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Religion & Liberty Article Listing

The Economy of Trust

What can the world of religion and ethics contribute to economics?

The market has deficiencies of a kind for which ethics is a remedy. For example, the world is really filled with private information. There is inside information on products and in contracts. In these situations, there is a very strong possibility of one person using this information to take advantage of the other. If this happens frequently, a market may not exist at all because the buyers know that they don't know certain things, and that the sellers can exploit them. Therefore, it's not so much that there are potential unfair gains, but that such uncertainties about private information can make the market inefficient. In fact, if the problem is pronounced, the market may not exist at all. This is a situation that is studied particularly in insurance contracts; when the person insured may...

Editor's Note

Do you have to be good to do well? The relationship between virtue and worldly success is one that is often discussed at our Acton events. Parents and teachers try to inculcate good habits in their children and students, not only as an end in itself, but also in the hope that doing good in the spheres of character and morality will lead to doing well in the worlds of work, entrepreneurship, and commerce.

In this issue of Religion & Liberty, we take look at that question from various points of view. Our biblical feature examines the teaching about weights and measures in the Gospel. Being honest in measurement is the right thing to do in itself, but it also makes possible easy trade and free exchange; imagine the impossibility of having to verify that every package contains the indicated weight of flour, or sugar, or salt. Our “Double-Edged Sword” this issue comes...

Trust and Entrepreneurship


Photo: Getty Images

When it comes to business and the economy, the word trust has two—and to some people diametrically opposed—meanings.

Trust as a virtue in the marketplace means having confidence in the honesty, reliability, and integrity of market players. It speaks volumes about our free enterprise system that a stranger can walk into a small business, for example, that he has never patronized before, and yet generally trust that he will be served well, dealt with fairly, and will walk out the door with a product that does what it is supposed to do.

But trust also refers to a business organization whereby a group of trustees control one or more corporations. Trusts emerged in the latter half of the...

The Dividends of Social Capital

Why have so many countries been unable to fully adopt a market economy? The answer is complex, but there are certain basic conditions that must be met for an economy to become free and prosperous. Two that are non-negotiable are private property and the rule of law. Without these a market cannot exist. An educated workforce, low taxes, and minimal regulation are also helpful.

But there is another element that is crucial but often overlooked—it is what has been called “social capital,” specifically the existence of trust. Francis Fukuyama makes this case in his 1995 book Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity .

Why are trust and social capital so important for economic success? In a...

Doubled-Edged Sword: The Power of the Word

Deuteronomy 25:13—16

“You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and just weight you shall have, a full and just measure you shall have; that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the LORD your God.” Deuteronomy 25:13—16

This instruction is found in a large section of legislation given to the people of Israel as part of the covenant God initiated with them. In Deuteronomy, a code of behavior is set forth that articulates the nation's distinct relationship with God.

Yet interspersed between these laws dealing with major issues, we find several regulations regarding what would be considered rather commonplace...

Defending the Weak and the Idol of Equality

The Acton Institute has begun a series of lectures—eight in Rome and one in Poland—celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of Centesimus Annus , Pope John Paul II's landmark social encyclical. The lecture series started in October of 2005 and will continue through 2007. For the next year , Religion & Liberty will feature excerpts from these conference lectures .

The following is taken from Catholic Social Teaching on the Economy and the Family: an alternative to the modern welfare state, delivered on January 21, 2006, at the Pontifical North American College in Rome .

People unfamiliar with Catholic social teaching may be surprised to learn that the church has consistently condemned socialism. The Catholic Church has never embraced “equality” the way socialism has. The church is not indifferent to the poor. Rather,...

Fairness in the Market

How, in a market setting, can you be assured that you are getting a good deal? We all know people who distrust every price, believe that most business people are concealing something important, and have a vague suspicion that every enterprise is a racket.

These people might have a bias, but they do serve a market function. Business must always be aware that its promotionals and marketing plans must be balanced against the need to inspire trust always. It is a business asset like no other, and those who foster it thrive, while those who do not lose out.

But we need to be aware that the price of goods on the market is not fixed by some eternal law but rather by fluctuations based on supply and demand. There is nothing in the structure of the universe that makes paper towels pennies a piece, dish towels a dollar, and linen tea cloths as high as fifty dollars. These prices...

How does Acton communicate its ideas to the world?

As a research and educational institution, the Acton Institute has always held that its advancement of a “free and virtuous society” must reach the widest possible audience to be effective. You don't change the world by shutting yourself up in an ivory tower.

You may think of Acton's research, publication, and communications efforts as a spectrum that, on the one side, starts with serious, well respected academic work and, at the other, reaches into the popular media of newspaper commentaries, talk radio, and online media such as Web sites, blogs, and podcasts. Video will be an increasingly important tool for Acton in the future.

All of Acton's intellectual work is based on the firm foundation built by the institute's research department and its flagship publication, The Journal of Markets & Morality. Other communication vehicles include books, monographs, policy...

Edmund A. Opitz

God has laid down rules for us in every walk of life, including the proper organization of our economic affairs. The free economy is a system of voluntary arrangements that brings together people who have work skills, who use tools and machinery to increase their output, thus producing the incredible abundance of goods and services we enjoy as consumers. Economics … is in the realm of means, but it supplies the essential means for enriching our lives in the realms of the mind and spirit; as well as in music, art, and literature.

The Rev. Edmund A. Opitz was a Congregationalist minister who for decades championed the cause of a free society and the need to anchor that society in a...

The Right To Be Wrong: Ending the Culture War over Religion in America

Mary Dyer was regarded as a “very proper and comely young woman”—that is, before she broke the law and was hanged. Her crime: being a Quaker in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Laws against this were on the books and notice had been given. Everything was legal. Was it moral?

Three hundred years later, Zach, a first-grade student, was excited to learn that his teacher was going to let him read in front of the class for the first time. She added a personal touch to the experience by allowing him to read from his favorite book, which Zach brought the next day: the Beginner's Bible. The teacher told him he could not read it in front of the class and would have to read it to her in private. Is this right?

These are just two of the many anecdotes Kevin Seamus Hasson relates in The Right To Be Wrong: Ending the Culture War over Religion in America, his narrative...

A Tsunami Every Day: An Interview with Tony Hall

How has your faith shaped your political priorities, especially with regard to the fight against hunger?

It's quite a major part. A friend of mine who used to work [with me]—a believer—would come in and pray with me, and we would read the scripture. He said, “Don't you think it's time you started to take God into your workplace?” I thought, “Yeah, I do, but I don't know how to do it. I don't want to wear religion on my sleeve, because I see so many people do that and to me it looks hypocritical. I want to do it in a way in which I honor God, but I really don't know how to do it.” So in 1984, when I was a member of Congress, we heard about this amazing famine in Ethiopia, and at the time I was chairman of a subcommittee on international hunger. I decided to go and see it, to try to understand it. So I went to Ethiopia, and I saw...

Editor's Note

The many works of the Acton Institute bring us constantly into contact with the creative power of human liberty—we regularly are impressed, I think, with the potential for economic growth and dynamism. In this issue of Religion & Liberty, our thoughts turn to situations where that growth and dynamism is most needed—the desperate situations of poverty and hunger that still persist.

“To feed the hungry” remains a basic work of mercy, the goal of much charitable activity. It is also the work of major institutions such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Our feature interview in this issue is with Tony Hall, former Democratic congressman and, until recently, U.S. Ambassador to FAO in Rome. He spoke with the head of our Rome office, Kishore Jayabalan.

“To feed the hungry” is also a basic economic imperative. Indeed, the...

Loving Our Neighbor-Near and Far

St. Augustine once wrote, “You cannot love what you do not know.” He was making a disarmingly simple point about the first great Christian commandment to love God, wholeheartedly. However, Augustine's words also apply to the second great commandment—to love our neighbor, unselfishly. The application is especially important now, in our newly globalized world, and Pope Benedict XVI's recent encyclical, Deus Caritas Est , provides a timely framework for seeing how that is so.

In the second half of the letter, Benedict XVI writes: “Today the means of mass communication have made our planet smaller, rapidly narrowing the distance between different peoples and cultures.” As suggested in an earlier passage, this dramatic...

Doubled-Edged Sword: The Power of the Word

Deuteronomy 8:3

“He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.” Deuteronomy 8:3

It was never easy to be God's chosen people. As some have noted, God singled out Israel from among the nations to beat into their heads certain truths about himself so these truths would not be lost to the world; for this the world is immeasurably in debt. One specific lesson God relayed through his people to the world is recounted in the passage above.

As Moses led his people through the desert, God allowed them hunger to teach a lesson: You are more than your stomach. For a group of people lost in the desert, hungry and grumpy at the very least, this may have seemed like...

I, T-Shirt: Lessons from the Cotton Industry

I remember being a teenager, proudly lacing up a new pair of Nikes as a news story blared on the television. The story reported on the poor children in Asia who crafted my new fashion statement in cruel conditions for mere pennies a day. I won't lie; it stole the luster for me. I was unaware then that there was more to the story than simply poor children in a sweatshop and fancy me in my Nikes. Now that I am older, I recognize that trade and globalization—issues so vital to the extension of human rights—are rarely presented evenhandedly in the media. This is why Dr. Pietra Rivoli's The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy is so refreshing. Detailing the life cycle of a t-shirt, Rivoli approaches the politics of world trade on a personal—not an ideological—level. Along the way she introduces us to the cotton farmer in Texas, the factory worker in...