The Acton Institute was founded in 1990 in Grand Rapids, Michigan by Robert A. Sirico and Kris Alan Mauren. It is named after the English historian, politician and writer Lord Acton, who is popularly associated with the dictum "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". Sirico and Mauren were concerned that many religious people were ignorant of economic realities, and that many economists and businessmen were insufficiently grounded in religious principles. Sirico explains the essential link between economics and religion with reference to the institute's namesake:
Acton realized that economic freedom is essential to creating an environment in which religious freedom can flourish. But he also knew that the market can function only when people behave morally. So, faith and freedom must go hand in hand. As he put it, "Liberty is the condition which makes it easy for conscience to govern".
The release in 1991 of the papal encyclicalCentesimus annus buoyed the institute at a critical time. The document provided, a year after Acton's founding, established support for the institute's economic personalism and defense of capitalism. Robert Sirico said at the time that it constituted a "vindication".
In 2002, the Institute opened a Rome office, Istituto Acton, to carry out Acton's mission abroad. In 2004, the Institute was given the Templeton Freedom Award for its "extensive body of work on the moral defense of the free market". In 2012, the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania included Acton in its list of the top 50 think tanks in the United States.
The Acton Institute is a member of the State Policy Network, a network of free-market oriented think tanks in the United States.
The Acton Institute has built a network of international affiliations including Centro Interdisciplinar de Ética e Economia Personalista, Brazil, Europa Institut, Austria, Institute for the Study of Human Dignity and Economic Freedom, Zambia and Instituto Acton Argentina Organization.
Research and publications
From its guiding principles and economic research, the institute publishes books, papers, and periodicals, and maintains a media outreach effort.
Quarterly publication which covers the interworking of liberty and morality: contains interviews, book reviews, scholarly essays, brief biographies of central thinkers, and discussions of important topics.
The Samaritan Guide:
Through 2008, the institute gave an annual Samaritan Award to a "highly successful, privately funded charity whose work is direct, personal, and accountable". The Samaritan Guide was produced to encourage effective charitable giving by establishing a rating system for charities considered for the Samaritan Award.
The bimonthly newsletter of the Acton Institute; contains reports of projects and goings on at the institute.
The Acton PowerBlog:
Since April 2005 the institute has provided a synthesis of religion and economics on its blog.
Films produced by the Acton Institute include The Call of the Entrepreneur (2007) and Poverty, Inc. (2014), which won a 2014 Templeton Freedom Award from the Atlas Network.Poverty Inc. is part of the Acton Institute's PovertyCure initiative, which seeks to create solutions to poverty by "moving efforts from aid to enterprise and from paternalism to partnerships."
Besides Sirico, notable scholars associated with the institute include Anthony Bradley, Jordan Ballor, Stephen Grabill, Michael Matheson Miller,Marvin Olasky, Kevin Schmiesing, and Jonathan Witt. The institute's director of research is Samuel Gregg, author of the prize-winning book The Commercial Society.Andreas Widmer is a research fellow in entrepreneurship for the research department.