Mackinac Center

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A New York Times article terms the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (pronounced MAK-in-aw) a "conservative think tank school" run by Lawrence W. Reed:[1]

"Mr. Reed runs a conservative think tank school. Twice a year, ideological allies from across the globe travel to his program at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Mich., to study the tricks of the idea-peddling trade. Policy institutes have been central to a national organizing strategy that has long won the right a reputation for savvy, and state-level versions are growing in number and clout."

The article notes that an alumnus of the Mackinac Center, Christopher J. Derry, went on to found the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, which one Kentucky newspaper termed a "conservative propaganda mill". When Derry attended the Mackinac Center, he was "a sales executive with no public-policy background".

The New York Times article says that "Mr. Reed has nurtured so many state policy groups that he has been called the [conservative] movement’s Johnny Appleseed" – Johnny Appleseed being an American folk hero who planted apple seeds wherever he went, leading to vast numbers of the trees sprouting in many states. Based on Reed's skill in propagating conservative public policy groups, one entrepreneur is quoted in the article as likening the Mackinac Center to "a franchise".

Indeed, the organisation's big boast is the global reach of its achievements. According to the New York Times article, the Center numbers among its alumni "a Mongolian who went on to become prime minister, putting his free-market training to work by privatizing the national herd of yaks."

The Mackinac Center was founded in 1987. Formerly the Michigan Research Institute, the Center is a free-market, anti-regulatory and pro-business think tank. On its website it describes its founding as having been "inspired" by the "examples" of its "sister" think tanks, the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute.[2] Kirk A. Johnson, who joined the Mackinac Center in 2002 as director of education policy, was senior policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis.[3]

Tax returns of the ExxonMobil Foundation (the foundation set up by the oil giant ExxonMobil)[4] that can be accessed on Greenpeace's website reveal that the Mackinac Center has received $30,000 from the ExxonMobil Foundation since 1998.[5] Greenpeace draws attention to articles generated by the Mackinac Center that brand environmentalists who are concerned about climate change "alarmists".

One such article, by the Mackinac Center's James Sheehan, claims that proposed curbs on the United States' greenhouse gas emissions "would have harmed consumers and delivered a stinging blow to economic growth". The measures advocated by environmentalists, says Sheehan, "will cause a catastrophe much worse than the one they are predicting".

Sheehan praises US president George W. Bush for vetoing the proposed curbs on carbon dioxide emissions:

Thankfully, cooler heads have prevailed at the White House. Secretary Abraham and other Bush advisers are to be commended for recognizing that putting the economy under the thumb of an increasingly powerful federal agency is not in the long-run interest of American workers and consumers, even if done in the name of safeguarding the environment.[6]

In 2006 Michael D. LaFaive, director of the Mackinac Center's Morey fiscal policy initiative, published an article criticising government funding of the arts. LaFaive focuses on the Ann Arbor Film Festival, or rather, those aspects that particularly interest him. He expresses moral outrage over works of art with sexual content while describing them in detail. He also tells his readers how to access video clips, outtakes, and websites featuring the works in question. Here is an excerpt:

"Chests," an experimental short film showing two men repeatedly bumping their bare chests together. The two-and-a-half-minute film is shot from the waists up and the necks down. Click here to see still photos from "Chests." ... The "Sex Workers Art Show" included live performances from people who work in the sex industry, including, among other performers, "Miss Exotic World 2003 and Diva of Danger Miss Satanica." For more on the Sex Workers Art Show, visit the official web site. WARNING: This site contains images that may be deemed offensive by the viewer. It may also violate school and corporate policies against viewing such material.[7]

— and so on, for several long and detailed paragraphs. LaFaive even directs the reader to the AAFF's back catalogue:

Films shown in previous years at the AAFF included such titles as "The Arousing Adventures of Sailor Boy," "Soggy Penis Syndrome" and "Boobie Girl." For a more complete listing of previous AAFF films, along with a description of each, download the following PDF document. WARNING: This document contains graphic language that may be deemed offensive by the viewer. It may also violate school and corporate policies against viewing such material.

Board of Directors


Mackinac's President Lawrence Reed is something of a historian. His 2005 article,"Great Myths of the Great Depression",[8], is introduced as an upbeat remedy for the nonsense taught about capitalism to students:

Students today are often given a skewed account of the Great Depression of 1929-1941 that condemns free-market capitalism as the cause of, and promotes government intervention as the solution to, the economic hardships of the era. In this essay based on a popular lecture, Mackinac Center for Public Policy President Lawrence Reed debunks the conventional view and traces the central role that poor government policy played in fostering this legendary catastrophe.


Details on grants to Mackinac Center for Public Policy can be found on the Media Transparency website.[9] Funders include:


  1. Jason Deparle, "Right-of-Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government",New York Times, 17 November 2006
  2. "Thanks to Two Think Tanks", Mackinac Center website, accessed October 2008
  3. "About the authors", Mackinac Center website, accessed October 2008
  4. "ExxonMobil giving guidelines" ExxonMobil website, accessed October 2008
  5. "Fact Sheet: Mackinac Center, ExxonSecrets website (a Greenpeace project), accessed October 2008
  6. James Sheehan, "Cooler Heads Prevail on Global Warming" Mackinac Center for Public Policy website, 26 March 2001, accessed October 2008
  7. Michael D. LaFaive, "Entertaining Art: To Tax or Not To Tax — That Is the Question", Mackinac Center website, accessed October 2008
  8. "Great Myths of the Great Depression", Mackinac Center website, accessed October 2008
  9. "Mackinac Center for Public Policy" Media Transparency website, accessed October 2008