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February 05, 2007



I thought education levels had little influence on GDP?


Why not consider that enabling people to come to their own conclusions (about the bible) unleashed a wave of innovation and a different way of thinking about the world?

This attitude is more important than what passes for education today.



Will Davies

If this is what the paper argues (apologies, but I haven't read it), they've misunderstood Weber quite significantly. What Weber was seeking to understand is what would drive people to accumulate capital in the first place, a question Marx didn't address directly. Or to take the question a stage further - why would people ever choose to earn more money than they spent? To which his famous answer was: because of the asceticism of protestant religion, which preached work as a higher good than pleasure.

But there's no causality at work in this. Weber was not arguing that protestantism creates growth or anything as crude as that. The title of Weber's book is The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. What Weber was seeking was some tentative account of the psychology that might drive the capitalist, and where it had emerged from. His method is not a crude x leads to y, but a more speculative one, of seeking to understand the ideas and mentalities at work in the way the modern world is produced and governed.


I'd rather agree with Will's comment above. Weber was trying to establish whether and to what extent protestantism influenced the formation of the capitalist work ethic, the essence of (which for him) lay in the idea that work *per se* was a virtue. Because this was irrational from the point of individual utility, it was this that Weber thought required special explanation. It wasn't that the idea of work as an ascetic tool didn't exist prior to the Reformation - it was just that in Catholicism, the more the spirit of asceticism gripped an individual, the further it drove them into the cloister.

I did my honours dissertation on the PE thesis, which was a mistake. The key problem is a lack of evidence, at least for the period and country I was looking at. Will is right to say that Weber aimed to produce a psychological account of the influence of Calvinistic 'salvation panic' on economic behaviour and therein lies the problem. Entrepreneurs tend not to record their religious speculations.

a very public sociologist

Very, very interesting. I think I'll have to read the paper myself before I fully make my mind up but thought provoking nonetheless.

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