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.

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, September 22, 2016
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Census Bureau retreats from report showing stagnant rural incomes
Max Ehrenfreund, Washington Post

When a Census Bureau report last week announced a record increase in the typical American household’s annual income last year, the good news came with a caveat. The growth had been limited to towns and cities, the data showed, and there was no statistically detectable change in rural areas.

Edmund Burke on Constitutions & Natural Law
Bradley J. Birzer, The Imaginative Conservative

The real goal of political society, Edmund Burke claimed in his arguments against the French Revolutionaries, is not to create new laws or new rules, but “to secure the religion, laws, and liberties, that had been long possessed.”

Pope Francis’s praise of capitalism a surprise on US trip
Thomas D. Williams, Crux

Looking back at Pope Francis’s visit to the United States one year ago this week, one of the surprises along the way was the pontiff’s unexpected praise for the free market economy of his host country.

Does a Universal Basic Income Conflict with the Biblical View of Work?
Andrew Spencer, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

Automation is coming to a workplace near you. The result may be the displacement of about 1.4 million workers in Tennessee alone, according to a report from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. That number represents about half of the state’s current workforce.

“I have a simple hypothesis,” writes economist Tyler Cowen. “No matter what the media tells you their job is, the feature of media that actually draws viewer interest is how media stories either raise or lower particular individuals in status.”

Cowen believes this explains why people “get so teed off” at the media:

The status ranking of individuals implied by a particular media source is never the same as yours, and often not even close. You hold more of a grudge from the status slights than you get a positive and memorable charge from the status agreements.

In essence, (some) media is insulting your own personal status rankings all the time. You might even say the media is insulting you. Indeed that is why other people enjoy those media sources, because they take pleasure in your status, and the status of your allies, being lowered. It’s like they get to throw a media pie in your face.

In return you resent the media.

Cowen’s friend and fellow economist Arnold Kling made a similar claim earlier this summer about politics: “a major role of political ideology is to attempt to adjust the relative status of various groups.” One outcome of this is that,
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Blog author: KHanby
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
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Samuel Gregg enthusiastically makes a point

Samuel Gregg lecturing at Acton University.

Samuel Gregg’s most recent book For God and Profit continues to receive great reviews.  The most recent comes from author and speaker John Horvat, II at The Stream.  Horvat begins his review by highlighting the way Gregg reconciles the pursuit of profits with Christianity. He says this:

Early in the book, Gregg establishes that profit through finance can be realized “provided that God comes first and that the profit is (1) understood as a means to an end, (2) never seen as an end in itself, and (3) used to serve rather than diminish, what Christians understand as human flourishing.” If these criteria are met (and that is a big “if” in today’s frenetically intemperate economic climate), then finance is a needed social good.

Gregg’s big “if” is the foundation of his theory of sound Christian economics, which must always be seen in a moral context. Inside this framework, economy would certainly be a lot different and more temperate than it is today. However, it would also be much the same.

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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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