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.
Acton Institute is pleased to announce both the opening of registration for the 2012 Acton University (AU), and the launch of AU Online, a new internet-based educational resource for exploring the intellectual foundations of a free and virtuous society.
For four days each June, the Acton Institute convenes an ecumenical conference of pastors, seminarians, educators, non-profit managers, business people and philanthropists from more than 50 countries in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Here, 700 people of faith gather to integrate and better articulate faith and free enterprise, entrepreneurship, sound public policy, and effective leadership at the local church and community level. With this week of fellowship and discourse, participants build a theological and economic infrastructure for the work of restoring and defending hope and dignity to people around the world.
This year’s Acton University will take place on June 12-15. For the online registration form and complete conference information, please visit university.acton.org.
Acton Institute is also launching AU Online, a new internet-based educational resource for exploring the intellectual foundations of a free and virtuous society. This resource is designed to offer the Acton community another way to experience the first class content and interaction of an Acton sponsored event while at home, at the office, or at school. To celebrate the launch of this new program, we are presenting the same series of foundational lectures offered at Acton University as the four-part pilot series for AU Online. This will allow interested Acton University participants to opt to take these courses in advance and become eligible for alumni course selections at Acton University. This series will take place twice a week, December 6-15 of this year — act quickly to take advantage of this new resource! Visit auonline.acton.org for more information and to register.
Space and scholarship funds for both Acton University and AU Online are limited, so register or apply now! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact our programs staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 616.454.3080. We hope to see you in June!
Pope Benedict XVI delivered inspiring remarks at the European Year of Volunteering (EYV) summit held in Rome this past Nov. 10-11. He explained why gratuitous giving of personal talent and resources is so important in restoring a healthy vocational perspective to everyday business.
As Benedict knows all too well, a culture of Christian charitable giving is not at its height in Ol’ Europe, where the modern Welfare State and Keynesian economics have played such a dominant role the past 70 years (see why in Michael Miller’s 2008 Acton lecture The Victory of Socialism and the strong opinion of other Roman pontiffs in my blog Popes Say No to Socialism). European government dominance of charitable enterprise has reduced much of the Continent’s generosity in terms of private giving and volunteer activities.
A pervasive “every man for himself” mentality is now infecting the hearts of European workers and households struggling to stay afloat. From their perspective, who can really blame them? Many wonder: Who has the money or the time to care for others when you and your family are just barely surviving?
During the EYV summit, the Holy Father commended leaders from European charitable non-profits and volunteer organizations for keeping a culture of generosity and self-giving alive. Benedict underscored the absolutely essential role their work plays in building up a society of free giving and virtue (altruism, generosity and selflessness) and restoring confidence in man’s innately good heart, now withered and tested by the intense pressures of today’s down market. These latter socially destructive tendencies are the ones the Acton Insitute attempts to thwart in its program for effective charity, The Samaritan Award and Guide.
European charitable enterprise leaders, so to speak, help create a “market of gratuitousness”, as mentioned in Benedict’s social encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). This same abundance philosophy is argued so convincingly in Arthur C. Brooks’s Gross National Happiness (see book with Brooks’s research on wealth and charitable giving). The president of the American Enterprise Institute writes that charitable giving of time and resources makes us psychologically happier and more humanly fulfilled, which in turn increases our chances of being more happy and productive in the workplace, which consequently influence growth trends in corporations and entire commercial sectors.
This is the positive circle of growth and happiness that charity helps inspire. It is the exact reason why volunteer activity ends up paying real dividends in commercial enterprise, as business people flourish morally and spiritually. To understand further, watch Arthur Brooks’s Fox News interview regarding economic growth factors linked to generosity and happiness in the United States and with some heavy criticism of giant Welfare States like France, a country ranked a miserable 91 out of 153 nations surveyed for the latest Index (download 2010 PDF report and index). According to the Index, some of the most enterprising European countries (like Great Britain, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany and Holland), while battling the same destructive welfare culture and economic crises, all made the top 20 with the traditionally high-ranking United States (no. 5). By contrast, the same welfare dependent, economically troubled but far less enterprising Greece was ranked dead last in the Eurozone and in the bottom five of all 153 countries represented.
The opposite destructive vicious circle goes something like this: stinginess of heart leads to a lack of deep vocational interest in work and therefore a miserly contribution of one’s talent and resources, which directly lowers overall production and profits for enterprise, as worker pessimism and selfishness help undermine commercial potential. This is one good reason why markets stagnate, retract and eventually die when such negativity and selfishness swirl violently into a cultural vortex, sucking down an entire nation’s true economic potential.
We are not surprised to hear Pope telling EYV participants that volunteer work and charity “is not merely an expression of good will.” As he articulated this great teaching:
At the present time, marked as it is by crisis and uncertainty, your commitment is a reason for confidence, since it shows that goodness exists and that it is growing in our midst. The faith of all Catholics is surely strengthened when they see the good that is being done in the name of Christ… His grace perfects, strengthens and elevates that vocation and enables us to serve others without reward, satisfaction or any recompense. Here we see something of the grandeur of our human calling: to serve others with the same freedom and generosity which characterizes God himself.
A day later, during his Nov. 13 Sunday Angelus, the Pope reflected on giving and investment of human talent and resources in the context of Sunday’s gospel (Parable of the Talents: Matthew 25:14-30). As Acton’s President Rev. Robert Sirico argues in his monograph The Entrepreneurial Vocation, Benedict XVI invited faithful to respond thankfully and generously to their individual gifts for the advancement of God’s abundance on Earth:
In today’s Gospel…Jesus invites us to reflect with gratitude on the gifts we have received and to use them wisely for the growth of God’s Kingdom. May his words summon us to an ever deeper conversion of mind and heart, and a more effective solidarity n the service of all our brothers and sisters.
Finally, the Holy Father’s press secretary, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ explained what Benedict XVI meant in a interview released after the Pope’s EYV remarks:
We are in the midst of an economic crisis afflicting the whole of Europe, and raising tensions, worries and anxieties throughout the world. It is a crisis that challenges the intellects and abilities of politicians and economists. In the midst of this crisis, the Pope’s speech to the young people gathered in Rome for the European Year of [Volunteering] may provide a modest contribution to help rediscover a common hope. The Pope asks us to keep in mind the idea of ‘gratuitousness’, of giving freely —that is, not living solely for one’s own interests, but living in such a way that we are a gift to others.
“In short, man does not live on bread alone, but also on the relationships between men and women who are truly free, who respect one another and take care of one another and love one another, beyond selfish calculations. It is from these relationships that mutual trust is rebuilt between people and populations. It is the fulcrum that is needed to lift the world anew.
The generous and routine volunteering of one’s talent and resources instills everyday habits that market-based economies need and rely on for individual entrepreneurs and businesses to grow and succeed. It’s what makes or breaks businesses teetering on the edge of failure, when employees and professional collaborators give a little more of themselves to help enterprise lunge forward.
Apart from emboldening private initiatives to diminish the role of European Welfare States and increasing our Gross National Happiness, the real output of charity is measured in the increased hearts and souls of generous, selfless business people. It is these same business people who take the gratuitousness they learned in habitual acts of charity and apply this virtue to generous forms of service with “other-directed” collaboration, products and services.
Tomorrow is a big day at the Acton Institute. November 15th marks the launch of two programs, 2012 Acton University (AU) and AU Online, a new internet-based educational resource for exploring the intellectual foundations of a free and virtuous society.
For the 2012 Acton University conference (June 12-15 in Grand Rapids), we’ve overhauled the registration process to make it more user-friendly and responsive, and we look forward to hearing what you think.
We are also happy to present AU Online. This new digital learning hub will let you access select Acton content from your home, office or classroom, so even if you can’t make it to one of our programs in person, you can hear and interact with the same experts online.
It’s an exciting time here at Acton and I hope you enjoy these new resources as much as we have enjoyed developing them.
Last week the Acton Institute hosted its third annual Chicago Open Mic Night downtown at the University Club. Three panelists answered questions about — you guessed it — economics and a virtuous society from the audience.
Acton executive director Kris Alan Mauren emceed the event, and our president Rev. Robert A. Sirico was the first panelist. Heather Wilhelm, a senior fellow at the Illinois Policy Institute and a columnist for RealClearPolitics.com, and Brian Wesbury, chief economist at First Trust Advisors and a frequent guest on Fox, CNBC, and Bloomberg TV, rounded out the panel.
The general theme of the night was something like, “how do we get the economy going again?” The panel’s general answer was optimistic: “It already is — just keep government out of the way.”
Mr. Wesbury was back after his popular commentary last year, and he delivered again this year: the last questioner got a friendly-but-stern talking-to after asking how the U.S. economy could possibly keep chugging along after the blows it has been dealt since 2008.
Whether the question was about the role of the Federal Reserve, the desirability of continued stimulus, or presidential candidates’ tax policy, the panelists generally agreed: the parts of the economy that government (particularly the Federal Government) hasn’t tried to help are doing much better than sectors like housing where sophisticated Keynesian policy instruments have been brought to bear.
Wilhelm quoted H.L. Mencken to great effect: “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it.”
The task for current generations, Sirico said, is to learn from the failures of the baby boomers and to take up wholeheartedly the task of rejuvenating the culture, and he sees in the Tea Party, in homeschooling movements, and in a return to traditionalism, signs that that moral rejuvenation is happening.
In the wake of the release of the Vatican’s Note on Global Financial Reform, the media has called on Acton for comment and analysis. Presented here are three interviews on the topic from the past few days; we’ll post more as audio becomes available.
On Monday afternoon, Acton’s Director of Research Dr. Samuel Gregg joined host Al Kresta on Kresta in the Afternoon to discuss the problems with the note:
The following day, Dr. Gregg joined host Drew Mariani on Relevant Radio to discuss the same topic:
Finally, on Tuesday Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico made an appearance on Kresta in the Afternoon that served as a preview to his discussion of the good and bad portions of the Vatican’s note in today’s Wall Street Journal, and sheds light on exactly what a “note” from the Vatican is:
Update: Sam Gregg audio clips are now working!
Amid the hustle and bustle of preparing for tonight’s Acton Institute annual dinner, I’m trying to carve out some time to make final preparations for my participation in the 9th Annual Christian Scholars’ Symposium hosted by the Christian Legal Society. Tomorrow afternoon I’ll be debating with Gideon Strauss of the Center for Public Justice on the question, “Justice, Poverty, Politics & the State: Is There a Christian Perspective?”
One of the pressing issues related to the size and scope of government is the complex nature of today’s tax system, particularly at the federal level. Regardless of what you think of Herman Cain’s “9-9-9″ tax plan, Arthur Laffer’s opening observations in a WSJ op-ed yesterday summarize well where we find ourselves:
It used to be that the sole purpose of the tax code was to raise the necessary funds to run government. But in today’s world the tax mandate has many more facets. These include income redistribution, encouraging favored industries, and discouraging unfavorable behavior.
To make matters worse there are millions and millions of taxpayers who are highly motivated to reduce their tax liabilities. And, as those taxpayers finagle and connive to find ways around the tax code, government responds by propagating new rules, new interpretations of the code, and new taxes in a never-ending chase. In the process, we create ever-more arcane tax codes that do a poor job of achieving any of their mandates.
Gideon was kind enough to ask me to contribute to CPJ’s Capital Commentary a few months back on the question of getting back to first principles with respect to the tax code. And in that piece, “Back Door Social Engineering,” I made the following case, taking my own point of departure with another quote from Laffer:
A return to a first-principles discussion of taxation in America requires a return to the fundamental purposes of taxation. Notwithstanding the current size of the federal tax code, the fundamental purpose of government taxation is not to encourage or discourage particular behaviors. The point of taxation is to raise funds to enable the government to fulfill its moral, political, and social responsibilities. It is true, as economist Arthur Laffer has made famous, that “when you tax something you get less of it, and when you reward something you get more of it.” But this reality, which takes into account how people respond to incentives, is secondary to the basic function of taxation.
It is immoral for a government to chronically run up deficits and lack the willpower to actually raise the funds it needs to do what it sets before itself. Michael Munger put it well: “Deficits are future taxes.” Quite apart from the question of what the government ought to be doing is the issue of paying for what it actually does, and our government has failed miserably on that latter point.
I’m at the “Whole Life Discipleship: Integrating Faith, Economics, and Work” conference today at Regent University. As I have the opportunity today, I’ll blog (and tweet) some of the lectures. First up is Stephen Grabill of the Acton Institute, and here are some highlights:
He focused on three basic questions: What is political and economic freedom? How do we use Scripture in our approach to social life? What about natural law?
On the first: A Christian anthropology is anti-revolutionary in the sense of van Prinsterer and Kuyper. In this sense Groen was a protestant Lord Acton. The spirit of human autonomy manifest in the French Revolution is at odds with the spirit of Christ manifest in all areas of life.
On the second: The missing theological piece of the puzzle is that the Bible is only part of the revelation of that we need to get to concrete positions on various social questions. The distinction between special vs. general revelation is critical here, as is the place of natural law in relation to general revelation.
On the third: If we can figure out what to do with natural law, we will have taken a critical first step in articulating a vigorous public theology. The natural law tradition acknowledges both special and general revelation. Natural law is a forgotten legacy of the Reformation, and it’s one that we have to recover to connect faith and economics today.
I hope to update this post with more as the day progresses.
Update: The next session is a talk by Dr. Gerson Moreno-Riano of Regent University.
His lecture focuses on explicating the following question:
What is a humane economy, and how does this relate to enterprise and entrepreneurship?
First, he explores a theory of humane economics, rooted in a robust moral anthropology. Economics is a theory of human action, production, distribution, consumption. Economic action is fundamentally moral in nature, preferring some goods to others, some ends to others. Insufficiency is a natural, basic fact of human existence: every human being needs other human beings. Perhaps the chief tenet of the natural law is human insufficiency (assuming relations to neighbors and God). A humane economics is one that enshrines natural limits to economic activity, accepting the natural hierarchy of human goods, guarding against the commodification of everything.
Second, a culture of enterprise is to be understood as one promotes entrepreneurship.Empathy as an essential part of anthropology, is an essential part of enterprise at the heart of an economic system. Moral ecology (Novak) and culture address the climate of a person’s socialization, a person’s relation to others. Human beings are born needy and wanting. This reality of insufficiency must be recognized. Self-awareness calls human beings to recall their lowly state and contextualizes their expectations. The moral consequence is that there must be an empathetic orientation toward the other, focusing on the needs, the lack, of other people. Enterprise, the focus on innovative responses to human needs and wants, is therefore a moral consequence of empathy.
Finally, the role of entrepreneurs in an entreprise culture must be explored. in a humane economic system. To support human flourishing a culture of enterprise must have a holistic account of human insufficiency, the principle that human beings have unattainable non-economic needs, as well as attainable economic needs. Entrepreneurs have a critical social role in addressing the latter: attainable economic needs. Since these needs are so variable, actual embodiments of entrepreneurship are equally variable. There are many different kinds of entrepreneurs, focused on many different kinds of goods. Creativity, however, seems to be one of the characteristic features of entrepreneurship. Only when entrepreneurs become wisdom-lovers, and wisdom-lovers become entrepreneurs, can we hope to move to a culture of enterprise that promotes a humane economics.
Further reading: Gerson Moreno-Riano, “Democracy, Humane Economics, and a Culture of Enterprise,” Journal of Markets & Morality 13, no. 1 (Spring 2010).
I’m pleased to announce that the first fruits of the Kuyper Common Grace Translation project are forthcoming, in the form of Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art. This is the first selection out of the larger three-volume set that will appear in complete translation in English.
This book consists of 10 chapters that the Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper had written to be the conclusion of his three-volume study on common grace. But due to a publisher’s oversight, these sections were omitted from the first printing. So they appeared first under separate publication under the title Common Grace in Science and Art, and then were added back in to subsequent printings of the larger set.
I’ve been privileged to be a part of this project, as I’ve served as co-editor of the volume with Stephen Grabill. Nelson Kloosterman has done a wonderful job translating Kuyper’s original into a readable and substantive prose. Wisdom & Wonder also features an introduction to Kuyper and his thought, particularly with respect to the topics of science and art, by Vincent Bacote, associate professor of theology at Wheaton College and author of The Spirit in Public Theology: Appropriating the Legacy of Abraham Kuyper.
One of the reasons Acton has partnered with other groups to take on this translation project is because of the potential we see for Kuyper’s teachings on common grace to impact and inform the larger world of evangelical public theology. So we’re also pleased to have Gabe Lyons and Jon Tyson contribute a foreword to Wisdom & Wonder, as they attest to the signal contribution that Kuyper’s vision of God’s sovereignty and grace stand to make to contemporary Christian life and work.
I’m headed out to attend a one-day conference on whole-life discipleship that Acton is sponsoring at Regent University. One of the highlights of the event is going to be the Calihan Lecture, given by the current recipient of the Novak Award, Dr. Hunter Baker. Here’s what Dr. Baker had to say about Wisdom & Wonder:
A century before the institutions of Christian higher education took up the conversation over faith and learning in earnest, Abraham Kuyper had already masterfully described the terrain. We are indebted to the Acton Institute for publishing this new translation of Kuyper’s work. Wisdom & Wonder deserves a wide readership among all those who have tried to solve the riddle of what it really means to have a Christian world and life view.
As you might expect, I’ll be saying a great deal more about this book in the coming weeks and months, as I introduce and apply some of the lessons from the text to various topics. To get a sense of what the book is going to include, you can check out an excerpt from one of the chapters on art that appears in the current issue of Religion & Liberty, “The Separation of Church and Art.”
And last, but not least, you can sign up to be one of the first to receive your copy of Wisdom & Wonder by preordering through the Acton BookShoppe (either in paperback or hardcover) today. The book will be released to the public at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting next month, but as soon as we get hardcopies we’ll move to fill these preorders. So don’t delay if you want to be among the first to support this larger project and become acquainted with Kuyper’s thoughts on the public and social implications of common grace in science and art.