Category: News and Events

On September 12-14 the Acton Institute’s Rome office hosted its third annual “Economics, Development and Human Flourishing” conference in Assisi for seminarians and formation staff of the Vatican’s Pontifical Urban College.

Intense discussion and open debate was stimulated by challenging lectures on economics, political philosophy, anthropology, and Catholic social doctrine. The lectures were reinforced by showings of the Institute’s  video curriculum “PovertyCure”, a six-episode DVD rich in graphic content, intellectual analysis and dramatic stories about poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

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An African seminarian asks a tough question about economic injustice.

The second-year theology students — from different developing-world nations spanning 3 continents– listened attentively and asked provocative questions related to economic growth and poverty alleviation. Many questions regarded political corruption, crony capitalism, the causes of wealth, the meaning of vocation, material scarcity, as well as some very specific economic concerns in their home countries.

Acton’s president and co-founder, Rev. Robert A. Sirico and Poverty, Inc. producer Michael Matheson Miller traveled from Grand Rapids, while academic contributions from Rome scholars included Istituto Acton’s director, Kishore Jayabalan, and Salvatore Rebecchini, president of SIMEST, a company that promotes Italian investment in foreign markets. (more…)

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“Capitalism isn’t working” by Cary Bass-Deschenes (CC BY 2.0)

What is the role that Christians play in business and the marketplace?

A recent episode of Equipped with Chris Brooks, titled “Is Capitalism bad business?” wrestles with that question and more. During his introduction, Brooks explains why he was pondering the question and there are a couple of reasons. The majority of “Equipped” listeners are not clergy, but men and women who work in the marketplace. Because of that, Brooks wants to talk about the “good that business does” and the role of Christians in the marketplace. Sometimes we limit ourselves to evangelization, whereas Brooks argues that doing good business is a good in and of itself. He was also concerned with the recent revival of socialism in American politics and conversation. More and more younger men and women are disillusioned with the free market, with more than half of millennials declaring they do not support capitalism. (more…)

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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“[W]hen the center of the global economy is the god of money,” Pope Francis stated recently in an interview, “[t]errorism grows.” Curious about the Pope’s somewhat economistic explanation for Islamist terrorism, Samuel Gregg asks, “do factors such as economic poverty and greed really function as major causes of Islamist terrorism?” He recently wrote an article for the Stream examining this.

The available research on this question, Gregg points out, suggests not. As he summarizes:

In short, terrorists generally aren’t economically poor or from impoverished backgrounds. Moreover, if poverty or absence of economic opportunity drove people to immolate themselves and innocent bystanders, drive trucks into large crowds, slit priests’ throats, execute nuns or axe Jews to death, you’d expect similar events to occur regularly in places such as China’s rural impoverished Eastern regions, large swathes of India or downtown Detroit for several decades. But they aren’t.

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In a new article written for the Wall Street Journal, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, Fr. Robert Sirico, makes an important point regarding the integrity of Catholic politicians. While respecting the traditions and doctrines of the Catholic Church, one should not compromise or adjust points of faith depending on the institutional context. “Key doctrinal and moral rules apply to all Catholics in all contexts—in business, at home, or in elective office. One cannot “personally” oppose something while making a living advocating it.” The Catholic Church does not call members to pick and choose doctrines most convenient with one’s worldview—however this is has happened in today’s political landscape. (more…)

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Jill Stein (Green Party), Rocky Anderson (Justice Party), Virgil Goode (Constitution Party), and Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party).

When it comes to something as important as a presidential election, most Americans don’t want to vote for a candidate who will very likely lose. But pragmatic considerations have no place in the voting booth, for two reasons. First, one person’s vote almost certainly won’t impact a presidential election. Second, voting for someone we consider the “lesser of two evils” loses sight of the value of the voting process. We should, instead, vote for whomever we think is best for the office, regardless of his or her likelihood of winning. More and more voters are beginning to approach the election in this way.

Well over 50 candidates ran for president in 2012, 26 of whom had ballot access in at least one state. Ninety-eight percent of the popular vote went to just two of those candidates. The third place finisher, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, finished with just 1 percent of the popular vote.

This year is looking to be dramatically different. Gary Johnson and presumptive Green Party nominee Jill Stein have been receiving as high as 13 percent and 7 percent in national polls, respectively. These numbers are higher than those any third-party candidate has received in a general election since Ross Perot in 1992. (more…)