Protestant work ethic

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Cover of the original German edition of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

The Protestant work ethic (or the Puritan work ethic) is a concept in theology, sociology, economics and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and diligence as a constant display of a person's salvation in the Christian faith, in contrast to the focus upon religious attendance, confession, and ceremonial sacrament in the Catholic tradition.

The phrase was initially coined in 1904 by Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.[1]

Basis in Protestant theology[edit]

Further information: Grace (Christianity) and Good works

It is argued that Protestants, beginning with Martin Luther, had reconceptualized worldly work as a duty which benefits both the individual and society as a whole. Thus, the Catholic idea of good works was transformed into an obligation to consistently work diligently as a sign of grace. Whereas Catholicism teaches that good works are required of Catholics as a necessary manifestation of the faith they received, and that faith apart from works is dead (James 2:14-26 ) and barren, the Calvinist theologians taught that only those who were predestined (cf. the Calvinist concept of double predestination) to be saved would be saved.

Since it was impossible to know who was predestined, the notion developed that it might be possible to discern that a person was elect (predestined) by observing their way of life. Hard work and frugality, as well as social success and wealth, were thought to be two important consequences of being one of the elect; Protestants were thus attracted to these qualities and supposed to strive for reaching them.

History[edit]

The term was first coined by Max Weber in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, written in 1904–05. The Protestant work ethic is often credited with helping to define the societies of Northern Europe and other countries where Protestantism was common (for example, the Scandinavian countries, Latvia, Estonia, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States of America). Writer Frank Chodorov argued that the Protestant ethic was long considered indispensable for American political figures:

There was a time, in these United States, when a candidate for public office could qualify with the electorate only by fixing his birthplace in or near the "log cabin." He may have acquired a competence, or even a fortune, since then, but it was in the tradition that he must have been born of poor parents and made his way up the ladder by sheer ability, self-reliance, and perseverance in the face of hardship. In short, he had to be "self made." The so-called Protestant Ethic then prevalent held that man was a sturdy and responsible individual, responsible to himself, his society, and his God. Anybody who could not measure up to that standard could not qualify for public office or even popular respect. One who was born "with a silver spoon in his mouth" might be envied, but he could not aspire to public acclaim; he had to live out his life in the seclusion of his own class.[2]

Support[edit]

There has been a revitalization of Weber's interest, including the work of Lawrence Harrison, Samuel P. Huntington, and David Landes. In a New York Times article, published in June 8, 2003, Niall Ferguson pointed that data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) seems to confirm that "the experience of Western Europe in the past quarter-century offers an unexpected confirmation of the Protestant ethic. To put it bluntly, we are witnessing the decline and fall of the Protestant work ethic in Europe. This represents the stunning triumph of secularization in Western Europe -- the simultaneous decline of both Protestantism and its unique work ethic."[3]

Criticism[edit]

The economist Joseph Schumpeter argues that capitalism began in Italy in the 14th century, not in the Protestant areas of Europe.[4] Other factors that further developed the European market economy included the strengthening of property rights and lowering of transaction costs with the decline and monetization of feudalism, and the increase in real wages following the epidemics of bubonic plague.[5]

Becker and Wossmann at the University of Munich have written a discussion paper describing an alternate theory. The abstract to this states that the literacy gap between Protestants (as a result of the Reformation) and Catholics sufficiently explains the economic gaps, and that the "[r]esults hold when we exploit the initial concentric dispersion of the Reformation to use distance to Wittenberg as an instrument for Protestantism."[6] However, they also note that, between Luther (1500) and 1871 Prussia, the limited data available has meant that the period in question is regarded as a "black box" and that only "some cursory discussion and analysis" is possible.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Weber, Max (1905). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. 
  2. ^ Chodorov, Frank. The Radical Rich, Mises Institute
  3. ^ "The World; Why America Outpaces Europe (Clue: The God Factor) - New York Times". NYTimes.com. 2003-06-08. Retrieved 2011-09-19. 
  4. ^ http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/bios/Schumpeter.html
  5. ^ http://www.anderson.ucla.edu/faculty/nico.v/Research/Horsemen.pdf
  6. ^ Becker, Sascha O.; Wößmann, Ludger (2007), Was Weber Wrong? A Human Capital Theory of Protestant Economic History - Munich Discussion Paper No. 2007-7, Munich: Department of Economics University of Munich, retrieved 12 September 2012 
  7. ^ Becker, Sascha O.; Wößmann, Ludger (2007), Was Weber Wrong? A Human Capital Theory of Protestant Economic History - Munich Discussion Paper No. 2007-7, Munich: Department of Economics University of Munich, p. A5 Appendix B, retrieved 12 September 2012 

Further reading[edit]


External links[edit]