Religion & Liberty Online

The Acton Institute holds top-ranked conference among free-market think tanks: Forbes

As we noted on this blog last month, an independent report has ranked the Acton Institute among the world’s elite think tanks. An analyst at Forbes magazine has narrowed the focus and found that our annual Acton University rated as the highest-rated conference put on by “organizations that favor the free economy.”

The University of Pennsylvania released its “2020 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report” on January 28. “[D]espite certain weaknesses,” this publication – produced by James G. McGann, director of the Lauder Institute’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) at the University of Pennsylvania – “is the only effort to track and quantify the work of think tanks around the globe,” writes Alejandro Chafuen.

Chafuen – who came to serve as Managing Director, International, at Acton Institute after decades in the think tank space – frequently writes on the ways think tanks impact the economic policy conversation. In the premier financial magazine, he notes the sheer number of institutions jockeying to make their perspectives heard:

There are more than 8,200 think tanks in the TTCSP database. Although almost 45,000 people are invited to fill the survey, just under 4,000 complete at least part of it. Voters include university faculty and administrators, journalists, policy makers, think tank players, and donors. Given the large number of think tanks listed in the main report, in my rankings I focus just on organizations that favor the free economy. This is the sector where I work and that I know best.

Competing against other free-market think tanks – many of which enjoy far greater funding – the Acton Institute performs remarkably well, as his analysis shows:

How do free-market think tanks fare in different categories? In Table 2 I include the leading free-market think tanks in 20 categories. There are many other categories, but free-market think tanks sometimes do not appear in them.

“For those who work in policy research and advocacy centers, think tanks matter,” writes Chafuen, “and thus high rankings or mentions in the Index are important.”

Chafuen fleshes out and humanizes the report’s process by presenting video of the proceedings, which are usually closed to the public under Chatham House rules. He also acknowledges the failures of think tanks to accurately predict Brexit, former President Donald Trump, and the global rise of populism. The antidote, he writes, lies in the advice of New York Times reporter David Sanger, “who cautioned think tanks not to fall into the trap of speaking to themselves”; “to pay attention to ‘we the people’ and not just to elites.”

Over the years, Acton University’s week-long program has immersed more than 8,000 of the most influential leaders across numerous disciplines in the principles of a free and virtuous society. We’re grateful this report underscores the quality of this intensive labor of love and hope it will convince even more leaders of tomorrow (and today) to take part. The best remedy for the bankruptcy of the elites is replacing them with those citizens whom Thomas Jefferson called the “natural aristocracy” of “virtue and talents.”

You can see how the Acton Institute compared in all five categories in which we were honored in this year’s report here. You can read his full article here.

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson (@therightswriter) is an Eastern Orthodox priest and served as Executive Editor of the Acton Institute (2016-2021), editing Religion & Liberty, the Powerblog, and its transatlantic website. He has extensively researched the Alt-Right. Previously, he worked for LifeSiteNews and, where he wrote three books including Party of Defeat (with David Horowitz, 2008). His work has appeared at, National Review, The American Spectator, The Guardian, Daily Caller, National Catholic Register, Spectator USA, FEE Online, RealClear Policy, The Blaze, The Stream, American Greatness, Aleteia, Providence Magazine, Charisma, Jewish World Review, Human Events, Intellectual Takeout,, Issues & Insights, The Conservative,, and The American Orthodox Institute. His personal websites are and His views are his own.