Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cultural Evolution

Can Free Markets Survive In a Secularized World?
The 18th Century English cleric and theologian John Wesley was troubled by a paradox that emerged as his teaching spread. He, like other Protestant thinkers stretching back to Calvin, taught that one could honor God through hard work and thrift. The subsequent burst of industry and frugality generated by Wesley’s message improved the lot of many of his working-class followers and helped advance capitalism in England. But, “wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion,” Wesley observed, and subsequently pride and greed are growing more common, he complained.

The emergence of what Max Weber described as the Protestant ethic represented an important point in the evolution of capitalism because it combined a reverence for hard work with an emphasis on thrift and forthrightness in one’s dealings with others. Where those virtues were most ardently practiced markets advanced and societies prospered. And, as Wesley foresaw, what slowly followed was a rise in materialism and a reverence of wealth for its own sake.


Rick and Gary said...

Ah yes, the Protestant Work Ethic got the ball rolling. There's a great review of Weber at

But capitalism has been rolling on its own steam for a long time and that steam is materialism and advertising-induced anxiety over status and acceptance.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Rick,

This article hit home for me because I believe in free market economics and I believe in integrity. I don’t want money that comes my way if I have to sacrifice my values to succeed.

I didn’t post this because I believe everyone is lazy except believers. I hope that was not your interpretation.

I also believe I have a much better chance to succeed in business when the people I do business with also believe integrity is move valuable than money. Increasingly, I feel like fewer and fewer others share my values. It seems like most people think money is synonymous with success and these people will do whatever it takes to make money.

Buz said...

Yes, capitalism is a delicate balance between personal greed and the societal fear of God (or social ethics, if you prefer).

Greed because it is what drives us to do better and the fear of God because it is what keeps us from stepping on others as we try to do better.

Or as Paul Harvey always says, "self government with out self discipline will not work".


David M. Smith said...

Very true, Buz.

Buz said...

Zowie ... the Stimulus Bill has passed, I can now quit my job and just let the govt. take care of me ...

Womb to the tomb ...

Although that womb part may be a little risky if they pass the FOCA.


Buz said...

Heard a quote today ... the person quoting it said it was Ben Franklin, but I have heard it attributed to Jefferson, and a couple of others, so I am not sure ...

It was, "we have written a Constitution for an ethical people," implying that if the people were not ethical, it would mean nothing. I think we are finding that out.