The Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, a think-tank that promotes the union of religion and free-market economic ideology, recently announced that it won an award for its use of the “power of the popular media to challenge common beliefs about how to alleviate poverty.” The award–honoring the Acton Institute’s so-called “Free Market Solutions to Poverty”–praised the Acton Institute’s “Connecting Good Intentions to Sound Economics Advertising Campaign” which used documentaries, short films, public service announcements, print ads, and other media to promote the idea that “good intentions alone will not help the world’s poor.”
The advertising campaign highlights the Acton Institute’s core belief that markets, not government assistance, promote liberty and social justice. The advertisements, complete with the tagline “Don’t Just Care. Think.,” were produced as a response to the “One Campaign” that Acton claims is an advocate of “a large government role in solving extreme poverty and AIDS (source).” The Acton Institute asserts that the solution to these problems should be addressed by individuals and not the government. Acton argues that individuals have the responsibility to address these problems, particularly those in the local area because governments are too distant and removed. It claims that many anti-poverty campaigns harm the poor, including programs aimed at debt forgiveness. To this end, Acton absolves governments of responsibility and ignores the systemic nature of issues such as poverty and hunger, instead advocating the idea that markets and individual concern will address social problems. Included in Acton’s efforts is the idea that charities–not governments–are better equipped to deal with social problems, with Acton recommending charities with whom concerned individuals can get involved. This is consistent with the laissez-faire approach advocated by the Acton Institute, which has included opposition to raises in the minimum wage, support for global warming deniers, and other efforts advocating free market solutions.
The award was given to the Acton Institute by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, another rightwing think-tank designed to promote “free market” ideas by providing support to free-market think-tanks. This work has included distributing more than $20 million in grants to think-tanks around the world since its founding in 1981. Part of this work has been Atlas’ annual Templeton Freedom Awards, which give monetary awards to think-tanks promoting free market ideas. Aside from the Acton Institute, the only United States-based recipient of a Templeton Freedom Award this year was the Property and Environment Research Center, which promotes the idea that the free market protect the environment better than governments.
Like the Acton Institute, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation’s “free market” advocacy work has garnered corporate supporters, with Atlas receiving $680,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998, as well as receiving $475,000 in 1995 from Phillip Morris. The Acton Institute itself has received $160,000 from ExxonMobil. The Acton Institute and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation share board members, with Atlas staffer Dr. Alejandro A. Chafuen sitting on the Acton Institute’s Board of Directors and staffer Dr. Leonard P. Liggio sitting on Acton’s Board of Advisors. The Acton Institute previously won awards from the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in 2005 and 2004 for their “Toward a Free and Virtuous Society” conferences and their “extensive body of work on the moral defense of the free market.”