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Samuel Gregg: Ideas, intellectuals and the free economy

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In another round of conservative debate on the virtues — or vices — of the market economy, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg published a new piece at Public Discourse in which he takes on the critiques of writer Matthew McManus. MacManus’ criticisms were written in reply to an earlier piece in which Gregg addresses the growing criticisms of a free economy by editors and writers at First Things magazine.

In Gregg’s article, Capitalism, Conservatives, and the Intellectuals: A Reply to Matthew McManus, he counters some objections raised about the social effects of the market economy.

“There are many manifestations of capitalism, and their specific forms are more influenced by different ideas and cultural dispositions than we sometimes realize,” says Gregg. The current system is closer to “a blend of cronyism, neo-mercantilism, and markets.”

As for the role of government in the economy, Gregg grants that seminal thinkers such as Adam Smith certainly believed government has a role to play but also showed that Smith did not let that stop him from promoting a freer market economy. As to the influence of intellectuals in economics, it is easy to see the “decisive role that is often played by ideas and intellectuals” when one looks closely at history. After all, “ideas and intellectuals’ commitment to ideas are also indispensable if we want to live in generally free economies,” says Gregg.

You can read Gregg’s whole piece here.

Caroline Roberts Caroline Roberts has a B.A. in English from Grove City College and produces the Acton Institute’s podcast, Radio Free Acton.


  • Nice response to McManus. From what I have read of his writings he is a determinist. Humans do not have free will and are mere hairballs coughed up by society. Oddly, he thinks he and other socialists like him are not affected by society. They are exempt from such determinism and society’s influence so they can guide us rightly. Marx enjoyed that silly arrogance, too. Apparently they are not products of this earthly existence but some kind of extraterrestrial being.

    I would add that Adam Smith warned against using the power of the state to correct the greed of businessmen. He understood that businessmen buy the power of politicians in order to create regulations that favor them, such as import restrictions, or reduce competition. Business people have always been among the greatest enemies of capitalism. McManus’ solution to every problem, a more powerful state regulating business, plays into the hands of greedy businessmen in the “Baptists and Bootleggers” way.

    Finally, like mainstream economists, McManus see market “failures” everywhere he looks and thinks the state can solve them as if the state never fails. He attributes to the state the omnipotence and omniscience that Christians attribute to God, which makes him an Old Testament kind of idolater.