Letter from the Director

February 2011

Dear Friends of Istituto Acton,

As Rome gears up for the May 1 beatification of John Paul II in what promises to be one of the largest gatherings here since his funeral, news from the intersection of religion and economics continues to make headlines. Already I am beginning to wonder how the legacy of John Paul II and his great promotion of human freedom will be portrayed in the media coverage and absorbed in the public’s collective mind. Nearly all the evidence is to the contrary: how much have we forgotten since the end of the Cold War, when lions such as the Pope, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher led the way against the prevailing currents of socialistic defeat and despair?

In the wake of the global economic downturn, more than a few religious leaders have decided to blame our freedom for all kinds of social ills, as if we would be better of if we had less liberty or gave more of it to our supposed betters in regulatory agencies. Take, for example, the bishops of Ireland, whose justice and peace council issued a statement called “From Crisis to Hope: Working to Achieve the Common Good”. Although the document claims not to be a “political manifesto”, it was published just days before the February 25 general elections and, as John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter notes, was meant to be a sign of social engagement, despite the extremely damaging reports of clerical sexual abuse and cover-up that have clearly reduced the bishops’ moral authority. 

These facts alone are enough to make cynics blush, even before reading the document, which is full of unhelpful generalities and “on the one hand/on the other hand”-type of positions that offer little or no guidance to the faithful. News headlines say that the statement criticizes something called the “bonus culture” that has apparently rendered the Irish social fabric to pieces, which ought to make us wonder how strong that fabric was in the first place. An inquisitive reader can learn much more about the causes of the Irish bubble-and-burst economy in Michael Lewis’s latest installment in economic-disaster-travel writing called “When Irish Eyes Are Crying”, if one can overlook some of his easy barbs against Irish culture and Catholicism. The Irish government’s role in creating, encouraging and then guaranteeing the real-estate bubble is shameful. We must pray for the needs of Church and state in Ireland.

Unfortunately, economic ignorance and the even worse tendency to offer economic “aid” that only makes matters worse are not limited to the Emerald Isle. In Italy, the Berlusconi government attempts to distract the nation from his sexual problems with promises of economic reform that should fall of deaf ears. In the United States, President Obama promises yet again to get serious about entitlement reform while his proposed budget does nothing but increase taxes and spending. Where is one to look for the least bit of economic sanity?

If the Russian proverb that “a fish rots from the head down” is true and we are relying on our leaders to change things, we are in a lot of trouble. (Click here for a Vatican Radio interview on the G-20 finance ministers meeting and rising food prices if you need yet more proof.) But if real social and economic change comes from below, there are indeed signs of hope. Istituto Acton recently presented the premier showing of the Italian version of the Acton documentary The Call of the Entrepreneur in collaboration with the Movimento dei Cristiani Lavoratori in La Spezia. I spoke on the virtues and vices of the entrepreneur and was surprised that my other panelists were in general agreement on the role of the entrepreneur in a free and just society. One-by-one may be the way we have to win our battles. 

I am always encouraged to see and hear that entrepreneurship is not just an “American” phenomenon, as will be the case when we take our Acton show on the road both literally and figuratively in the next few months, with our Templeton-sponsored series on Poverty, Entrepreneurship and Integral Development with a March 24 conference in Nairobi, Kenya, another Italian showing of The Call of the Entrepreneur in Verona on April 1, and a May 18 conference on Asian development that will be held in Rome. Stay tuned for news about these and other upcoming events.

This month’s articles address the legacy of Ronald Reagan on his 100th birthday, how our work does indeed serve others when properly conceived and carried out, and how economic prosperity is the result of letting “hustlers hustle” in Anthony Bradley’s unique wording. I hope you enjoy them all, especially since I am becoming more convinced that we will escape from our moral and economic crises only when the general public understands what kind of sacrifices we need to make. Our democratic leaders do not have the courage to break the bad news to us most probably because too many of us are not yet willing to listen to it.

All the best,

Kishore Jayabalan