Category: Limited Government

On December 1st, Acton welcomed Cato Institute Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies Ilya Shapiro to the Mark Murray Auditorium to speak on the role of the federal judiciary in the growth of government. The lecture, delivered as part of the 2015 Acton Lecture Series, emphasized the importance of judges’ both having the right constitutional theories as well as the willingness to enforce them. Shapiro argues that too much judicial “restraint” — like that of Chief Justice John Roberts in the Obamacare cases — has led not only to the unchecked growth of government, but also toxic judicial confirmation battles in the Senate and even our nation’s current populist moment.

We’re pleased to share Shapiro’s full presentation below.

Blog author: abradley
Thursday, December 29, 2016
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On December 27, 2016, at the age of 86, Thomas Sowell published his last column. After publishing dozens of books and hundreds of columns, Dr. Sowell’s retirement may mark the beginning of the end of an era of black intellectuals who were champions of political and economic liberty. Other black scholars like Walter Williams, W.B. Allen, and Shelby Steele are all in the 70s or 80s and there does not seem to be a cadre of like-minded black scholars in their wake.
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Prime Minister Matteo Renzo and his constiutional referendum were rejected last week.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his constitutional referendum were rejected last week.

Just as Acton concluded its ‘Reclaiming the West: Freedom and Responsibility‘conference series in London on Dec. 1, Italy was getting ready to decide its own fate among troubled Western democracies.  On Dec. 4,  the storied homeland to some of the greatest intellectual, political, religious and artistic genius over the last 2,500 years voted to implement or reject deep political reform via the ruling Partito Democratico’s proposed constitutional referendum.

No doubt it was a fundamental decision about freedom and responsibility. But apparently not a ‘do or die’ proposition, as billed from the left-wing party’s bully pulpit.

On Dec. 5, a record poll turnout (70%) resulted in Italians putting their feet down, a clear and decisive stop to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s ‘December Revolution’. The ‘No’ vote won by a landslide margin: 20 percentage points (60% to 40%).

It is as if Italy had tuned in to Acton’s conference ‘The Crisis of Liberty in the West’, where outspoken Europeans advocated for ordered liberty. They called for deeper reflection on core human values and steadfastness in upholding timeless truths, rather than seeking change for its own sake or for some momentary advantage, thereby creating bastions of relativism and utilitarianism among civic institutions. This is challenging advice for Italians, who historically have been seduced by the brilliant sophistry of their scheming political leaders.

Last week, however, Italian voters stood united. They showed they were sick and tired of being hoodwinked during debates and ultimately at the polls. Enough was enough: Basta! No longer would their suffrage be cashed out for any party’s short-term political gain.

In short, Italian voters smelled a rat – a ruse used for a political power play. (more…)

Today at Mere Orthodoxy, I argue that

the duty of the Christian statesman (or stateswoman) to the poor requires defending human rights, supplying urgent needs, reducing barriers to market entry, and guaranteeing access to the institutions of justice, seeking realistic, gradual reform as possible and prudent.

Of particular interest to readers of the PowerBlog, I dedicate substantial space to explaining and advocating for free markets:

Jobs are what the poor need, and jobs are created by businesses. People settle for bad jobs only when good ones aren’t available. Thus, eliminating barriers to market entry ought to be of primary concern to the Christian statesman, combatting the unjust inequality created by closed markets. Barriers to entry include onerous occupational licensing and patent laws, high corporate taxes, zoning laws, overregulation, and subsidies. These things close markets to new competitors because, even though it might seem against their interest (except for subsidies), large, established firms are more likely to benefit from them and lobby for them (which is called rent seeking)….

In free markets, properly understood, these barriers are kept to a minimum, increasing competition and wealth creation. The more businesses there are looking for workers, the more demand there is for labor. Thus, not only will there be more jobs, but wages will be higher as well. It should be no surprise that the decline in American entrepreneurship has coincided with wage stagnation. Beyond wages, an additional benefit of increased competition is that it also drives down the price of consumer goods, thus lowering the cost of living for everyone as well. Free markets help the poor—and everyone else—in terms of production (labor), distribution (wages), and consumption (lower cost of living).

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But was anyone listening?

That’s my question after attending the 2015 Nobel-prize-winning economist‘s talk last night in Rome at the Vatican-sponsored Cortile dei gentili (Court of Gentiles).

Like the other speakers, Deaton voiced his concerns about income inequality. Unlike the others, however, he said much of it is caused by crony capitalism, a term whose meaning seems to have been lost on the Italian interpreter and hence the audience. She described it as “a type of capitalism” and “negative capitalism” but never really made the connection to politics, which is unfortunate given the high number of Italian politicians in attendance.

Deaton added that countries become rich by escaping poverty, not by impoverishing others, that technological progress has undoubtedly made us richer, and that the world has greatly benefited from globalization even though too many people are still left behind. Government interference through taxes, regulation and corruption does more harm than good. The major problems with globalization are therefore political, not economic.

There were also a number of Italian cardinals and bishops in attendance. Here’s hoping that some of them relay Deaton’s clear-as-day message to Pope Francis, who really ought to be saying, “Crony capitalism kills!” instead of blaming the market economy in general. It is an obvious distinction to economists. In Italy, no one seems to know the difference.

school-deskThe current problems with the school-to-prison pipeline often start with poor school discipline policies. Various school discipline policies and tactics have recently come under criticism for being overly harsh—often causing students to drop out of school. The frequent use of suspension and expulsion for minor offenses has become commonplace in many schools across the country.

Over the summer Gina Raimondo, the Democratic governor of Rhode Island, signed a bill into law making it harder for schools to suspend students for minor infractions. The law creates stricter guidelines for when students can be sent home from school in order to lower the number of suspensions. High suspension rates are just one of the contributing factors to the school-to-prison pipeline. A Febuary 2015 study by The Center for Civil Rights Remedies looked at some of the contributing factors to the problem and how the policies affect different parts of the population.

Data cited in the report found that most suspensions occur in secondary school and are rarely used in younger grades. Students who had a disability were suspended twice as much as non-disabled students in the 2009-10 school year. One out of 3 students with an emotional disturbance were suspended.
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Photo courtesy of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

Photo courtesy of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

As we approach what would be Milton Friedman’s 104th birthday this Sunday, July 31st, we should note the enduring significance of his evaluation of the connection between economic and political freedom. In his popular work, Capitalism and Freedom, in a chapter titled “The Relation between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom,” Friedman explains how a society cannot have the latter without the former.

Friedman criticizes the notion that politics and economics can be regarded separately and that any combination of political and economic system is possible. He calls the view “a delusion,” holding that there is “an intimate connection between economics and politics.” Though Friedman concedes the possibility of an economically free and politically repressed society, the opposite, he claims, is impossible. Political freedom, both historically and logically, is inseparable from economic freedom.

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