Mackinac Center, Part of the National Koch Brothers Pension Attack

The Mackinac Center was created in 1987 in the image of the Heritage Foundation. Since then, thanks in large part to the Center’s Think Tank School, the Center has been duplicated in all but one state. And at last count, 67 other countries.

This sort of cloning extends to the work product of each think tank. Christopher Derry, who founded Kentucky’s Bluegrass Institute after graduating from the Mackinac school, described the “research” he recycles from other right wing think tanks:


Not only do these “propaganda mills” regurgitate each other’s work, they have a remarkable unity to the issues they pursue, which is directly related to the business interests of the corporations and foundations that fund them.

This is clear from the hair-on-fire headlines on view across the nation regarding public pensions:

Illinois Policy
Understanding Illinois’ Massive, Government-Worker Pension Crisis

State Pension Funds Fall Off a Cliff

Show-Me Institute (Missouri)
Public Employee Pensions in Missouri: A Looming Crisis

The Bluegrass Institute (Kentucky)
Pension Grinch likely to pilfer more from taxpayers

The Manhattan Institute (New York)
The Public Pension Problem: It’s Much Worse Than It Appears

Commonwealth Foundation (Pennsylvania)
Union Leaders Kill Critical Pension Reform at Members’ and Taxpayers’ Expense

The Heartland Institute (Illinois)
Massive Public Pension Liabilities Loom in Jacksonville

Yankee Institute (Connecticut)
Born Broke: Our pension debt problem

PR HandThe Reason Foundation in California serves as policy clearinghouse for other think tanks, to whom the smaller ones often contract out this work.

In 2014 Reason published a Pension Reform Handbook, which provides sage advice for right wing think tanks everywhere hoping to end defined benefit pensions.

A critical part of a successful campaign to close state pension systems is to work the media, something think tanks like the Mackinac Center have become increasingly adept at:


The handbook includes advice on how to get union members to help you kill their own pensions:

…you want them to know that it is your intention to remove the ability for politicians to play games with or raid their pension funds so that the jurisdiction never has to contemplate serious cuts to their retirement plans. You want to put them in control of their retirement.

One of its pieces suggests part of the solution requires that we all work longer:

The fact that people are living longer, healthier lives, however, means that they are able to contribute to the workforce—with greater wisdom and patience—later in life.

Sprinkled throughout these sources are the arguments we hear every day in the current Michigan pension fight.

Mercatus Center, George Mason University, (Funded by the Koch brothers) “…the state should close the current defined benefit plan to new workers and expand the existing defined contribution plans for all new state and local workers.”

Arnold Foundation: “The problem stems from the fact that many governments have failed to make the annual required contribution to their pension system. This chronic underfunding has caused the debt to increase dramatically.”

But the real bottom line comes from the National Taxpayers Union Foundation:

Defined-Contribution or 401k plans should be used since they place the investment risk and reward on the public employee

This coordinated nationwide think tank assault on public employee pensions would have us believe each franchise has on its own discovered a growing threat to the welfare of union members it pretends to care so much about. It is, in fact, a coordinated attempt to kill off yet another benefit of union membership in the hope that members will question their return on dues dollars.

This is the phase of the long-term drive to lower union membership beyond the point where school staff, through their unions, have the resources to resist the privatization of public education.

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