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Religion & Liberty Article Listing

What is Capitalism?


Rev. Robert Sirico

It’s not entirely easy to understand why, but the term capitalism is almost universally used derisively, particularly in religious circles. To say something is capitalist is to condemn it without argument, as if the label alone settles the question.

Let’s say that we believe that there are only two possible systems of organizing the economic forces of society: capitalism and socialism. It would seem from experience and logic that there is no contest. The experience with socialism has been one long and grueling disaster for every country that has tried it, while capitalism has created prosperity consistent with human rights.

And yet I suspect that this is not what people mean when they refer to...

The Leaky Bucket: Why Conservatives Need to Learn the Art of Story

In his biography of St. Thomas Aquinas, G. K. Chesterton said that “most men must have a revealed religion, because they have not time to argue.” The same might be true for political philosophy. In the Age of Information, most men do not have time to sift critically through the barrage of information that comes their way. So if most people do not have time to reason out their own political philosophy, how do they decide which to adopt as their own?

Sixty years ago, in a time of less noise, Friedrich Hayek offered an answer. His essay, The Intellectuals and Socialism, examined “the character of the process by...

Double-Edged Sword: The Power of the Word

Matthew 6:1–4

“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let you left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your almsgiving may be in secret. And you Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

In this passage and those surrounding it, Jesus compares the rewards of “the hypocrites” and those who follow his words. But some of the subtlety of the lesson is lost in translation. When describing the reward of the hypocrites, the Greek word used for reward denotes giving of a receipt for a full payment—in other words, a...

Ideology vs. Reality


© Free Software Foundation, Inc.

If one becomes aware that the original moral argument for socialism is wrong—that capitalism is actually benefiting people and serving the common good—why would one hold on to the ideology rather than abandon it? Clearly, it is difficult to abandon a lifelong ideology, especially if one considers the only available alternative to be tainted with evil. Thus socialism was for generations of socialists simply an entrenched dogma. It was possible for them to argue the finer points, but not to abandon it.

However understandable this might be, it is not praiseworthy. To hold on to a doctrine that is demonstrably false is to abandon all pretense of objectivity. If someone could demonstrate to...

Editor's Note

In this issue of Religion & Liberty we meet a giant of the Twentieth century: Alexander Solzhenitsyn of Russia. He has been both widely celebrated and widely reviled. His courage is admirable-—risking his life and suffering the torment of the Soviet gulag. Now in his old age, his place is secure as a hero in the history of liberty.

For those unfamiliar with the great Russian, Acton’s own John Couretas provides an excellent introduction to Solzhenitsyn in his review essay. As Couretas notes, because Solzhenitsyn was at the same time a serious Christian, devoted patriot, and defender of liberty, he was not well received by those who thought Christianity and patriotism were enemies of freedom. For those of us who believe in both religion and liberty, Solzhenitsyn is a friend.

I would like to use this space to note the death late last year of Milton Friedman....

The Culture of Charity

What motivated you to write this book? What questions were you hoping to answer?


Arthur Brooks

I’m an economist and I’ve been doing charitable giving research for a long time. When economists look at charitable giving now, they always ask these prosaic questions like, “what will happen to charitable giving if we decrease the death tax by a quarter?” They’re important questions, but they’re really all about economic incentives. Over the years I’ve been involved in a lot of charitable giving efforts from the university and through my own church. Nobody has ever said to me privately, “The reason I give is because of that sweet tax break.” That’s not...

Mandated Giving Doesn't Come from the Heart


Rev. Robert Sirico

It seems that some Biblical fallacies never go away, especially as regards redistribution and the poor. Hardly a day passes when I don't hear some version of the following: The Gospels speak clearly on the issue of the poor. They must be cared for. Special obligation falls to the rich who have the resources to care for them. This country has programs in place that are designed to do just that. Therefore, Christians have an obligation to politically support these programs.

The problem here is the slick move from personal ethics to public policy. What is required of us as individuals may or may not translate into a civic policy priority. In the case of the welfare state, it is possible to argue...

Tommaso de Cajetan

Tommaso de Cajetan Described as small of stature and giant in intellect, Cardinal Tommaso de Cajetan, O.P., was praised by Pope Clement VII as the “lamp of the Church.” Cajetan is perhaps most famous for being the legate sent by Pope Leo X to Germany to try and persuade Martin Luther to back down from his confrontation with the Roman Church. Less well known are Cajetan’s important contributions to economic thought, described by the economic historian Raymond de Roover as helping “to lift the barriers that still opposed the march of capitalism.”

Born in Gaeta, Italy, into a...

Praying and Paying: Amity Shlaes' The Forgotten Man

In my high school U.S. history class, I often argued with my teacher about the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. My youthful contention was that FDR had expanded the scope of government beyond the intent of the founders and harmed the economy. My teacher took the conventional view of Roosevelt as a hero who got us out of the Great Depression. But I wouldn’t budge.

I had been shaped by my parents, especially my mother—a staunch opponent of Roosevelt since the time she was a teenager. We sometimes forget the passion that Roosevelt enkindled both pro and con. During the depression, my mother would argue vigorously with her father, a Hartford fireman and committed Democrat, that Roosevelt’s New Deal was exacerbating the depression and placing America on a path toward statism. Her father said that she would grow up and know better. “I did,” she told...

Double-Edged Sword: The Power of the Word

Luke 17:12–19

As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

The compassion of Christ is endless. In this passage we hear about Christ and his healing of ten men who were afflicted with leprosy. It is important to note the ten...

In Defense of Intellectual Property

Light Bulb

This article is excerpted from the new Acton Institute monograph, The Social Mortgage of Intellectual Property.

One reason why intellectual property in some new technologies may appear to be unlike other forms of property lies in its indefinite replicability—multiplication without diminution.

You and I, and indefinitely many others, each may have access to some item of computer software just as we all may share the ideas in this paper. Each copy is as good as the original. Your having a copy in no way diminishes my use of, or access to, my copy. In contrast, a tangible item of property can be in only one place at a time and may well be diminished by multiple uses. This contrast between tangible and intellectual property...

What Exactly is a Think Tank?

A think tank doesn’t just catalogue ideas, but participates in and promotes the free exchange of ideas. While we seek to address a host of problems and propose solutions from a foundational stand point, our freedom and independence at the Acton Institute is a valuable asset. Some critics of think tanks simply assume they are only extensions of controlling interests or have little impact on the public debate.

Ideas often have the power to transform the thinking of those at the grassroots level of policy and thus equally influence those in the circles of power. Margaret Thatcher’s privatization reforms in the United Kingdom were significantly guided by the Institute of Economic Affairs. In addition, this institution played a substantial role in other reforms in the U.K. as well.

This is of course one example of many where think tanks play a vital role in...

Good Capitalism Bad Capitalism, and the economics of growth and prosperity

Good Capitalism

The authors of Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism explain why capitalism is not a monolithic construct. Before the end of the Cold War there was a perception that capitalist economies were generally the same, due to the stark contrasts between Western economies and Soviet-style command economies. Authors William J. Baumol, Robert E. Litan, and Carl J. Schramm draw out distinctions between different forms of capitalism and which models best promote growth and productivity. The four main types they identify are oligarchic capitalism, state guided capitalism, big firm capitalism, and entrepreneurial capitalism. While all of these systems respect property rights to one degree or another, the authors argue that there are significant differences...

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It

Development remains the most pressing human question in economics. As interesting as stock market models might be or monetary policy in managing the business cycle, the most fundamental question in economics is that of growth. What leads to economic growth? And how can those who are poorest realize the benefits of growth?

Every few years a book comes along that makes a significant contribution to our thinking about those most important questions. One thinks of the work a few years ago of Hernando de Soto in The Mystery of Capital, which proposed thinking about the slum-dwellers of Latin America as potential entrepreneurs, if only they could access the small capital locked away in their slum dwellings.

A similarly important contribution has been made by Paul Collier, professor of economics and director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University....

The CEO Serves: Moral Purpose and Business Leadership

Edward M. Kopko
Edward M. Kopko

A lot of critics are taking potshots at CEOs these days. They make too much money, they have too much power, and they run companies—like Enron and Arthur Andersen—only to line their own pockets at the expense of shareholders, employees, and the public, or so the story seems to go. Do CEOs feel as though they’re under siege?

Chief executives generally believe that they are not well understood and have been made almost into cartoon characters by some in the media. When was the last time you saw a movie where the CEO of a company was depicted as a good guy? They may not be under siege as they were back a few years ago during the Enron period, but...