Main Menu

I agree with the criticisms of the notion of the Protestant work ethic that are included in the criticism section of the Wikipedia entry on it, but I have the following comments

"The concept of a Protestant work ethic neglects the extreme prosperity of Lombardy (as well as the city-states of Genoa and Venice), which was the most prosperous and influential region in Europe in the 15th century, the age of the Renaissance;"

Yes, but I will note that those were very small regions compared to the geographical extent over which the ethic later spread.  I do not think the two situations are comparable, they happened in different times and circumstances, the situations mentioned above happened in an earlier time and were on a smaller scale. 

"and it neglects that Austria was a serious rival to Prussia (though less warlike and unlike Prussia blessed with resources), and that in the Thirty Years' War, the power that primarily supported the Protestant cause against Catholic Austria was Catholic France, which was easily the most powerful state in Europe in the 17th century until Louis XIV exhausted it with a series of wars."

True - and I am not saying that all Catholics are lazy, in fact, what I am saying is that both Austria and France (both of which are Catholic) are in northern Europe and they are colder than southern Europe, in fact all of Austria is cold and all but the very south of France (the Riviera) is cold.  Much more of Spain and Portugal is warm (Spain and Portugal are southwest of France, not west - the French Riviera is at about the same latitude as the very north of Spain). 

"East Asian countries have become prosperous without ever having been Christian at all, with South Korea an exception.  Japan is the most conspicuous example here, but Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the People's Republic of China (at least after Deng Xiaoping) have Confucian values, which puts a strong emphasis on education."

Very true - and it is not necessary to be Christian to be productive, the only issue that I am bringing up is that the Protestant work ethic emphasized work as something to strive for, and the ethic originated in the cold climates of northern Europe. 

"The effective capitalist development of Catholic regions, especially northern Italy, Spain, Bavaria, the Rhineland, and France, is often cited as a counter-argument that geographical, political, and other secular factors were the main drivers for capitalist development, as opposed to Protestantism per se; the driving force in Europe may have been the strengthening of property rights and lowering of transaction costs with the decline and monetization of feudalism, or even the increase in real wages following the epidemics of bubonic plague." 

I agree with all of the above - but I will simply point out that northern Italy is colder, and more productive, than southern Italy, in fact there has even been the sentiment in northern Italy to get rid of southern Italy from the country so that the northerners do not have to subsidize the south anymore (as well as movements in the south to secede because of cultural differences), and
Bavaria, the Rhineland, and France are all in the colder regions that I am referring to as northern Europe (basically, only what is south of the central European alps, which extend into northern Italy, is southern Europe, in general - and from there, the further south one gets, the warmer it gets).  Spain, which is in the list above, is somewhat of an exception (although its unemployment rate has been very high for a long time until fairly recently, and that only changed because Spain joined the European Union, but the unemployment went up again after the property bust there kicked in a few years ago, they also did overbuilding, just like Ireland, and on a more massive scale than in Ireland because the population in Spain is far higher) and I am not going to argue that it does not belong in the list. 

"Modern criticisms of the Protestant work ethic itself, distinct from a deconstruction of the theory, also come from
Anarchist groups, who reject the premise that work for worldly gain is a godly or noble pursuit in and of itself. Writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Samuel Johnson have provided the academic foundations for modern groups, and for the re-birth of The Idler, a British fringe periodical devoted to such criticism." 


I include this reference here only because it shows up in the Wikipedia entry, which is written to address a more general level than the point that I am trying to make.  Of course anarchist groups would not think much of the Protestant work ethic, anarchy and getting anything accomplished are not exactly in sync with each other. 

"Becker and Wossmann at the University of Munich provide an alternate theory, stating that the literacy gap between Protestants (as a result of the Reformation) and Catholics sufficiently explains the economic gaps. The results also hold up when tested for concentric dispersion from Wittenberg." 

I think there is something to this, too - the Catholics, on average, did not become prosperous until relatively modern times.  And I also agree that the results also hold up when tested for concentric dispersion from Wittenberg, which is located SW of Berlin (and ended up in East Germany after W.W.II).  I should know, my background is from Northern Germany, my parents came from there (but from places that ended up in West Germany, but what became northern East Germany is culturally similar), and I have actually been in the Wittenberg area myself after East Germany collapsed (I did a grand tour of the former East Germany over a few days, but could not go into every town, there are simply too many of them, and chose not to actually go into Wittenberg). 

But I think that although the literacy gap that existed early-on between Protestants and Catholics once Protestantism came into existence (and the Bible was translated into the vernacular and made commonly available because of the relatively-newly-invented printing press, it did not hurt that the printing press was invented not tremendously far from where Luther lived, and in another German-speaking place, Mainz, Germany, so it became available to Protestantism relatively soon after its invention, thus facilitating the entire process) was a big factor then, I think the differences in weather between northern and southern Europe (southern Europe is warmer) play a much bigger role these days - it is not just that southern Europe is Catholic (Greece is Eastern Orthodox, for that matter).  I think that in modern times, weather plays more of a role than anything else, except for the situation with Ireland (but because it has an economic system similar to England and America, not because it is Catholic, which it is).