CHARITY-ACTON Dec-4-2008 (840 words) xxxi
Charity is necessary for happiness, speakers say at Rome conference
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
ROME (CNS) -- Even at a time of global financial crisis, human beings need to give charity in order to be happy, said several speakers at a Rome conference on philanthropy and human rights.
Expecting a government to provide all social services and assistance robs those who are economically stable of the opportunity to help others and risks being inefficient, cold and even immoral, said the speakers at the Dec. 3 conference sponsored by the Michigan-based Acton Institute and the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.
Father Robert A. Sirico, co-founder of the Acton Institute, said, "The market economy is not only the most efficient system to produce and distribute goods and services; it is also the system most respectful of our God-given creative freedom and which allows us to meet the basic needs of our brothers and sisters."
Father Sirico was the only speaker at the conference -- which included Catholic thinkers who have long praised the potential of the free-market economy -- to speak directly about the current crisis.
"It would seem to be a difficult time for those of us who have committed our livelihoods to defending this cause" -- the cause of economic liberty, Father Sirico said.
Yet in an interview after his speech, the priest said he was convinced that it was not the market economy and a lack of government regulation that led to the crisis. Rather, he said, a significant trigger was government interference in the mortgage finance agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
"These were not market phenomena; these were government interventions that guaranteed -- in the service of a good cause -- the availability of housing" for people who did not have the credit rating usually necessary for obtaining a mortgage, he said.
The government's interventions removed the incentives the mortgage companies needed to loan money only to people who could repay them, he said.
Father Sirico was opposed to the government easing access to mortgages, and said he also is opposed to the proposed government bailouts of the financial institutions and other key industries.
"If we outlaw failure, we outlaw success, we outlaw prudence, we outlaw temperance," he said.
Whether or not the government intervenes, he said, "there will be disaster."
The government bailout will have to be paid by someone, either those alive and trying to work today or those who will enter the job market and start paying taxes in the future, Father Sirico said.
In his address to the conference, the priest said that "economic freedom is necessary for the right understanding and flourishing of Christian charity," because in order to be generous people must be able to create wealth so that they can give.
Arthur Brooks, a professor of business and government policy who will become president of the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, Jan. 1, told the conference he has studied the relationship of generosity, happiness and productivity.
When he started out, he said, he believed that good acts are rewarded; "I just didn't believe they are rewarded on earth."
But what he found, he said, was that "when people give they get happier, and when they get happier, they are more productive and become richer."
Brooks told his audience, "You can be happier by injecting greater charity into your lifestyle."
The professor said he knows many people believe that if the government did its job in providing for the needs of its citizens there would be no need for charity. However, he said, "people need to give. The day we do not need to give is the day we get sadder and poorer."
"Charitable giving is not just a good investment; it is also a patriotic act because it creates jobs, it creates tax revenues, it creates general prosperity," he said.
Michael Novak, director of social and political studies at the American Enterprise Institute, told the conference that social justice is not a government program, but a virtue that motivates individual actions and the efforts of people who join together in families, parishes, organizations and foundations to serve others.
"These are the activities that both raise the level of the common good and add to it a human touch -- person-to-person contact -- both in humble ways and in grand," he said.
Novak said governments cannot bring about social justice because government handouts induce dependency and tend to limit freedom, sometimes becoming immoral, as in the case of mandating that hospitals receiving government money provide abortions or that adoption agencies allow gay couples to adopt children.
Mary Ann Glendon, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, spoke of the partnership of U.S. governmental and private philanthropies -- particularly faith-based groups -- in meeting the needs of the poor, the sick and those struck by natural disasters.
Charity "exerts its transformative influence" on both givers and receivers, she said. "When charity is reduced to social service, its recipients are reduced to 'problems' rather than persons whose dignity must be respected."
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