(Editor’s note: The following is an edited version of a letter Mackinac Center President Joseph G. Lehman recently sent to Mackinac Center members.)

August has brought little relief from the incessant hand wringing about the federal debt limit. Staggering indebtedness is not our biggest problem, but rather it’s a symptom of something larger still. Will we remain free and limit our government to essential functions, or will we sink irreversibly into some soft captivity of paternal welfare statism?

That really is the central policy question, not how much debt should we have or how high will taxes need to be to pay for it. In fact, just about every policy question in the current era can be boiled down to a choice between competing visions for the country — freedom or statism.

Lots of lawmakers from Washington and Lansing will come back home this month for town hall meetings. Most of them (regardless of party) will say they support freedom over statism. But the truth of what they support (regardless of party) is recorded in their votes for and against bills.

We don’t expect everyone to agree with our analysts on every policy question. That’s why it’s important to look at lawmakers’ complete voting records. We’ve made that possible with MichiganVotes.org and Michigan Capitol Confidential (michcapcon.com). Check them out before you next meet with, call or email a lawmaker.

Mackinac Center research evaluates existing policies and devises alternatives more consistent with free markets. Our government transparency division reveals the detailed workings, successes and failures of federal, state and local policies including those of public schools. And the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation strategically represents citizens who are denied their constitutional rights by government overreach.

That’s our basic model for changing lives for the better. Ultimately, it’s not about policy, it’s about people. In the same way that the federal debt isn’t just a big number, it’s about whether or not we are a self-controlled people with a government likewise under our control. We can argue policy details all day long, but we believe the preferred choice in that basic question is proven and clear.

Key to changing policy, and lives, for the better is you. When you support the Mackinac Center (or a like-minded group) or even just read our reports and tell others (and your lawmakers) about them, you energize and amplify the ideas that make people more free, more prosperous, more self reliant, and more able to defend the blessings of liberty.

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Joseph G. Lehman is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.