The causes which destroyed the ancient republics were numerous; but in Rome, one principal cause was the vast inequality of fortunes.
–Noah Webster, American editor and writer (1758-1843)
The Mackinac Center is a well-financed front for wealthy special interests. They are beneficiaries of the current political/financial oligarchy. One where banks are too big to fail and too big to be prosecuted; where Wall Street reaches record highs while main street struggles to make ends meet; where veterans homes and prisons are privatized then poorly run with zero accountability; where you have to take out a loan for college and you’re in debt before you graduate.
Take their recent article for example, titled “Why you shouldn’t care (much) about income or wealth inequality.” The entire article is a cleverly worded – but false – straw man argument used to justify the status quo and promote privatization schemes like for-profit schools that would further line the pockets of their well-connected funders:
Michigan policymakers can help by eliminating artificial barriers to finding a working-class job, like the many occupational licenses it requires. It can also improve the state’s underperforming and expensive public education system.
Taking issue with this fantastic (and accurate) assessment of income inequality in America, the Mackinac Center grossly misrepresents the argument for addressing income inequality by reinvesting in ourselves with their favorite boogeyman, wealth redistribution:
These are far more effective at reducing poverty than wealth and income redistribution, which seeks only to address the difference between rich and poor regardless of whether it improves everybody’s situation.
But no one is arguing for the outright redistribution of wealth. What the Mackinac Center really takes issue with is that their wealthy backers might actually have to pay their fair share in taxes; and to them the only real solutions are ones that result in higher profits for their corporate backers. While they think we should privatize schools and cut funding to higher education, we think we should stop the decades long cost-cutting and start reinvesting in our education system. During the 2012 election cycle the far-right called this “class warfare” and the American people said “nope, it’s not.”
The Mackinac Center believes, wholeheartedly, in the classic theory of capitalism. To them, the “invisible hand” still guides the market and assures that it distributes resources in the most efficient and fair way possible. Their entire existence is based on this premise:
That one person is able to amass a fortune does not infringe upon others making a living. The important factor is opportunity, and America still remains the best bastion for opportunity in the world. It doesn’t always act like it, but America remains the prime location for entrepreneurs, innovation and for rewarding hard work.
This is false. It assumes that given merit, America’s social and economic structure provides the necessary opportunity to improve your lot in life. We call this social mobility, and because of the growing income inequality and the dwindling opportunities in America it’s largely a myth. While Horatio Alger stories give one hope they are less and less frequent and no substitute for real opportunity.
Finally, the Mackinac Center deliberately conflates equality before the law with equal wealth to justify their unsound argument for income inequality:
“It’s not shocking that both wealth and incomes for people in the United States differ depending on the individual in question. As Mackinac Center President Emeritus Lawrence W. Reed put it, free people are not equal and equal people are not free. In fact, it’s our differences that make us valuable to each other.”
We are equal before the law, and it’s that equality which makes everything else – government, a free market – possible. Government creates the conditions necessary for commerce to commence and for the market to exist. But when one group follows the rules while the other can do whatever the hell they want then you have a serious problem. A problem the market can’t fix. Then, income inequality becomes something you should care about because the opportunity to advance – again, given merit – is only an illusion.
And with painfully twisted logic, the Mackinac Center ushers in and justifies the new gilded age.
P.S. They’re so out of touch they actually think a family can live a good life on less than $15,000 a year:
Conversely, there are plenty of people who show how they and their families live a good life on less than $15,000 a year. We’re free to be as profligate or as thrifty as we want.