Jerry Bowyer

I sat down in front of a microphone and an open Skype line recently to engage in a wide ranging discussion with one of the most interesting thinkers in America today, Father Robert Sirico, founder of the Acton Institute. The interview has been divided into two parts. You can read the first part of our chat here.

The take-off point was a remarkable new collection of short documentary films called PovertyCure. To listen to the whole thing click here. Some highlights of the hour-long interview have been transcribed below for your convenience and edited for clarity:

Jerry: “Charity can be selfish, can’t it?”

Fr. Sirico: “Yeah, it can be very self-indulgent.”

Jerry: “Let’s say ‘philanthropy’. I mean, genuine charity is a Christian virtue, but the philanthropy industry can be selfishly structured and selfishly supported.”

Fr. Sirico: “Well, what we look at in PovertyCure in one of the episodes is all of the different elements (especially in international grants and aid) — the NGOs that are involved in the process; we even look at the celebrities and how this comes up every few years where people are saying, “Help us, let’s do this food for Africa,” or the U.N.’s effort to tax all the nations 1% of their GDP, the Millennium Goals project. All of these different things that come up every few years that are part of this whole poverty industry, and how dangerous that is because it distorts all of the incentives and removes the centerpiece of the ladder for the poor to actually climb up out of poverty, because it removes the profit incentive for people to come and invest and train people in a workforce that’s ultimately productive.”

Jerry: “There’s a quote also in that section of PovertyCure, from Sir Bob Geldof: “We need to do something, even if it doesn’t work or help.””

Fr. Sirico: “And then do it over and over again.”

Jerry: “Isn’t that selfishness? ‘I’m trading dollars for smugness.’ If it’s genuinely charity, if it’s genuinely turning out towards someone, and if it’s genuine altruism, then you would look at the effects. Otherwise it’s just incurvatus in se. It’s just another way of building myself up, buying my charity points.”


Jerry Bowyer

Jerry Bowyer is a radio and television talk show host.

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