Dr. Mart Laar, a two term prime minister of Estonia (92-95, 99-02), will give the keynote address at Acton’s annual dinner on October 24 at the JW Marriot International Ballroom in Grand Rapids. Before becoming prime minister, Estonia was in a state of economic ruin. Inflation hovered around 1,000 percent; there was a drop in the economy of more than 30 percent. Estonia was also completely tied to the then disastrous Russian economy. While not considering himself an economist, Laar fostered a climate where private property and free markets flourished.
In fact, Laar had little economic training, but had read the book Free to Choose by Milton Friedman. The title of the book attracted him to Friedman, “because there were two words: free and choose; this was two things the communists hated, freedom and choice. The name was so excellent and I was interested in reading the book.” He claimed it was the only publication on economics he had read at that time. He also noted, “I was so ignorant at the time that I thought that what Friedman wrote about the benefits of privatization, the flat tax, and the abolition of all customs rights, were the result of economic reforms that had been put into practice in the West. It seemed common sense to me and, as I thought it had already been done everywhere.” Laar introduced a flat tax in 1994, which simplified the tax code and did away with economic penalties for hard work. In the past, Laar has referred to the role played by his Christian faith in providing him with a moral compass and giving him the courage to make hard, but necessary economic decisions.
Estonia is now ranked twelfth out of 165 countries in the Economic Freedom of the World index, published by the Heritage Foundation. The Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom also named Estonia as one of the top nations for religious freedom. Laar also speaks with enormous credibility on proclaiming the horrors of Marxist tyranny. Laar notes, “One reason we see these kinds of dictatorships coming from Latin America is we have not yet declared the communist to be such an evil ideology as the Nazis or other evil ideologies.”
Dr. Yuri N. Maltsev will deliver a lecture titled, “The Crimes of Communism” on September 27 for the Acton Lecture Series. Before Maltsev came to the United States in 1989, he was a member of a senior team of Soviet economists that worked on President Mikhail Gorbachev’s famed perestroika reforms. In Moscow, he also held various prestigious teaching and research positions. Currently he is a professor of economics at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Maltsev will discuss the reversal of liberalized reforms in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In addition, Maltsev will talk about the variety of ways in which communism oppresses people, especially religion. Another issue the lecture delves into is Russia’s own war with radical Islam, coupled with Putin and Russia’s dealings with rogue Islamic states.
Maltsev was also a Senator William Jennings Peace Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., a research institution sponsored by the United States Congress. There he analyzed problems of the post-communist transition to a market economy, with special emphasis on issues related to privatization and deregulation. In addition to contributing to ten books and publishing over a hundred articles, he has given lectures at leading universities in the United States, corporations, banks, colleges, churches, schools, and community centers. Likewise, he has appeared on various television and radio programs, including PBS NewsHour, C-Span, CNN, Financial Network News, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, National Public Radio, and Wisconsin Public Radio.
Acton’s media director, Jay Richards, has been hitting the airwaves to help educate the public on environmental issues in a responsible manner. Richards has been weighing in on the global warming debate as well as discussing former Vice President Al Gore’s summer Live Earth concert, which attempted to raise concerns and awareness over climate change issues. He also noted the similarities in language and method that has caused the environmental movement to morph into a religious movement of sorts. Richards noted on a Tampa Bay station, “Al Gore said this was the single most important issue of our time. The language is more and more heated and [activists] essentially say we have ten years to deal with this or all is lost.” Richards urged caution adding, “Christian organizations believe we should be stewards of our environment and all Christians believe that. The question is whether global warming is being caused and whether it’s catastrophic. Before we develop this into a deep religious significance we need to examine the science more closely.” Richards also pointed out the economic devastation the United States would suffer if we implemented the Kyoto treaty saying, “It would cost a trillion dollars a year to implement.” Richards also expressed frustration with the difficulty of meaningful dialogue on this issue with some parties noting, “If we are really destroying the planet and destroying its habitability that would be a significant moral concern. What’s troubling is this taking on such an intense moral pitch it’s difficult to have a rational conversation, such as trade offs in the Kyoto protocol, where the debate ought to be taking place.”
The summer interns contributed forcefully to the mission, programs, and goals of the Acton Institute. Whether it was working on the Samaritan Awards, writing commentary, or assisting with office duties, this group embodied professionalism and a hard work ethic. Michael Wagner, a student at American University in Washington, D.C., declared, “The Acton experience, as an intern, allowed me to look closely at what is being done today to promote liberty and freedom not just here in America, but around the world. There is a real sense that Acton has a universal appeal.” Wagner also added, “I think that people of all faiths can find something to like in Acton’s unique blend of economics and faith. The work is very ecumenical, and I think appeals to a universal desire for freedom.”
Kelly Hogan, a student at Marquette University, added one of her favorite aspects of the summer was “working amongst individuals who strive diligently to improve mankind each day.” Specifically she also noted, “The value of acquiring additional knowledge of pertinent issues in our world today such as poverty and disease, and how to help improve upon those problems.” Intern Brooke Levitske, a student at Calvin College, noted her favorite part of the summer was “the chance to write, and spending time and getting to know the other interns.” Brooke wrote a notable piece titled “Illegal Immigration and the Church: Philanthropic Lawlessness.” Fortunately, some of the interns will continue in active roles assisting Acton Institute this fall.
Also included in this class of summer interns were two Blackstone legal fellows, Sean Martin and Paul Southwick. Blackstone legal fellowship is a rigorous program for exceptionally capable and highly motivated Christian law students from law schools across the country. The stated goal is to “train a new generation of lawyers who will rise to positions of influence and leadership as legal scholars, litigators, judges, and perhaps even Supreme Court justices, and who will work to ensure that justice is carried out in America’s courtrooms.”