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Acton Notes - President's Message

Dear Friends,

The Acton Institute has two broad social goals. First, make the case, moral and economic, that the market economy has a necessary institutional bulwark of freedom and prosperity. Second, shore up the cultural and moral foundations that both establish and preserve the market economy from being undermined by the state.

Why is it important that the cultural and moral foundations of society be solid and rooted most firmly in a religious framework? Essentially it comes down to this: A society that has a low regard for promise-keeping and private property will collapse, and there is nothing that either economic actors or the state can do about it.

There is no form of private enforcement in the world that can enforce a rule against theft if the population itself does not carry with it the ethic of private property. Much less is the state able to manage a problem on this scale. If the whole of society becomes criminalized, no institution can prevent it, certainly not the state.

The same is true of other moral-cultural issues such as keeping commitments. If people don’t pay their bills, interest rates will rise, the credit markets will dry up, and business would be unable to expand. Private markets and the state can handle some measure of antisocial activity. It cannot handle mass immorality. Nor can the state instill these values or force people to keep them. This must come from the human heart. It must be taught from a young age, reinforced in schools, and emphasized by our religious traditions.

There are societies that devolve into mass criminality and immorality. Not coincidentally, it is most common in societies and social sectors in which socialism is practiced. Think of the former Soviet Union. Émigrés tell amazing stories of what happens when there is no regard for property rights. And look at high-crime areas of big cities today. The correlation between welfare dependency and crime is not a coincidence.

So we need both: a market economy and a cultural foundation to a free society. By supporting our work, you are making a contribution to keeping our society free and prosperous.