Category: News and Events

It’s the end of the semester. A degree of giddiness creeps in.

My students and I have been working through the political systems of a variety of nations. Yesterday, we talked about China.

China is a wonderful subject because any professor not completely sold out to Marxist fantasy gains the license to speak judgmentally about Mao’s ridiculous policies of The Great Leap Forward (in which the nation stopped producing food and tried to manufacture steel in backyards) and The Cultural Revolution (in which Mao deputized snotty teenagers to force their elders into self-criticism for improper revolutionary thinking).

But the fun begins to subside as you approach the present day. I was explaining to the students that although the Chinese still have the Communist Party — and it is the only party permitted to operate — the nation has rejected communism. Instead, they engage in a form of state-sponsored capitalism.

I began to say that the U.S. embraces private capitalism versus this state-sponsored capitalism of the Chinese, but then I realized that would be inaccurate. The truth, I realized and said to the students, is that both nations engage in state-sponsored capitalism.

But there is a key difference.

The Chinese government owns companies that make a profit. The United States government only owns companies that lose money.

And that is why they are loaning us money instead of the other way around.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In advance of the Acton Institute’s conference, “Free Enterprise, Poverty, and the Financial Crisis,” which will be held Thursday, Dec. 3, in Rome, the Zenit news agency interviews Dr. Samuel Gregg, Director of Research.

Recipe for Ending Poverty: Think, Then Act
Scholar Laments Lack of Reflection in Tackling Issue

ROME, NOV. 30, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The recipe for alleviating poverty is not a secret, and yet much of the work being done to help the world’s poor is misdirected, according to one expert on the matter.

Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, said this to ZENIT when he was discussing a conference on “Free Enterprise, Poverty, and the Financial Crisis.” The conference will be hosted Thursday by the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

Gregg observed there is plenty of talk about global poverty and yet, he said, it is “striking how much of the conversation is very unreflective.” (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Monday, November 30, 2009

Ryan T. Anderson, editor of the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse site, reviews Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg’s new book, The Modern Papacy, in the Nov. 28 issue of the Weekly Standard. Anderson says the book is “a significant contribution to the study of John Paul and Benedict’s thought.” Excerpt of “The Holy Seers” follows (for the complete article, a Weekly Standard subscription is required):

Gregg presents John Paul and Benedict as more or less united in the main trajectory of their dialogue with modernity. For ease in classification, this can be grouped in four domains: science, reason, faith, and revelation. While the scientific method has provided mankind with many indisputably helpful discoveries, the modern papacy argues that to embrace the instrumental, technocratic rationality at the heart of the scientific process as if it were the entirety of rationality is to narrow the range of realities accessible to rational inquiry. While the scientific approach can discover truths about empirical physical realities, it can provide little help in discussions of justice, love, and beauty–whether they be about earthly domains or transcendent ones. Only by broadening the conception of rationality beyond the empirically verifiable realm of the scientific, John Paul and Benedict argue, can man arrive at the truths necessary to secure his full flourishing. In other words, man needs to embrace science without embracing scientism.

Recovering the sapiential dimension of reason that considers the big questions regarding the meaning and destiny of human existence and the significance of human action is a key part of recapturing a more robust conception of human rationality. As Gregg presents John Paul and Benedict, a major aspect of their engagement with modernity has been to show that reason can discern objective standards of right and wrong, good and evil, as well as ascertain the existence of God and certain key aspects of his nature.

Most important of all is to see, with Benedict, that “at the beginning of all things stands the creative power of reason.” Gregg explains that, in Benedict’s view, “agnosticism and atheism ultimately rely upon a rational affirmation that all is ultimately based upon irrationality.” But even while defending reason’s lofty vocation, John Paul and Benedict stress that being rational isn’t enough, for rationality itself points to the existence of truths that reason alone cannot grasp, truths that can only be known through God’s revelation, accepted by faith. In other words, man needs to embrace reason without embracing rationalism.

When reason concludes that there are truths about God and the universe that reason itself cannot ascertain, that man’s finite reason cannot exhaust the infinite, this could open the door to legitimizing faith in anything–and everything. Gregg is careful to point out that the modern papacy’s engagement with modernity is just as critical of theistic thinkers who attempt to ground faith’s legitimacy in what amounts to little more than blind leaps.

Kishore Jayabalan, Director of Acton’s Rome office, was asked by Vatican Radio to comment on the debt crisis in Dubai that has been causing concern in world financial markets over the last week. To listen, use the audio player below.

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It’s ironic – and tragic – that as the world celebrates the twentieth anniversary of Communism’s defeat in Europe, the comic-opera that is Hugo Chavez’s “21st century socialist” Venezuela is descending to new lows of absurdity. Beneath the buffoonery, however, there’s evidence that life in Venezuela is about to take a turn for the worse.

By buffoonery, I mean President Chavez’s decidedly weird statements of late. These include threatening war against Columbia, advising Venezuelans that it is “more socialist” to shower for only three minutes a day, telling his fellow citizens to eat less because “there are lots of fat people” in Venezuela, eulogizing convicted murderer Carlos the Jackal as “a revolutionary fighter”, defending Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe as a “brother”, and wondering whether Idi Amin was so bad after all.

It’s not unusual for Latin American caudillos to say things that suggest a growing detachment from reality. The truth, however, is that for all Chavez’s eccentricities, it would be a mistake to dismiss these comments as nothing more than egomaniacal ravings. (more…)

Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico joined host Dennis O’Donovan this morning on Religion, Politics and the Culture on WLVJ in south Florida for a wide ranging, hour-long discussion on health care reform and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ role in the debate, among other topics. You can listen to the interview by using the audio player below.

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Giancarlo Ibárgüen, President of Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala City, Guatemala, received the institute’s first Guardian of Freedom Award in a ceremony at the university’s campus on Nov. 16. More than 250 guests attended the award ceremony including the presidents of leading free market institutions such as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, the Cato Institute, Liberty Fund Inc., the Fund for American Studies, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Acton MBA Program in Entrepreneurship.

Rev. Robert Sirico, Dr. Alejandro Chafuen, Jeff Sandefer and Giancarlo Ibárgüen at the Award Ceremony
Rev. Robert Sirico, Dr. Alejandro Chafuen, Jeff Sandefer and Giancarlo Ibárgüen at the Award Ceremony

Rev. Robert Sirico presented the award sculpture and citation to Giancarlo stating “The Acton Institute proudly recognizes your outstanding commitment to the principles of freedom and the vital importance of your mission as you educate a new generation of men and women striving to live a life marked by a dedication to liberty and graced by the dignity of responsibility.”

Giancarlo’s emotion came through in his remarks. “I am overwhelmed… I just want to repeat that I am overwhelmed and I am very, very thankful with Father Sirico and Kris Mauren who have organized this wonderful event. This recognition that I take not as a personal recognition but as a recognition to those who have come before me at this wonderful institution.” He also thanked the team at UFM saying “I think the applause should be for them because it is really an extraordinary team.” Giancarlo concluded with some words of appreciation for his family, for Jeff Sandefer, and for the guests who came to the celebration.

The event’s program also included remarks from Edward Crane from Cato, Mary Anastasia O’Grady from The Wall Street Journal, Chris Talley and Allan Russell from Liberty Fund, Manuel Ayau from Universidad Francisco Marroquín and Jeff Sandefer from the Acton MBA Program in Entrepreneurship.

The Guardian of Freedom Award was created by Acton, in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, in order to recognize the ongoing contributions of leaders who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to liberty.

Mary O’Grady, Edward Crane, Dr. Emilio Pacheco and Lawrence Reed during the Q&A session of the first panelMary O’Grady, Edward Crane, Dr. Emilio Pacheco and Lawrence Reed during the Q&A session of the first panel

Acton also hosted “The Progress of Freedom” conference at the UFM campus on that same day. About 400 participants joined the conference as two panels of experts analyzed the last 50 years of freedom and the challenges ahead.

Participants included:

  • Alejandro A. Chafuen– Atlas Economic Research Foundation
  • Edward H. Crane — Cato Institute
  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady — Wall Street Journal
  • Emilio J. Pacheco — Liberty Fund, Inc.
  • Roger R. Ream — Fund for American Studies
  • Lawrence W. Reed — Foundation for Economic Education
  • Jeff Sandefer — Acton MBA Program in Entrepreneurship
  • Rev. Robert A. Sirico — Acton Institute

About Giancarlo Ibárgüen
Giancarlo Ibárgüen has been President of Universidad Francisco Marroquín since 2003. A university trustee, he has been a member of its board of directors since 1992, serving as secretary general (provost) from 1995 to 2003. His memberships include the Centro de Estudios Económicos Sociales (CEES), the Association of Private Enterprise Education, the Mont Pelerin Society, and the Philadelphia Society. He is a board member at Liberty Fund and currently serves as financial advisor to various industrial, commercial and software companies. He was a member of the board of the Asociación de Gerentes de Guatemala and the editorial board of Gerencia magazine from 1992 to 1994. He was founding president of the grass-roots Asociación por el Poder Local (APOLO) in 1991, and a founding collaborator of the philosophical magazine Intuición. His articles on economics and telecommunications have appeared in Libertas (Argentina), Telecommunications Policy (Great Britain), the website of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) eLibrary. His editorials have been published in Guatemala’s daily Siglo Veintiuno and in various international publications including The Wall Street Journal. Giancarlo holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from Texas A&M University. He has been married to Isabel Dougherty since 1983 and has three children.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Some of the aspects of the movement in ‘new economics’ highlighted by Sumita Kale sound quite promising. For instance, it is true that “many issues of economic policy (traditionally called ‘welfare economics’) are primarily ethical-economics in nature, and should be informed by moral philosophy rather than economics in isolation.” The growing conversation between economics and other disciplines, specifically moral philosophy and theology, is most welcome.

Indeed, some of the principles animating the work of the Cambridge Trust for New Thinking in Economics sound similar notes: “economic behaviour is influenced by aesthetic and ethical values as well as economic values.”

But when we drill down to the objectives of the Trust and look at some of the other principles, it becomes clearer that what is “new” about “new economics” is that economic research is pursued with an overtly and explicitly socio-political agenda: “It is vital that two social problems be solved. The first is the obvious degradation of the planet and its atmosphere by over-consumption and over-production through the exploitation of resources in pursuit of monetary gain. The second problem is the toxic pollution of the global money supply, also obvious, caused by financial practices over the past twenty years, led by the investment banks of Wall Street and the City of London.”

What we have here is economics as social engineering, providing norms for behavior rather than describing it. “New” economics (traditional economics with just a dash of moral philosophy thrown in) becomes a prescriptive rather than a descriptive discipline, and therefore simply one more voice among many clamoring for dominance in the legislative process.

Last week, I joined a group of Christian leaders in Washington to announce the publication of the Manhattan Declaration. This is a landmark document signed by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant leaders who joined together to “reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them.” These truths are the sanctity of human life, the definition of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife, and the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

The Manhattan Declaration’s statement on religious liberty is, of course, something that fits perfectly with the core principles of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. Here is a key passage:

The struggle for religious liberty across the centuries has been long and arduous, but it is not a novel idea or recent development. The nature of religious liberty is grounded in the character of God Himself, the God who is most fully known in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Determined to follow Jesus faithfully in life and death, the early Christians appealed to the manner in which the Incarnation had taken place: “Did God send Christ, as some suppose, as a tyrant brandishing fear and terror? Not so, but in gentleness and meekness…, for compulsion is no attribute of God” (Epistle to Diognetus 7.3-4). Thus the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the example of Christ Himself and in the very dignity of the human person created in the image of God – a dignity, as our founders proclaimed, inherent in every human, and knowable by all in the exercise of right reason.

Christians confess that God alone is Lord of the conscience. Immunity from religious coercion is the cornerstone of an unconstrained conscience. No one should be compelled to embrace any religion against his will, nor should persons of faith be forbidden to worship God according to the dictates of conscience or to express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions. What is true for individuals applies to religious communities as well.

The rationale for this statement is simple and powerful. Though historically many Christians have had differences related to doctrine, we feel we must come together, make common cause, to affirm our right — and more importantly to fulfill our obligation — to defend principles of justice and the common good that are now under assault. As the Manhattan Declaration states: “We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we will under no circumstances render to Caesar what is God’s.”

The drafting committee for this statement included Robert George, Professor, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University; Timothy George, Professor, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University; and Chuck Colson, Founder, The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview in Lansdowne, Va. Go here to see a list of the initial signers. When I last checked, some 87,000 people had signed since Friday.

Those of us involved in this important project invite other Christians to advocate for these foundational biblical and rational principles and to stand in solidarity with us by signing the Manhattan Declaration at ManhattanDeclaration.org

Again, the full text of the Manhattan Declaration is available for download here.

My new column on health care was published in the Detroit News today. Full text follows:

As the health care debate moves to the U.S. Senate, much of the focus has been on how the Catholic bishops’ support of the amendment by U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, the Menominee Democrat, to prohibit the use of tax dollars to fund abortion was a major victory for the pro-life side. The bishops urged the House of Representatives, through local parishes and in a Nov. 6 letter, to ensure that “needed health care reform legislation truly protects the life, dignity, health and consciences of all.”

All people of good will, all those who value human life and dignity, should cheer this development.

But there’s more to this health care juggernaut that should give us reason to oppose it in its current form. We should first be concerned with the vast expansion of government reach into the private lives of millions of Americans.

This “reform” will create a system that will put bureaucrats in charge of personal health care decisions — not doctors. It will give the federal government an avenue to nationalize more than 15 percent of the U.S. economy, putting bureaucrats and elected officials in the role of manager and regulator — much as we’ve seen in banking and automobiles.

Amazingly, with the push for a $1 trillion-plus health care package and the attendant debt, we may soon see Canada with lower government spending (as a percent of gross domestic product) on heath care than the United States. All this, too, is a threat to human dignity.

What will this heavy burden of government spending and regulation have on U.S. health care innovation and competitiveness, which has to date pioneered so many advances? How many medical research and development firms would leave our shores under threat of higher taxes and regulation?

All the assurances from President Barack Obama that health care reform will not add “even one dime to our deficit over the next decade” seem more fantastic with every passing day.

A new report shows that projected Medicaid cuts, on which rests much of the financial funding for health care reform, would prove to be so onerous to hospitals and nursing homes that they would simply stop taking such patients. The report, by the chief actuary for Medicare and Medicaid, also questions how doctors and hospitals would cope with an additional 30 million people to the ranks of the insured, many of them into public health programs.

As it’s been said, if you think health care is expensive, wait until it’s free.

I also worry about the crowding out effect that this vast expansion of the government into health care will have on voluntary charitable action. Somewhere along the line, we have lost sight of the fact that charity and health care was not an invention of Washington bureaucrats.

How did the more than 600 Catholic hospitals and clinics, and many more hospitals bearing the names Jewish, Presbyterian, Methodist, Adventist and Baptist, get built in this country? It wasn’t through the sufferance of government.

Faith is the source of these works, not policy initiatives. Faith, because it involves the entire scope of the human person, body and soul, has not only a larger claim on our allegiance but a deeper commitment to our well-being. Our faith communities know us as persons, not as welfare case numbers or voting blocs.

The effect of the proposed massive expansion of government and vast increase in federal debt is unknown, but if the experience of other countries is any guide, it will lay a crushing burden on the lives of future generations.

The Senate health care reform package should be scrapped. The ill-conceived plan will break the budget, provide fewer opportunities for market-driven health care solutions and limit those who want to practice real charity.