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Mackinac Center's report on licensing shows that I'm a closeted right-winger

Jack Lessenberry logo

Half a century ago, we were a nation split more along news anchor lines than party lines. Some of us got our news from Walter Cronkite, some from Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.

Viewers made choices, but not really along party lines. The anchors were supposed to be essentially neutral, which is why it was such a big deal when Cronkite told America that in his opinion, the Vietnam War was a failure.

These days, we largely watch news through our own ideological prisms. Try to imagine a conservative watching Rachel Maddow, or a liberal Fox News. This doesn’t do much to keep our minds open – and that’s not a good thing.

... the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the think tank Michigan liberals love to hate.

With that in mind, I talked yesterday with John Mozena, the vice president for marketing and communications of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the think tank Michigan liberals love to hate.

Depending on who you ask, the Mackinac Center is an earnest “free-market think tank,” which is how it defines itself, or a “right-wing pressure group based in Midland,” as it’s defined by the liberal Center for Media and Democracy.

Those of us in the media know it as an entity that churns out seemingly endless policy studies, which inevitably seem to conclude that some aspect of government spending, especially on social programs or mass transit, is bad.

Mozena, a respected and thoughtful PR professional with a good sense of humor, is personally a libertarian, and seeks to portray the center that way. I think it has libertarian elements, but most on the board of directors, including Dick McLellan and former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Cliff Taylor, are essentially Republicans.

While the Mackinac Center has been known to criticize Republicans –Donald Trump’s protectionist trade policies, for example – it doesn’t tend to be as harsh on them as Democrats.

But the Center does do some work that deserves attention. Mozena drew my attention to a new Mackinac Center report titled: This isn’t working: How Michigan’s Licensing Laws Hurt Workers and Consumers. I found it to be fascinating.

You don’t have to be a screaming right wing anarchist to know that there is such a thing as bureaucracy run amok. This has long been especially true in Detroit, as anyone who has tried to work with the city knows.

... is it really important that you have a license to plow snow or put up an awning?

Journalism is one of the few professions that isn’t licensed in any way, and hopefully never will be. That’s because it is important that everyone’s right to expression is protected by the First Amendment. I think most of us recognize that doctors and electricians should be licensed and certified. But is it really important that you have a license to plow snow or put up an awning?

Detroit requires that.

The Mackinac Center argues that this stifles efforts by ambitious people to work hard, create businesses, and lift themselves out of poverty. It has also led to a thriving underground economy involving those who can do things, but who can’t or won’t afford to pay expensive license fees - an economy, by the way, that produces no tax revenue.

Jarrett Skorup, the author of this report, argues that:

... if a license cannot shown to protect the public from harm, it should be repealed.

Well, I didn’t think I was a closet right-winger, but I have to say that makes sense to me.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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