Dear Friends of Istituto Acton,
I’ve just returned from our annual seminar, Acton University, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and from the early accounts, it was our most successful event ever, with about 600 participants from nearly 60 countries to learn about the multi-faceted relationship between faith and economics. I’m heading off to a conference in Portugal on “The Future of the Free World” as I write this, so I have to make this short , but I’d like to give you some general impressions on the challenges for those of us attempting to make a moral defense of the market economy.
As in years past, many of the participants were from developing countries, for whom the escape from absolute poverty is a much more urgent, indeed life-saving, task than it is for those of us in developed nations. This task is very much at the core of the PovertyCure project the Acton Institute is involved with, and, for as focused as it is on the promotion of free markets at an international level, presenting the basic argument for free markets is something that also needs to be repeated even to those who already benefit from them, mostly because their very success has made us complacent intellectually. And if we can’t defend our own way of life, we have no right in trying to convince others why they should choose free markets over planned economies.
Unfortunately, many business leaders are not very accustomed to making such a defense. The opponents of freedom can point to the decline of the family and religious practice, inequality, environmental destruction, even growing state power, as negative consequences of the market economy and thereby put us on the defense. In fact, this was the one common denominator among my Acton University lectures on liberation theology, distributism and Nietzsche’s critique of Chistianity and capitalism, and I’ve come away from this year’s seminar even more convinced of the need to re-visit continually the case made by earlier advocates of free markets to better understand the theoretical underpinnings of the promotion of the practical arts. Of course, there were such lectures at Acton University, but these are meant to be just the beginning and are far from sufficient.
Effort, whether of the physical or mental, let alone the spiritual kind, is not very much appreciated these days, when the calls for the least amount of sacrifice are met with street protests and calls for excommunication. (See Fr. Robert Sirico’s article on Congressman John Boehner’s Catholic critics below.) Proponents of the planned economy seem to know to that once people become wards of the state, they will not take kindly to any reduction in their material living standards, no matter the benefit it might bring the less well-off or future generations. But I’m becoming convinced that the problem is also partly generational, and that those of us who grew up expecting less from government will be more open to economic reforms. If we survive the coming entitlements crisis, that is.
In addition to Fr. Sirico’s previously mentioned piece, we are pleased to offer two new contributions by Acton’s workhorse director of research, Samuel Gregg; one on the many comparisons that were being made between the current Pope and his newly beatified predecessor, the other on the progressive Christian’s tendency to deny the realities of eternal punishment.
For those of you who weren’t able to attend this year’s Acton University, some of the lectures are available for download here. If you were there, I don’t need to tell you to spread the word to your friends and colleagues about the fruitfulness of the event, which will be even bigger, and we hope better, next year. If you weren’t, you don’t know what you are missing.
Finally, you also should know about and hopefully attend one of the international Ronald Reagan Centennial Celebrations dedicated to the 40th President of the United States and partner of Blessed John Paul II in the moral defense of human freedom and the market economy throughout the world. In the coming months there will be a historic year-long tribute to the heroic president’s 100th birthday to increase awareness of Reagan’s accomplishments and to introduce the next generation to his legacy of inspired freedom. The celebrations, initiated in large part by governments, institutions, and individuals who embrace the cause of freedom, will take place in many American cities, and include four European stops in Krakow, Budapest, Prague, and London.