Acton Institute Powerblog

Rev. Sirico: Fighting Poverty through the Free Market

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At the beginning of the month, Rev. Robert Sirico traveled to El Salvador to speak at ENADE XIII (Encuentro Nacional de la Empresa Privada,). This event is put on every year by the National Association for Private Enterprise of El Salvador and its theme this year was “bettering business, transforming lives.” Rev. Sirico gave the closing presentation at the event and spoke about the effectiveness of businesses in the fight to end poverty.

He said that neither piety nor charity can ultimately end poverty.  The best thing that businesses and entrepreneurs can do to break the circle of poverty is to be successful. It is a moral obligation, not a bad thing to be successful in business. The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) illustrates this point.  What’s more, entrepreneurs are given the same calling that Adam and Eve were given in the Garden of Eden: “be fruitful and multiply.” Labor is something sacred and not simply a means to wealth and riches.

The state has a role in helping the poor, but it is limited. Governments should work to create environments where businesses can thrive and provide opportunities for employment. Profitable private businesses are closely linked to poverty reduction and the overall progress of communities. He asked which is better: a powerful state with a powerful bureaucracy or a competitive and productive private sector that creates employment?

Drawing on another parable, Rev. Sirico explained the Biblical teaching about wealth and poverty with the story of Lazarus in heaven and the rich man in hell (Luke 16:19-31). Many people wrongly assume that Lazarus was in Heaven because he was poor while the rich man was in hell because of his wealth. Sirico points that that it was the rich man’s pride that kept him out of the kingdom of Heaven while it was Lazarus’ humility that is exalted, not his poverty. One should never assume that the Bible teaches that wealth is something inherently evil.

While it is common to think that prosperity is the norm and poverty is the exception, the contrary is true. Countries do not become wealthy through natural resources, but instead through men and women who transform and utilize these elements through freedom and intelligence. In fact, Rev. Sirico defines wealth as the ability and freedom to transform natural resources with courage and intelligence.

He ended his presentation reminding the audience that generosity should still be a virtue of every entrepreneur.

You can read a Spanish summary of Rev. Sirico’s speech in El Salvador’s National Newspaper, El Diaro de Hoy and in La Prensa Grafica.



Sarah Stanley


  • Which is better, a gov’t that is answerable to an involved public or a private enterprise that is answerable to maximizing profits?

    • Harsh Vora

      Private enterprises are answerable to MARKET FORCES – this is the ‘best’ form of accountability. It is only an illusion that govt. can ever be accountable to its people.

      • Market forces are driven by profit and greed. How is that better than a participatory democracy?

        • Democracies are driven by fear and greed. How is that better than market forces?

    • RogerMcKinney

      Private businesses in a free market are at the mercy of consumers. They can max profits only by pleasing consumers. Politicians face the same constraint. The difference is that the people want the politicians to take from the rich and give to them. They are motivated by envy. Private enterprise can only give them fair value for their money. That’s why most people hate free enterprise and love government.

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  • Markets disperse power throughout the consumer base. Governments concentrate power into the hands of a few elites. Libertarians would argue that they are trying to disperse power and you are trying to concentrate it. Indeed, dispersion of power is one of the core tenets of libertarianism, via the principle of nonviolent social interactions and opposition to coercive structures in society.

    • Will try this one more time. I tried editing and my note disappeared.

      Think about the logic of your statement. Markets disperse power through the consumer base. If all consumers had the same amount of money, then power would be distributed equally. But that is not the case. Rather, those with the most money have the most power. And those with little money, have little power. So, according to your statement, markets disperse power according to wealth.

      Democratic gov’ts that represent its people rather than special interests disperse power more according to personhood. One person, one vote. The trouble we have now is that power is dispersed according to wealth because gov’t represents those who foot the campaign bills.

      In addition, what we see around us is a consolidation of wealth and power with money being the driving force. That goes back to markets. And today’s markets are based on greed and maximizing profits.

      Neither the logic nor the facts on the ground support your case here.

  • Markets do not necessarily disperse wealth. In fact, without activism, wealth consolidates at the top. This blind faith in the markets is like the faith of Israel’s neighbors in their nonexistent gods.

    The markets are a human invention and based on greed. The blind faith people have in the markets is nothing more than self-worship.

    In addition, how is it that the markets will infallibly balance out wealth? It is the belief of those who think that the markets impunity from the moral issues of their decisions.