Patrick Ishmael
Yesterday, the Springfield News-Leader published a supposed scoop about the Show-Me Institute and the blase art of grant applications, a story undoubtedly connected to a poorly produced smear campaign led by a credibility-challenged liberal group. I would expect rehashes of tired opposition research from liberal flacks, but it is pretty surprising that the News-Leader would so blithely do the Left's tactical bidding, I guess without realizing it.

So there is no misunderstanding the dynamic at play here, the liberal groups promoting these stories are supported by special interests who, like their free-market counterparts, fund what they tend to believe in. In this case, what these liberal funders "believe in" generally works out to be cookie-cutter reports attacking state-based think tanks nationwide. To each her own. To be clear, that the progressive network has well-heeled supporters doesn't bother me a bit. The Left has its patrons — check out this revealing chart from 2008 — and the free-market movement has its patrons. The Left has populist supporters; we have populist supporters.

What baffles me is why any reporter would think this "leaked" document about pension grant proposals is some sort of revelation about the Show-Me Institute, or even think tanks generally, because little if any of it is surprising even to a casual observer of the policy world. Probably the most chuckle-inducing example of the article's shallowness is this section (emphasis mine):
Although Show-Me is open about its conservative viewpoint, the summary of the grant proposal provides a glimpse into how the non-profit charity organization works and is evidence of its ties to larger, national organizations such as the State Policy Network [SPN].

"Evidence of its ties"? The Show-Me Institute is and has been listed as a member of SPN on SPN's own website for as long as I can remember. The way it's being portrayed here, it's as if the Show-Me Institute or SPN have tried to conceal the fact that we know each other and intermittently share resources. It's like saying a letter from Kansas City Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is "evidence of the team's ties to the NFL." Uh, yeah. And? Even the document that's cited in the main article reveals that the Show-Me Institute hasn't received even a wooden nickel from this particular grantor since at least 2009. So, what's the story again?

And I hate to have to spell this out, but the Show-Me Institute is composed of free marketeers, not intellectual nihilists. The market-based diagnosis of the pension problem is pretty straightforward when you just look at the basic facts: defined benefit pension programs tend to hurt both the state and, in the long run, many pensioners, by cutting out market forces that would diversify risk to both the pension provider and the beneficiary. Just ask Detroit; just ask Detroit's pensioners. That analysis doesn't require a complete intellectual build-out from nothing, and even a cursory dive into the subject of defined benefit pensions produces an incredible amount of data from which an institution or researcher could start a well-founded and intellectually honest project.

Which is, of course, all beside the point of this story. This wasn't so much about informing people as it was about promoting a very caustic brand of bad-faith politics — an attempt by the Left to cast aspersions on free marketeers rather than fight these important policy fights on the field of ideas.

It's pitiable that this is the best the Left has to offer to Missourians. Heck, just look at Progress Missouri's silence on the cronyism of the Boeing deal, which we've roundly criticized in print and on the airwaves over the last week. What's their excuse for hiding rather than fighting this latest case of corporate welfare? What do they really stand for? What do they really believe in? We'd all like to know.

What does the Show-Me Institute believe in? Free markets. Who do we believe in? You. People are the market. We believe in, seek, and promote free-market solutions because we trust our fellow Missourians and Americans to make their lives and our lives better. They're people-powered solutions. They're solutions that work. That premise is what under-girds this organization, and I suspect our opponents find this bottom-up philosophy to be a startling threat to their top-down sensibilities — a sensibility that can't even drag itself out of its hole to engage even an obvious and bipartisan instance of cronyism.

About the Author

Patrick Ishmael

Patrick Ishmael is the director of government accountability at the Show-Me Institute.