Posts tagged with: economic liberty

Acton Institute, Director of Research, Samuel GreggAs we approach our upcoming April 29th Conference in Rome “Faith, State, and the Economy: Perspectives from East and West“, Acton’s Research Director, Samuel Gregg shares his insights on the relationship between religious and economic liberty and the threats society now faces. Gregg also discusses where he thinks places like Europe and America are heading, as well as what some of the guest speakers will talk about during the conference.

PowerBlog: Why is the Acton Institute’s upcoming April 29th Conference in Rome “Faith, State, and the Economy: Perspectives from East to West” so important and timely?

Samuel Gregg: Religious liberty is obviously an enormous issue today for Catholics as well as other Christians. The sheer number of people who are being killed each year because of their Christian faith should be disturbing for everyone.

What’s often missed, however, is how diminutions in religious freedom affect other liberties, including economic freedom, and vice-versa. Taking away or severely limiting people’s economic liberty because of their religion has been a classic means by which governments have tried to indirectly undermine people’s attachment to their faith. This was one of the tactics used by the government of Queen Elizabeth I against Catholics in England in the sixteenth century, and, I would add, rather successful. And whether it is in the West, the Middle East, or East Asia, we can see this and others patterns emerging in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways. (more…)

The United States is often perceived as a land of religious freedom and pluralism. Has such a space allowed for the growth of a new generation of young Muslim leaders, activists, and artists? According to a recent article in TIME magazine, the rising prosperity and integration of Muslims in America is allowing for new Muslim leaders to emerge in the American public sphere.

Because the United States is faring far better with Muslim cultural and societal integration than Europe, a new platform is opening up for redefining Islam in the West. While the American Muslim community is also navigating their place in a shifting American demographic and religious landscape, intra-Islamic conversations continue over the identity and practice of American Islam. With the advent and growth of Islamic religious scholarship in the United States, the country is also becoming home to continuing creative conversations about Islamic identity and practice.

There is no doubt that an element of economic freedom has allowed the Muslim community in the United States to expand, flourish, and succeed. The link between religious and economic freedom will be considered more fully at an upcoming Acton conference in Rome,  “Faith, State, and the Economy: Perspectives From East and West.”

The conference will take place on April 29 in Rome and is the first in a series called “One and Indivisible? The Relationship between Religious and Economic Freedom.” For more information visit the conference series webpage.

Additionally, please consider registering for Acton University 2014 for lectures on Islam by Mustafa Akyol, a columnist for the Turkish Daily News.

On Sept. 18, the Acton Institute held its annual dinner and lecture in downtown Pittsburgh at the Duquesne Club.

J. Christopher Donahue, president and chief executive officer of Federated Investors, Inc., emceed the event and Lisa Slayton, president of Serving Leaders and The Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation, gave the invocation for the evening.  Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of Acton, gave the keynote lecture for the evening:  “Religious Liberty and Economic Liberty:  Twin Guarantees for Human Freedom.”

Rev. Sirico started the evening by talking about why property rights are important to liberty.  Property allows us to put ourselves into the creation of things.  Humans have the capacity to create wealth.  The human being transcends creation as we are able to create.  “Without the right of property, civilization begins to crumble,” Rev. Sirico said. “Culture begins to crumble.”  He gave a textbook example of this—the former Soviet Union. Both religion and property rights were confiscated–and you can see what happened. (more…)

It’s hard to think of anything more onerous than preventing enterprising people from entering the market. To do so is to interfere with their ability to serve others and engage in their vocation. It keeps people poor by preventing them from improving their lives. And one of the worst barriers of this kind is a type of law known as occupational licensing.

And that’s exactly what a group of monks in Louisiana ran into in 2010 when the state government tried to prohibit them from selling handmade caskets to their fellow Louisianians. Kevin Schmiesing wrote on that issue in 2010 on the PowerBlog.

It’s the coffin business that got St. Joseph’s in trouble. By selling its pine boxes without a funeral director’s license, the monastery violates state law. So the abbey is suing the State of Louisiana in federal court.

It’s a classic case of what economists call “barriers to entry”: regulations put in place by existing businesses or professionals to limit competition and thereby drive up prices and compensation. Usually the vested interest posits some rationale concerning the public good (e.g., not just anybody should be allowed to practice medicine…), but frequently enough the reasoning is pretty thin (e.g., should you really need a license to cut hair or drive a taxi?).

The monks are represented by the libertarian public-interest group, Institute for Justice. They won their case in 2011 and appeared last month before a Federal Appeals Court. A decision won’t be out for several months.

This all started when the Benedictine monks at Saint Joseph Abbey started receiving several requests from their community to sell caskets that the monks had constructed for their own deceased members for many years. In a hard hit post-Katrina Louisiana, this seemed like a reasonable way for them to serve their community and bring in some money to the abbey. Unfortunately, they ran into occupational licensing laws, which forbid non-funeral homes from selling caskets. The Institute for Justice argued that such laws could only serve to reduce competition and drive up the prices of caskets. The BBC has a good video on their troubles with the state. (more…)

In an article appearing in the American Spectator, Samuel Gregg discusses the growth of religion in China, its system of crony capitalism, and its need to accept freedom. Opening the column, Gregg describes how the Catholic Church’s freedom from state control in China is at stake. Gregg later explains that there isn’t just corruption in China’s crony system of capitalism, but also in its society:

It’s abundantly clear, for instance, that China’s economy is hardly the capitalism envisaged by Adam Smith. Instead, it’s a crony-capitalist arrangement. One symptom of this is the extensive corruption prevailing throughout Chinese society.

In 2010, Transparency International ranked China as 78th out of 179 countries on its Corruption Perceptions Index. That made China only slightly less-corrupt than Russia! Moreover, as Yashen Huang illustrates in Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics (2008), apparatchiks from China’s Communist party, government, and military exercise far-reaching control over thousands of the businesses powering China’s development in the special economic zones. That’s a recipe for a growing culture of accelerating bribes, nepotism, and fraud.

Wiser heads in China, however, know crony capitalism isn’t infinitely sustainable. In the long-term, China needs the rule of law and a stable system of property rights — all of which implies limiting the capacity of those with political power to act arbitrarily.

But while rule of law and property rights are essential for sustainable economic growth, they are not enough. Equally important is a generally accepted moral culture that most people have internalized and generally follow.

The moral culture in China has been dismantled by the government. Gregg argues the rule of law and property rights are not enough for economic growth, China also needs a moral law. After the decimation of Confucianism, which provided the moral glue for the Chinese society, many are now turning to religion:

And religion is plainly on the rise in China. Five years ago, the English language version of the Communist Party’s newspaper, China Daily, reported on the results of studies done by Shanghai University professors which indicated that millions of Chinese — especially the young and particularly in the special economic zones — were becoming Christian.

This shouldn’t be too surprising. It is materialism that leads to atheism, not the growth of wealth per se. Economic liberty requires and encourages people to think and choose freely. But such thoughts can’t be quarantined to commercial considerations. With increasing wealth, many Chinese now have the time and resources to explore life’s more important questions. Many have found answers in Christianity.

Such developments, according to some Chinese officials, aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Back in 2006, the then-head of China’s religious affairs ministry, Ye Xiaowen, begrudgingly acknowledged the various Christian churches’ contributions to helping Chinese society cope with the effects of increasing wealth.

While China will benefit from a strong moral presence within its borders, which will aid in solving its corruption problems, Gregg foresees the Catholic Church and the Chinese government being at odds when the government questions doctrines or bishop appointments. There is a way out for China, as Gregg concludes, and that is by accepting freedom:

The way out, of course, is for China’s rulers to accept freedom’s indivisible character. Once you concede religious or economic liberty, it’s hard to quarantine its effects. Acknowledging this, however, would require China’s Communist Party to self-terminate its grip on political power. Regrettably, as history illustrates, Communists never do that — or at least not until it’s truly inevitable.

To read the full article click here.