Category: News and Events

Social democracyWith the rise in popularity of social democracy (a highly regulated market economy), Samuel Gregg has some words of warning against the system. “[T]he briefest of surveys of European social democracy’s history,” he writes in a new article for the Stream, “illustrates how these policies invariably induce the type of slow-motion decline that’s turned much of today’s European Union into the sick man of the global economy.” Americans looking to Bernie Sanders for a social democratic answer to their problems should think twice.

Gregg discusses European social democracy:

If one was to describe the European social democratic project today, it might be summarized as enveloping citizens from birth to death in a web of protections and benefits that seek to shield people from life’s uncertainties, especially the turmoil often associated with market economies.

This translates into things like government-provided healthcare, state-funded public education, extensive labor market regulation, and generous welfare for the poor, disabled, and elderly. All this is provided and managed by a government and large public sector that also seeks to smooth the economy’s ups-and-downs through tools such as deficit-spending and targeted subsidies. Amidst these arrangements, private property and market-mechanisms such as free exchange are maintained in place, albeit with considerable restrictions.


AP Cropped

“2016 Presidential elections in Pittsburgh” by Gene J. Puskar, April 13, 2016. AP

The snow has finally melted in West Michigan, which means it’s time for the year’s second issue of Religion & Liberty.

Recent news cycles have been plagued with images of angry Americans, students protesting and populist discontent. The 2016 presidential election has really brought to light that the American people are angry—specifically with American leadership. Here at the Acton Institute, we’re interested in looking more deeply at these issues, particularly if there is a cure for this great discontent. To understand the issues, we’ve rounded up experts on employment, trade, millennials and other issues surrounding the 2016 race to the White House. The roundup features Justin Beene, Ismael Hernandez, Ann Marie Jakubowski, Jared Meyer and Vernon L. Smith discussing these themes. (more…)

Bishop Dominique Rey speaking at Acton's April 20 conference in Rome.

Bishop Dominique Rey speaking at Acton’s April 20 conference in Rome.

Yesterday in the French section of the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, an exclusive interview finally appeared with the outspoken Bishop Dominique Rey of Toulon-Fréjus. Bishop Rey provided the interview when in Rome last month to speak about the current challenges to religious and economic freedom in Europe at the Acton Institute’s conference “Freedom with Justice: Rerum Novarum and the New Things of Our Time“.

The May 19 headline “Sortir du prêt-à-penser” (Thinking Outside the Box) was based on the bishop’s appeal for a deeper study of Leo’s XIII’s  landmark 1891 social encyclical Rerum Novarum and Catholic social doctrine in general, but also his discontent with the way secular Western culture superficially appraises human nature and commonly proposes solutions to social injustice, while leaving God, natural law and human dignity out of the larger picture. Quoting him from the April 20 conference, we read:

Any analysis Rerum Novarum is based on the certainty that the answer to the evils of our time will come not so much as a particular technical solution, but more so out of respect for the natural law, that is, for man himself as God created him, and by recognizing God’s place in the society. Only opening up to such transcendence helps resist absolute [forms of] materialism and consumerism.


How high is our national debt? $19 trillion (and climbing). While that’s an unfathomably high number, no one seems to be particularly concerned about it. No stranger to debt himself, wannabe-president Donald Trump has an idea how to tackle the nation’s financial woes. His hypothetical plan would be to “re-negotiate” with creditors or print more money, because, after all, it’s impossible to default when “you print the money.” In a new piece for The Stream, Samuel Gregg has some issues with this attitude toward government debt. There “is a problem that goes beyond Donald Trump,” he says. “Put simply far too may governments don’t acknowledge that they aren’t exempt from the moral responsibilities associated with borrowing.”


Consolidated public debt is “gonna rise up! Rise up!”

Gregg discusses the “foundations” of public debt and American founder (as well as the subject of a YUGE musical), Alexander Hamilton:

…Hamilton set America on the path to becoming a dynamic capital-intensive economy. Key to that transformation was Congress approving most of Hamilton’s plan for dealing with the debts incurred by many of the states and Congress, especially during the Revolutionary War.

In his 1790 Report on Public Credit, Hamilton argued that the establishment of a public debt by which the new Republic assumed all these debts would simplify affairs and create the basis for the credit of what was, after all, supposed to be a sovereign state. With this credit established, Hamilton maintained, many Americans and foreigners would invest in government securities. According to Hamilton, the consequent capital inflow would provide the fuel for a takeoff of the American economy.


NewTotalitarianThe New Totalitarian Temptation “is the best book ever written about the European Union,” says John Fonte, who just reviewed it for National Review. Acton’s director of international outreach, Todd Huizinga, wrote Totalitarian Temptation based on his experience with the U.S. Foreign Service in Brussels, Luxembourg, and Germany. As an American who spent two decades living and working in Europe, he has a few things to say about the European Union and its decline into a soft utopia.

Fonte, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, says:

At the core of the EU is the belief in supranationalism. The proponents of the EU consciously portray its supranational institutions as a model for “global governance.” In this intended utopia, all nation-states in the future would cede national sovereignty, and thus political and legal authority, to supranational institutions, just as today the European Court of Justice is a higher legal authority for Germans than their own courts, and most British laws originate not in the House of Commons but in the European Commission in Brussels. From the EU perspective, supranationalism is necessary to achieve world peace and global human rights.


Angel of Mercy and Lady JusticeIn a new essay for the Catholic World Report, Samuel Gregg discusses why it’s dangerous to to overemphasize any one facet of Christian teaching at the expense of a different teaching. No matter what is overemphasized, this will distort the Gospel. The focus of this essay is “mercy” and how mercy leads “to the ultimate source of justice–the God who is love–and thus prevents justice from collapsing into something quite anti-human.”

Gregg describes the three ways mercy can be distorted: as sentimentalism, as injustice, and as mediocrity. When describing mercy as injustice, Gregg warns that “it quickly undermines any coherent conception of justice.”

Back in 1980, John Paul warned in Dives in Misericordia that “In no passage of the Gospel message does forgiveness, or mercy as its source, mean indulgence towards evil, towards scandals, towards injury or insult. In any case, reparation for evil and scandal, compensation for injury, and satisfaction for insult are conditions for forgiveness” (DM 14). If that sounds tough-minded, that’s because it is. Remember, however, that the Jesus Christ who embodies mercy isn’t the equivalent of a divine stuffed animal. Whenever the Scriptures portray Christ offering mercy to sinners, his forgiveness is always laced with a gentle but clear reminder of the moral law and the expectation that the sinful acts will be discontinued.



Obama addressing students at his town hall meeting in London. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

There’s not a lot of agreement when it comes to the Great Recession and the 2008 financial crisis; either about what caused it or what ended it. In a recent speech, President Barack Obama blamed the “reckless behavior of a lot of financial institutions around the globe” and “the folks on Wall Street” for causing this economic slump. Who or what finally ended this recession? According to President Obama: President Obama. While reflecting on what his presidency will be remembered for, he said, “I don’t think I’ll have a good sense of my legacy until 10 years from now when I can look back with some perspective and get a sense of what worked and what didn’t. There are things I’m proud of … Saving the world economy from a Great Depression, that was pretty good.” Acton’s director of research, Samuel Gregg, was “startled” by the president’s claim.

In a new piece for The Stream, Gregg argues that far from saving the planet, the president and government “probably mucked things up.” While he agrees that banks’ recklessness were partially to blame for the financial crisis, government agencies and their poor policies had a bigger effect:

Back in December 2007, the Nobel economist Vernon Smith warned that the activities of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were buttressed by the assumption that, as government-sponsored enterprises with lower capital-requirements than private institutions, they could always look to the Federal government for assistance if unusually high numbers of their clients defaulted. Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Smith underscored, had always been understood as “implicitly taxpayer-backed agencies.” Hence they continued what are now recognized as their politically driven and fiscally irresponsible lending policies until both were consigned to Federal conservatorship in September 2008.