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Religion & Liberty: Volume 30, Number 1

Acton Briefs: Winter 2020

A collection of short essays by Acton writers, click a link to jump to that article: 

Prosperity and the ‘Four Horsemen of the Optimist’

Patrick Oetting, Acton Institute

Currently, less than 10 percent of the global population lives in extreme poverty. Yet a study from the Barna Group recently found that 67 percent of Americans believe the global poverty rate is increasing. The good news is broader and more expansive than poverty measures. Globally, people are living longer, eating more calories, drinking cleaner water, becoming more educated, experiencing less violence, and suffering lower maternal death rates during childbirth.

In his latest book, More From Less, Andrew McAfee attributes this unprecedented global progress to the “Four Horsemen of the Optimist”: technological progress, capitalism, responsive governments, and political awareness. These advances have come at the same time that we are experiencing what McAfee calls “dematerialization.” Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, exponential economic growth has meant that we were increasingly hard on our planet – using more energy, more raw materials, and creating more pollution. But in the past 50 years, this has changed dramatically.

One small but significant example is the weight reduction of aluminum cans in packaging. By employing innovative technology in a competitive environment, over six decades U.S. manufacturers have reduced the average weight of an aluminum can from 85 grams to just 12.75 grams. “If all beverage cans weighed what they did in 1980, they would have required an extra 580,000 tons of aluminum”, McAfee writes.

This decoupling of economic growth from natural resources has come largely from the advance of technology and capitalism. Technological progress provides us with innovation, while capitalism supplies us with the incentives to innovate in the first place. Businesses, pursuing greater profits by reducing input costs, find ways to produce more and better goods for consumption with fewer raw materials.

If we truly want to help the world’s poor and at the same time create a cleaner environment for ourselves and our children, we will need to harness the power of technology, greater access to global free markets, and governments that maintain sound institutions of justice.

Big government and corruption correlate: Study

Joshua Gregor, Acton Institute

Alejandro Chafuen, Acton’s Managing Director, International, writes in Forbes about the relationship between economic freedom and corruption. Transparency International released its 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index in January, and Chafuen correlates these results with countries’ rankings in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom.

As a general rule, greater economic freedom and lower corruption seem to go hand in hand. He wrote:

Although I was born and raised in a country where corruption, especially petty corruption, had become part of many aspects of life, I only began studying the issue more thoroughly when corruption measurements were published. The first of these was that of Transparency International, which released the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) in 1995. The annual index continues to be expanded and improved. It covers 180 countries and territories around the world. … In 1997, Eugenio Guzmán, then a recent graduate of the London School of Economics and today the dean of the school of government at the Universidad del Desarrollo in Chile, and I conducted the first study correlating economic freedom with corruption data from Transparency International.

The study, which shows that there is a strong and significant correlation between higher economic-freedom scores and lower corruption scores, was preceded by an analysis of the theories and studies of corruption which had been conducted until then. Since that first effort in 1997, I have conducted studies and correlated the data on a regular basis, and the basic conclusion and insights remain the same: Economic freedom is a major deterrent to corruption.

The 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index and the 2019 Heritage Index of Economic Freedom are no exception. As the chart shows, more economically free countries are also less corrupt. The opposite also holds: countries with the most corrupt leaders and institutions show dismal scores in respect for economic freedom.

For further reading take a look at A Theory of Corruption, coauthored by Acton Research Director Dr. Samuel Gregg and Osvaldo Schenone.

Acton Institute ranks among world’s best in think tank report

Rev. Ben Johnson, Acton Institute

A report on the global impact of think tanks has ranked the Acton Institute among the world’s most influential thought leaders. The University of Pennsylvania released its “2019 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report” on January 31. This year, the annual report – which was “designed to identify and recognize centers of excellence in all the major areas of public policy research” – opened the ratings to all 8,248 think tanks in its database.

The report has recognized the Acton Institute since 2010, and, once again, Acton ranked well in the categories with which it has become most closely identified.

In “Top Social Policy Think Tanks”, the category Acton values most dearly, the report rated the Acton Institute in the top 20 worldwide. This year, the Acton Institute moved up one spot to number 12 – behind the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, but ahead of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI, 14) and the UK-based Civitas (31).

The report ranked the Acton Institute number nine in the world for “Best Advocacy Campaign.” Acton finished in the top 25 globally for “Best Think Tank Conference”, ahead of the Council on Foreign Relations. Despite competition from think tanks with much greater size and funding, the Acton Institute rated in the top third (31) of the “Top U.S. Think Tanks” in 2019 – behind the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER, 25) but ahead of the Pew Research Center (32) and the Economic Policy Institute (35).

The United States has more think tanks than any other single country, with 1,871. India is a distant second, with 509.

Top free-market think tanks outside the United States included the Fraser Institute (Canada, 18), Transparency International (Germany, 20), the Adam Smith Institute (UK, 58), and the F.A. Hayek Foundation (Slovakia, 128).

The report reflects the Acton Institute’s growing recognition as the world’s premier think tank addressing the relationship between markets and ethics, especially within an ecumenical religious context. Your kind donation helps us expand our impact.

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