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The Acton Institute and Puerto Rico: Climate denial and Free Market Fanaticism

October 5, 2017

Over the past 10 days, people are deeply saddened by the devastation occurring in Puerto Rico and are pissed off at the administration’s lack of empathy for those on the island that are suffering.

Groups on all parts of the political spectrum have been weighing in on Puerto Rico, including the Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. In fact, there have been two postings on the Acton website in the past 2 weeks, postings that are worth unpacking.

The first post from September 22nd is entitled, Hurricanes Prove Human Solidarity: The law written on the human heart. The headline sounds encouraging, but the content is not what you think.

The Acton article, written by Steve Stapleton (a financial investment advisor), uses this opportunity to dismiss climate change before he even talks about solidarity. This is consistent with the position that Acton has taken over the years, a position that is essentially one of climate denial.

Last year, a group of US Senators identified 32 organizations in the US that effectively promote climate denial, and among those groups was the Acton Institute. 

In 2007, the Acton Institute brought in a speaker from the Competitive Enterprise Institute to talk about corporate responsibility, but he also talked about how climate change was a hoax.  That same year, the Acton Institute screened a climate denial documentary at the Wealthy Street Theater and it has been know for years that the Acton Institute has been the recipient of funds from ExxonMobil (beginning in 1998) for the specific purpose of publicly denying that climate change is a reality. 

After injecting anti-climate change rhetoric, the author of the Acton article finally gets to the issue of human solidarity. He only spends a few paragraphs talking about human solidarity, but in a very simplistic and vague fashion, without really providing clear examples. Essentially, the author ends up talking about charity, instead of human solidarity. Real solidarity is what is being practiced by those involved in the Mutual Aid Disaster Relief network

Steve Stapleton then quickly shifts gears to talk about how it is not the state’s function to intervene when disasters happen. The author goes as far as to refer to states that do act in the face of disaster as, “the nanny state.” In the end, this article on human solidarity ends up being just another opportunity for the Acton Institute to push its ideological propaganda.

The second article on the Acton Blog, which addresses Puerto Rico and hurricane relief, appeared on September 28 and is entitled, How protectionism is hindering Puerto Rico relief efforts. This article was written by Joe Carter, who is the senior editor at the Acton Institute.

The author’s focus in this article is essentially to point out that government protectionist policies are the problem, specifically the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act. 

While in principle, I would support the repeal of the Jones Act, this alone is not the problem. First, the Acton writer fails to even acknowledge the colonialist history between the US and Puerto Rico. Second, the recent history of neoliberal capitalist changes in Puerto Rico must be acknowledged, which has impacted public education, workers and health care on the island. Lastly, it is absolutely necessary to also expose those who have profited from the austerity measures being imposed on the people of Puerto Rico. The group Hedge Clippers has identified many of the individuals and corporations profiting from the economic policies imposed on the people of Puerto Rico , including the Baupost Group, a Boston-based hedge fund group that hold about a billion dollars of Puerto Rico’s debt

Lastly, the Acton Institute and many other groups, both conservative and liberal, are also practicing a form of white savior politics, by failing to really listen to the voices in Puerto Rico who have been fighting colonialism, economic austerity and are the people on the ground who are involved in the real solidarity work with their people. These people published an important statement on Monday that speaks to what must be done, including a list of demands

Once again, the Acton Institute demonstrates their own brand of arrogant paternalism and their endless quest to promote a free market fanaticism.

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