The following is an email CEA President John Mozena sent to supporters on Friday, February 25. If you’d like to receive emails from the CEA, a signup link is at the bottom of this message.
Dear Friends and Supporters of the Center for Economic Accountability,
I had originally intended to start this email with a celebratory “What a great week!” thanks to a series of solid successes in getting attention for our advocacy work against economic development subsidies across America. Then, Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine, and talking about op-eds and podcasts paled in importance compared to the death and destruction we’re seeing in a formerly peaceful country.
So why am I sending this email out today anyway? What does an organization whose mission revolves around American state and local economic development policy have to say about war in Eastern Europe?
The answer, to me, is in the photos of Ukrainian volunteers in lines stretching for blocks to sign up to fight against the Russian invasion; of videos of average people pouring out their beer bottles and making Molotov cocktails with gasoline and Styrofoam following a recipe sent out by the nation’s defense ministry; of fathers putting their children on evacuation buses and staying behind to fight the invaders. When you listen to Ukrainians’ reasons why they’re doing these things, they’re not just standing up to defend their country’s government or borders on a map. Rather, they’re putting their lives on their line to defend their nation’s way of life.
That’s what resonates with me, as someone who spends a lot of time talking about how and why people and businesses make decisions about where to go and what to do within the context of America’s economy. We know that “quality of life” is a key factor in those kinds of choices, and we talk all the time about it in terms of things like neighborhood amenities, recreational opportunities, school quality and even pro sports stadiums.
But Ukrainians aren’t preparing to throw flaming beer bottles at Russian tanks rolling down their streets because they’re trying to protect their local hiking trails or decorative streetscaping. They’re making the decision that their quality of life in Ukraine’s far-from-perfect free-market democracy is worth fighting and potentially dying for, compared to the life they see their Russian cousins living under Putin or in similar kleptocratic dictatorships elsewhere in the region.
Ukrainians believe their way of life is worth fighting for because it’s much better than it was – and they can see that it was continuing to get better. I saw this process in action when this past fall, I was asked by our friends at Atlas Network to provide input and consultation to the team at Centre for Economic Strategy, a Ukrainian economic policy think tank. Andrii Fedotov, Bohdan Prokhorov and their team at CES Ukraine were working on the issue of municipally owned enterprises in Ukraine, and how to encourage cities to privatize them in a way that would improve services to the community and reduce corruption and cronyism. I was glad to help them with some thoughts on messaging and related factors.
Their issue was a basic nuts-and-bolts economic reform problem common to former command economies. Privatization done wrong is what created the fortune of many of the “oligarchs” who wield power in Russia today, and while Ukraine has had problems along those lines it’s thanks in no small part to the efforts of people like Andrii, Bohdan and their team at CES Ukraine that corruption has been at least somewhat held in check and Ukrainians have been able to benefit from living and working in a largely free and fair marketplace.
Having the freedom to advocate against the interests of government and business elites as CES Ukraine does isn’t just an abstraction for Ukrainians facing down Putin’s invasion today. It’s a hard-won thing that they understand on a gut level. They’ve seen what “quality of life” looks like in the Soviet and Russian models, and they think it’s worth fighting and even dying to keep their nation from that fate.
To me, that’s the connection between the work we do at the Center for Economic Accountability and the horror and tragedy we see on social media and in the news. The Ukrainian people are reminding me that we’re not driven to do what we do because we care about money or tax rates or philosophical abstractions. Rather, we do what we do because we care about people and want what’s best for them. Looking at Russia reminds us why we think that it’s a bad idea for governments and businesses to get so intertwined that you can’t tell the two apart any more. It reminds us why we think it’s wrong for people in power to use that power to enrich themselves at everyone else’s expense. And most importantly, it reminds us that we fight in our own way for limited government, free markets and the rule of law because those are things that empower people to live their best lives, in peace, to the best of their abilities.
These ideas really do matter in the real world. Ukrainians are lining up to fight to protect them, because they know what the alternatives are like. And in our own way, in our own environment and with much less personally at stake, that’s a fight we’re proud to be a part of.
Normally, this is the point in an email at which I’d ask you to support our work. But today, I’d instead suggest that you support the work being done by people like Bohdan and Andrii at CES Ukraine and others who have been working to create a quality of life in the Ukraine that their fellow citizens think is worth fighting for. Our friends at Atlas Network have launched a fund to support free-market organizations in Ukraine during this crisis, and I encourage you to support it.
P.S. – If you do want to see our successes from this past week that I was originally going to spend this email talking about, here they are:
- My op-ed with Michael Farren of the Mercatus Center in the Washington Times: Taxpayers line up to be sacked by the Washington Commanders
- My column in Baseball Prospectus (free account required): MLB’s Lockout Makes Stadium Subsidies Even Worse Deals Than Before
- My op-ed in the Detroit News (paywall): Why GM’s $824 million subsidy exemplifies unnecessary spending
- I was a guest on DonorsTrust’s Giving Ventures Podcast episode on Freer Cities (Blog post here.)
Update: On February 28th, Bohdan responded via email: “Thank you for your touching words and for this support. I hope after this war is over, CES will proceed with its efforts to contribute to build free and liberal Ukraine. Героям слава!”