Category: News and Events

Blog author: kjayabalan
Friday, December 2, 2011
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In my opinion, those words coming from the mouth of Declan Ganley were the most memorable from our distinguished speakers at yesterday’s conference “From Aid to Enterprise: Economic Liberty and Solutions to Poverty” in London.

Ganley compared what European governments were doing in their attempts to deal with their sovereign debt problems with the attempts of rock stars to solve the problem of hunger in Africa with Live Aid back in the 1980s. It was just one of many precious remarks coming from the Irish entrepreneur who also led his country’s ultimately unsuccessful campaign against the Lisbon Treaty. As someone who’s quite committed to a unified Europe, he worries a lot about the future of the European project, should the euro no longer serve as a common currency. We’d all be better off if governments just let creditors that made bad loans bear the brunt of their decisions, Ganley told us, instead of trying to prop up banks that are considered “too big to fail.” The problems affecting Europe is also the same one that plagues many developing nations – the collusion of big government and big business to squash competition. As a result, Europe and to a lesser degree the United State are in no position to preach and need to get their own houses in order, a lack of meddling that could well benefit poor countries in the end if we recover the importance of enterprise and trade.

Some of the other speakers, such as Lord Brian Griffiths and our own Anielka Munkel, very ably addressed the importance and centrality of the human person along with the vital role played by social institutions such as the family and churches in the free society. It’s a relatively straightforward, even obvious point but one that’s under attack in international development circles. (I can add from my personal experience with the Holy See at the United Nations that many developed, and especially European, governments refuse to admit the role of parents and the family in development, and I have the battle scars to prove it!)

Antoinette Kankindi of Strathmore University in Nairobi did something I’d never seen before as a student of political philosophy and economics by bringing Aristotle and his discussion of work and leisure into a conference on foreign aid. Prof. James Tooley gave the remarkable story of low-cost private schools in many parts of the developing world and how they thrive where governments are most inefficient and and ineffective, all drawn from his book The Beautiful Tree. The Ghanian entrepreneur Herman Chinery-Hesse also related many funny-if-not-sad accounts of doing business in places where State officials try to pick winners and losers.

For me, the most edifying presentation was the one by Marcela Escobari from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, of all places. Using a lot of new mapping data, she destroyed many of the myths surround how countries grow out of poverty and underlined the importance of increasing economic complexity, the diversity of knowledge and even imitation, rather than narrow specialization and an overemphasis on innovation, for developing countries. We don’t often have a speaker with such a good grasp of new research and important technical details at an Acton conference but her contribution makes me think that we should.

There were many good questions from the audience about the challenges of Christian individuals and organizations in the development field and I’d say the take-away message from our panel was: do not involve yourselves in misguided foreign aid schemes in the name of charity, which only serve to exacerbate the scandal of poverty and corruption in many parts of the world. It looks like the message was well-received, even if, in the end, a certain Londoner named Tony did not grace us with his presence.

The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, & World Affairs at Georgetown University and the Governance Studies Program at The Brookings Institution have invited Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, to join a December 6 roundtable discussion in Washington on economics and Catholic Social Teaching. The event is free and open to the public. Friends of Acton in the Washington area are encouraged to attend the talk. Questions will be invited from the floor at the conclusion of the roundtable discussion.

The event will mark the 25th anniversary of the publication of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ letter “Economic Justice for All.” Joining Rev. Sirico on the roundtable will be E.J. Dionne (Brookings Institution and Georgetown), Ross Douthat (New York Times), and Christine Firer Hinze (Fordham). The discussion will be moderated by Thomas Banchoff, director of the Berkley Center.

The event will be on Tuesday afternoon, December 6, from 4 – 5:30 PM in the Copley Formal Lounge on Georgetown’s main campus (directions). Event organizers ask that attendees register (link) in advance.

Blog author: kjayabalan
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
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Greetings from London, which is only partially shut down today due to a public sector strike over the British government’s not-so-temporary austerity plan. The worst fears of extremely long delays at the airports and of possible violence have yet to materialize and let’s hope they never do.

We’ll be holding the last of our Poverty and Development conferences here tomorrow on the theme “From Aid to Enterprise: Economic Liberty and Solutions to Poverty.” Our speakers will look at the (rare) successes and (recurring) failures of government-to-government development assistance, and it just so turns out that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair weighted in on the subject with a Washington Post op-ed last Sunday entitled “Ending global aid in a generation.” Blair boldly and confidently predicts: “I believe that within a generation no country need be dependent on aid. This matters around the world but especially to Africa, the continent most dependent on aid and a focus of my own work. ” You’d be forgiven for thinking that Blair was the keynote speaker at our event, having seen the light on the futility of Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Alas, you’d be wrong. For while Blair does cite the positive example of South Korea’s development based on enterprise, he still clings to the dogma of the church of ODA: governments must still fulfill their commitments to provide 0.7 percent of GDP to ODA. He doesn’t seem to ask the obvious question, which will surely be raised at our conference: if ODA is generally ineffective, in some cases counterproductive to the cause of development and only serves to breed economic dependence, why should governments continue to honor their commitments to a failed policy? Courage in the service of an ignoble end is no virtue, after all.

I, for one, still note an lingering prejudice against free enterprise in Blair’s supposed conversion: “Lord, make me trade with others as equals, but not yet”, to adapt St. Augustine. Like everyone else in these times of austerity, Blair preaches the need for economic growth. But also like many others, he doesn’t seem to realize how to achieve it. Yes, he addresses important factors such as governance and investment, which only leaves me wondering why he couldn’t seem to mention that dreaded word “business” in his article. Development, for Blair, remains in the hands of government leaders and aid experts, rather than in the hands of the people who take risks, seek new opportunities to provide goods and services to others, and thereby create wealth.

In the words of a former U.S. president, “Yo, Blair!” You should stop by our conference tomorrow to complete your bold vision of world without foreign aid.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine Jesus’s famous parable of the Lost Sheep in the context of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the parable after some people grumble about him eating with “tax collectors and sinners.” Tax collectors at the time had a bad reputation of unfair business practices and government ties. Yet, Jesus tells the parable of a man who left ninety-nine sheep to find the one that went missing in order to caution his detractors about marginalizing even these tax collectors.

In light of this, does the “we are the 99%” rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which implicitly insinuates that anyone in the top 1 percent has gotten there unjustly, amount to shunning the lost sheep (and others) of our society today? Read this week’s Acton Commentary for more.

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Unported Author: Another Believer

Now up for your viewing pleasure, John O’Sullivan’s acceptance of our Faith & Freedom Award on behalf of Margaret Thatcher, and Rev. Robert Sirico’s remarks at the dinner. Mr. O’Sullivan, Lady Thatcher’s speechwriter and advisor, painted a warm, personal portrait of his former boss — at times he had us in stitches, and when he finished, we were all inspired. The dinner was given at the JW Marriott Hotel in Grand Rapids on October 20; if you couldn’t make it, enjoy the videos!

Glenn Barkan, retired dean of Aquinas College’s School of Arts and Sciences here in Grand Rapids, had a piece worth reading in the local paper over the weekend related the current trend (fad?) toward buying local. In “What’s the point of buying local?” Barkan cogently addresses three levels of the case for localism in a way that shows that the movement need not have the economic, environmental, or ethical high ground.

At the economic level, Barkan asks, “Does the local stuff taste better than the imported stuff?” This is essentially a question about competitive advantage. This is the economic idea that some locations, given geographic, cultural, or other features, are better places to produce certain things than other places. Try as one might, it is difficult to grow mangoes in Michigan.

But one of the arguments against large-scale (statewide, national, or global) trade is that there are large environmental consequences. To this point, Barkan writes, “Following this thread means that most decisions which in the past were made on a variety of criteria will now be made only upon the criteria of consuming resources in transportation. How can I keep my carbon footprint small? No more Swiss chocolate, Italian cheese or French wine. Is this what we want?” I think that is what many of the localists in fact do want. It is somehow immoral for me, living in Michigan, to consume mangoes grown in Mexico.

What these kinds of considerations lead to is the moral claim that, in Barkan’s case, for instance, “I have some sort of moral obligation to buy Granny Smith apples from Michigan, and not from Washington.” To this Barkan responds that one mark of moral calculation is discerning where needs really lie: “If I had to choose between making a purchase which provided an income for a very needy family in Alabama, or a less needy family in Kent County, I think I would choose the former.” And better yet, given the relative wealth of even the poor in America on a global scale, we might say that poor workers in the developing world need trade more than the relatively poor in America.

An article in the Spring issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality makes the implications of these kinds of considerations quite well. In “Social Choice: The Neighborhood Effect,” Brian K. Strow and Claudia W. Strow write in the context of wealth redistribution, “a lower-middle-class worker by Massachusetts standards may be a net beneficiary of income redistribution at the Commonwealth definition of society but is likely to be a net contributor at the national definition. They most certainly would lose the vast majority of their income if the world were used as the definition of society.”

The payoff for Barkan is that “a soul is a soul. Whether it is a Kent county soul, or one from California, or Ghana. I choose to have my purchasing decision do the most good for the most needy. Regardless of localism.”

Or as economist Victor Claar put it, “we should treat people as people, no matter where they happen to live. We are all created in the image of God. I find it distressing that we protect relatively affluent Americans when we should give everybody an opportunity to do something they can do well, at a low cost, in a high quality way.”

A person’s a person, no matter how far.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, November 24, 2011
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Most gracious God, by whose knowledge the depths are broken up and the clouds drop down the dew: We yield thee hearty thanks and praise for the return of seed time and harvest, for the increase of the ground and the gathering in of its fruits, and for all other blessings of thy merciful providence bestowed upon this nation and people. And, we beseech thee, give us a just sense of these great mercies, such as may appear in our lives by a humble, holy, and obedient walking before thee all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost be all glory and honor, world without end. Amen.

“Thanksgivings for the Natural Order,” Book of Common Prayer