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Season 5 - Episode 3
Standing on principle at the state level

Joseph G. Lehman is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan, one of the largest think tanks across the United States that focus primarily on state-level policies that affect peoples’ freedom and quality of life. He is also vice chair of the National Taxpayers Union. His commentary on public policy has been carried by The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, National Review, and many others.

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Fighting for change in one of the United States’ 50 laboratories of democracy—that’s how Joseph G. Lehman sees his think tank’s work. In this wide-ranging interview, the leader of the Mackinac Center talks about everything from women’s suffrage and prohibition to film subsidies and auto bailouts.

Michigan is ground zero for automakers in America, of course, and many were happy to see public money being used to prop up struggling companies and save jobs. But it would have been better to let market players reorganize the assets involved more efficiently. Sadly, says Lehman, we’ve accepted the idea that some companies are too big to fail, leading to perverse incentives, as well as being unfair to smaller companies.

Michigan is also the cradle of organized labour in the United States. In essence, unions are nothing more than people associating to try to get a better deal for themselves. “There’s nothing wrong with that,” says the think tank leader. “The problem comes in when compulsion is used to force people to support a union or to force businesses to negotiate.” In recent years, right-to-work legislation, championed by Mackinac, has freed workers to follow their conscience.

Joseph Lehman also has a lot to say about the Overton Window, a model of policy change developed by one of his think tank colleagues. Within the window are policies that the public would be willing to accept. Anything outside the window would get politicians voted out of office, and so the window must shift before they can be enacted—which is where think tanks come in. “Think tanks are at their best when they’re working just outside of today’s Overton Window. They’re working on ideas that aren’t quite politically possible yet.”

Links of interest

Joseph G. Lehman | The National Taxpayers Union | The Overton Window

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