Make America Great. His other books include Urban Capitalists: Entrepreneurs and City Growth in Pennsylvania's Lackawanna and Lehigh Regions, 1800-1920 (1981); The Myth of the Robber Barons: A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America (1991), now in its sixth edition; New Deal or Raw Deal?: How FDR's Economic Legacy Has Damaged America (2008); and FDR Goes to War (2011), which he co-authored with Anita Folsom. He also has edited two volumes, The Spirit of Freedom: Essays in American History and The Industrial Revolution and Free Trade. His work has appeared in major newspapers and magazines including The Detroit NewsThe American Spectator, and The Wall Street Journal. He blogs at BurtFolsom.com.

Folsom received his Ph.D. in American history from the University of Pittsburgh.

The Importance of Real Equality

And why the government can't provide it. … more

Remembering Sojourner Truth

Why Did Free Gas Create a Public Stink? (Viewpoint on Public Issues)

With gas so plentiful and cheap, some Ohioans came to think it shouldn’t have a cost at all. … more

Corn Flakes and Greatness

Is There a Statesman in the House? (Viewpoint on Public Issues)

Perhaps we should all take a moment to thank our great-grandchildren yet unborn. If we lack statesmen in this generation, we will still have our disaster relief, our pork and our politics — and they will pay for much of it. … more

Schmeling K.O.’d by Louis! Louis K.O.’d by the U.S. Government!

Even in destitution, Louis remained a symbol of black achievement and American resistance to Hitler. But the American tax code remained a symbol of the strangling of economic wealth and generosity. … more

Jobs Tomorrow: Deja Vu

Remembering George Sutherland: Defender of the Constitution

So persuasive was Sutherland, and so bad was the NRA, that the Supreme Court voted unanimously that the law was unconstitutional. … more

From Hospitals to Tsunami Relief: Lessons of Charles Hackley

Millions of Americans have contributed generously, just as they were accustomed to doing a century ago, because Americans have long believed that people voluntarily helping people is the way civil society is meant to work. … more

Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington and Liberty

We cannot know what views Douglass and Washington might hold if they were alive today. But it’s worth remembering that the injustice and racial discrimination they faced in their era were at least as unforgiving as any persecution experienced in America in recent decades. … more

Black History Month: Remembering Ralph Bunche

“There is,” he said, “a steady tendency toward polarization of the white and non-white peoples of the world which can lead to ultimate catastrophe for all.” … more

Ford Did Indeed Have A Better Idea

It was clear to Ford that hard work and entrepreneurial risk-taking were the sources of America’s great wealth. “Our help does not come from Washington, but from ourselves,” he wrote. “The government is our servant and never should be anything but a servant.” … more

The Crystal Gazer from Crystal Falls

Emil Hurja, a native of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, was the pioneer of political polling, and was instrumental in the success of the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his political program, "The New Deal." Later, a disillusioned Hurja broke with Roosevelt over policy and lost a run for Congress. Known as "the Crystal Gazer from Crystal Falls," Hurja was a local boy with a national impact. … more

An Anniversary All Michigan Citizens Can Celebrate

By an overwhelming vote of citizens, the 1851 Michigan Constitution took the state out of economic development and gave wide berth to free markets and entrepreneurship. … more

Let There Be Lighthouses!

One of the Century's Major Books: Kirk's The Roots of American Order

Michiganian Russell Kirk's quarter-century-old book, The Roots of American Order, has become one of the most important explanations of America's unique rise to greatness and warnings of the erosion of her freedom and prosperity. … more

Are High School Economics Textbooks Reliable?

A review of the 16 most-used high school economics textbooks in Michigan reveals that many contain gross errors and dangerous myths about the market economy and the proper role of government. … more

How Reliable Are Michigan High School Economics Textbooks?

  A strong knowledge of sound economic principles is not only important in the twenty-first century global marketplace, it is essential for the maintenance of a free society. Are Michigan high school students being taught what they need to know in order to succeed and prosper?
  This review of 16 of the most commonly used economics textbooks in Michigan high schools uses 12 criteria-including issues of trade, taxation, and the role of government-to evaluate which texts are and are not effective at presenting students with a balanced and accurate perspective on the modern market economy. Each text is graded, from A to F, on its ability to clearly instruct students in the "economic way of thinking."
  An abridged 27-page written copy of the report may be ordered normally, or the full reviews of each textbook may be downloaded at no charge via www.mackinac.org… more

What's Wrong with the Progressive Income Tax?

President Franklin Roosevelt proposed a 99.5 percent marginal tax rate on all incomes over $100,000. After that proposal failed, Roosevelt issued an executive order to tax all income over $25,000 at the astonishing rate of 100 percent. … more

George Washington's Unimpeachable Character

Congress advised General Washington to feed his troops by having them steal food from farmers. Instead, he promised to hang any soldier caught stealing food. Such theft might have solved a short-term problem, but it failed Washington's character test. … more

Black History Month: The Crusade of Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth criticized those blacks who were living "off the govern-ment." "Get off the government and take care of [your]selves" she urged them. … more

Russell Alger and the Spanish-American War

One hundred years ago, former Detroit lumber baron and U. S. Secretary of War Russell Alger signed the treaty ending the Spanish-American War. Historians agree that Alger made a much better businessman than bureaucrat. … more

Using Sugar to Wash Down the Pork: The Joe Fordney Story

One hundred years ago, Saginaw Representative Joe Fordney was first elected to the U. S. House of Representatives. His 24-year career shows how protectionist tariffs hurt everyone-even the people they're supposed to help. … more

Billy Durant and the Founding of General Motors

Billy Durant wouldn't let his daughter ride in a car because he thought they were too dangerous. So he took advantage of Michigan's free-market business climate to found General Motors and make safer cars himself, ninety years ago. … more

Minimum Wage Causes Maximum Pain

The minimum wage hurts low-skilled workers by pricing them out of the labor market. Sixty years ago, New England textile workers afraid of Southern competition were counting on just this fact. … more

Senator Arthur Vandenberg: A Profile in Courage

While 1930s Washington was abuzz with interventionist bureaucrats and politicians, Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenberg championed the free-market economy and was rewarded-by being elected to four terms. … more

Michigan Resists the New Deal

The sixty-fifth anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt's inauguration is a good time to recall how two prominent Michigan businessmen upheld free market competition against the government's massive economic intervention. … more

Michigan: Privatization Pioneer

Berry Gordy and Motown Records: Lessons for Black History Month

The story of how Berry Gordy borrowed $800 and built his Detroit home-based business into a multimillion-dollar music empire is a powerful reminder of what black entrepreneurs can achieve in America. … more

Governor Groesbeck: Road Builder and Defender of School Choice

In the 1920s, a daring three-term Michigan governor took bold stands against unfair taxation and the Ku Klux Klan's anti-school-choice efforts. … more

When the Telegraph Came to Michigan

Even more than e-mail today, the telegraph changed the way Americans communicated with each other in 1847. Michigan's first telegraph line, from Detroit to Ypsilanti, was a free market triumph. … more

Michigan and the Fantastic Federal Fur Failure

In 1822 the nation's first experiment with a federally subsidized industry-the Michigan fur trade-showed how entrepreneurs can succeed where government fails. … more

Corn Flakes and Greatness

From "dim-witted" dropout to one of the century's wealthiest Americans, Will Kellogg reminds us that personal and economic freedom encourage great achievement from even the most unlikely individuals. … more

A Grand Rapids Success: Helping the Homeless Help Themselves

Goverment antipoverty programs can provide a check, but not the incentive and nurturing to change a life. Mel Trotter Ministries is an example of how the poor are better helped by private charities. … more

Joe Louis vs. the IRS

The heavyweight champion's toughest opponent was not a boxer; it was the IRS. Louis' tragic story shows why we should replace the current income tax with a low, flat rate. … more

The Difference Between a Fire and a Flood

The North Dakota flood of 1997 and the great Michigan fire of 1881 inspired vastly different forms of generosity: one based on politics and the other founded in compassion. … more

Let There Be Light

Herbert Dow, the Monopoly Breaker

A spirited Michigan entrepreneur finds himself in an international trade war. He fights back with his own resources instead of asking for government help. … more

What Segregation Did to the Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers paid a heavy price for resisting racial integration in the 1950s. Market competition, not quotas, eventually drove the team to add talented black players. … more

Bridging the Racial Gap

A great Michigan builder benefited from a company that cared more about his skills than his skin color. Fred Pelham's experience illustrates the wisdom of rising above racial discrimination. … more

Learn How Michigan Entrepreneurs Helped Make America Great

Inspiring Stories Adapted from Empire Builders… more

Empire Builders (Softcover)

A handful of early Michigan entrepreneurs, including the Fords, Durants, Kelloggs, and Dows, transformed the state from a backwater wilderness into the industrial heart of North America. What made them and Michigan so pivotal in the innovations and inventions-from cars to corn flakes to Saran Wrap-that impact most of us each day? Folsom's inspiring account chronicles the roles of markets, government, politics, and individual achievement in the development of Michigan from its fur trading days, through the lumber era that led to furniture and carriage industries, leading finally to world-class automobile, cereal, and chemical industries. Spectacular failures of state-owned canal and railroad companies led to a crucial constitutional amendment in 1851 that restricted the business activities of state government. The amendment helped set the stage for massive private investment and prosperity for millions of workers. Whether you are a history buff, teacher, student, entrepreneur, or just a lover of Michigan, you will want to read this book. 183 pages … more

Empire Builders (Hardcover)

A handful of early Michigan entrepreneurs, including the Fords, Durants, Kelloggs, and Dows, transformed the state from a backwater wilderness into the industrial heart of North America. What made them and Michigan so pivotal in the innovations and inventions-from cars to corn flakes to Saran Wrap-that impact most of us each day? Folsom's inspiring account chronicles the roles of markets, government, politics, and individual achievement in the development of Michigan from its fur trading days, through the lumber era that led to furniture and carriage industries, leading finally to world-class automobile, cereal, and chemical industries. Spectacular failures of state-owned canal and railroad companies led to a crucial constitutional amendment in 1851 that restricted the business activities of state government. The amendment helped set the stage for massive private investment and prosperity for millions of workers. Whether you are a history buff, teacher, student, entrepreneur, or just a lover of Michigan, you will want to read this book. 183 pages … more

An Economic Lesson From Michigan's Early History

Michigan's early state-run railroads and canals were such colossal failures that the citizens demanded a constitutional prohibition of state-run firms. This set the stage for Michigan's world-class lumber, carriage, and automobile industries. … more

Cutting Taxes to Raise Revenue

Are income tax cuts voodoo economics or an economic jump-start? History tells us what Coolidge, Kennedy, and Reagan learned when they slashed income taxes. … more

Teen Challenge: Kicking Two Bad Habits

Two addictions eating away at American life are drugs and government. A remarkably successful Muskegon organization fights drugs without a dime of taxpayers' money and helps kick both bad habits. … more

Ford Did Indeed Have a Better Idea

Henry Ford's automobile helped Michigan change the world. Without government assistance or mandates, he doubled workers' wages and reduced their hours. The result was lower cost and better quality for Ford and consumers. … more