Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg is in Rome this week for Acton’s conference on the 125th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s ground-breaking encyclical Rerum NovarumThe conference – titled Freedom with Justice: Rerum Novarum and the New Things of Our Time – takes place on April 20th from 2-7:30 pm at the Roma-Trevi-Conference Center in Rome, Italy.

Sam sat down for an in-depth interview with Vatican Radio about the encyclical and the conference, noting that “there are many things about Rerum novarum that are timeless, partly because the encyclical draws very specifically on natural law [and] Thomistic thought, when it discusses things like, for example, its defense – its very rigorous defense – of private property, but also its very strong critique of socialism.”

For more information on the conference, visit acton.org/rome2016; you can follow the conference as it happens on twitter using #125onFreedom.

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Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
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The Surprising Link between James Madison, Baptists, and True Religious Liberty
Hugh Whelchel, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

Madison understood that religious liberty means more than having the freedom to worship.

Trauma, torture for sex-trafficked Syrians in Lebanon
Rana Moussaoui, AFP

More and more Syrians made vulnerable by war are becoming victims of sexual exploitation, including in Lebanon and Jordan, police and international organisations say.

Where America’s Poor Pay the Most for Electricity
Julian Spector, The Atlantic

Poor families face persistent obstacles to cutting their power bill.

LA City Council Halts Discussion of Minimum Wage Exemption Pushed by Labor Unions
Melissa Quinn, The Daily Signal

The Los Angeles City Council isn’t currently planning to further discuss a proposal exempting union members from the southern California city’s new minimum wage, despite the proposal having the backing of labor unions.

sandersgrinAt The Stream, Acton Institute Research Director Samuel Gregg does a crime scene investigation of Bernie Sanders’ take on Pope John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus encyclical. You might never guess, by listening to the Democrat presidential candidate, that John Paul actually had some positive things to say about the market economy. Gregg says that Sanders’ recent appearance at a Vatican conference “will be seen for what it is: grandstanding by a left-wing populist candidate for the American presidency.” Aside from that, there are Sanders’ “contestable” economic assertions:

In the first place, Sanders didn’t acknowledge just how much the encyclical being discussed by the conference, Saint John Paul II’s 1991 Centesimus Annus, underscored the positive role of free markets as well as limits on what the government can and should do in the economy. To be sure, Centesimus Annus is not a Catholic version of Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose. But as I observed prior to the speech, Centesimus Annus contains some of the papacy’s strongest endorsements of the market economy and some of Catholicism’s most powerful critiques of not just socialism but also welfare states. None of these commendations or criticisms were referenced in Sanders’ address.

More generally, some of the claims made by Sanders about inequality are very contestable. His address referred, for instance, to “the widening gaps between the rich and poor.” This, however, doesn’t reflect the evidence of what’s happening to global economic inequality. In terms of global income, for instance, the most widely utilized assessment of income distribution, the Gini coefficient, went from 0.69 in 1988 to 0.63 in 2011. That matters, because a lower Gini coefficient indicates falling inequality.

Nor does Sanders seem aware of the sheer numbers of people who have escaped absolute poverty in Asia, especially India and China, over the past forty years. In 2010, for example, the Asian Development Bank stated that per capita GDP increased 6 percent each year in developing Asian nations between 1990 and 2009. According to the same report, about 850 million people escaped absolute poverty between 1990 and 2005.

Read “Bernie Visits the Vatican, and Misrepresents Pope John Paul II” by Samuel Gregg at The Stream.

The Acton Institute issued a video statement to the international press today from its Rome office, introducing the main topics that to be addressed at its April 20th Rome conference “Freedom with Justice: Rerum Novarum and the New Things of Our Time” at the Roma-Trevi Conference Center.

Among the “new things” to be discussed for the 125th anniversary of Leo’s landmark social encyclical will be the Church and poverty, Europe’s faltering welfare states, globalization’s winners and losers, youth unemployment, our malfunctioning financial systems, the rise of economic populism, new forms of socialism, and, of course, Pope Francis’s economic thinking.

Lively discussion will take place at the conference as well as on social media via the hash tag #125onFreedom. More information can be found at acton.org/Rome2016.

Online viewing will be available on livestream from which viewers may propose questions for the conference speakers.

techrevolutionAcross the globe, extreme poverty has been reduced by the advent and ubiquity of a simple tool: cell phones. As USAID says, mobile phones “fundamentally transform the way people in the developing world interact with one another and their governments, and access basic health, education, business and financial services.”

Could the same technology that is alleviating extreme poverty around the world also be used to help solve America’s homeless problem?

In an intriguing paper by the America Enterprise Institute, Kevin C. Corinth proposes giving the homeless smartphones as part of a “tech revolution for the homeless.” “I propose equipping homeless individuals with free smartphones and service plans in exchange for providing daily information on themselves through a specialized app—including their sleeping locations, use of services, and personal outcomes,” says Corinth. “The possibilities could transform how we understand and confront homelessness.”
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29taxes.2-500In an attempt to trap Jesus, some Pharisees and Herodians asked him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” In response, Jesus said,

“Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The Pharisees and Herodians “marveled” at Jesus answer, but had they asked an agent of the Roman IRS they likely would have been given a similar answer.

Governments have always had to contend with citizens who make what are considered “frivolous tax arguments” to avoid complying with tax laws. Such arguments rarely work (it’s usually not effective to try to present a creative interpretation of tax law to the people who interpret tax laws) but people keep trying.

The IRS has an entire list of responses to the most common frivolous tax arguments. In honor of Tax Day*, here are four of my favorites:
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Blog author: jcarter
Monday, April 18, 2016
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Did Jesus Oppose Poverty?
Fr. James Schall, The Imaginative Conservative

The last thing that the poor want is to live in poverty. To escape poverty, they had to learn how to be not-poor from the rich who had learned it before them.

Why the Poor Die Young
The Atlantic

A massive study of health and income found that smoking, obesity, and exercise are the most important determinants of longevity. Poor neighborhoods score worse in all of them. What’s going on?

Tax exemption, churches, and the communities they serve
Barrett Duke, ERLC

Alleviating human suffering wasn’t only a work for Jesus to perform. He expected his church to engage in this work as well

The Economics of Human Trafficking
Baylee Molloy, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

The human trafficking industry is estimated to generate around $150 billion annually. The industry spans the world, energized by the power of globalization. It targets vulnerable populations affected by war, poverty, and oppression.