By Mike Lander on
The suggested reading for this essay is The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) by Max Weber. Calvinist precepts raising the importance of work to a religious duty encouraged the further development of capitalism. Weber’s argument is the inspiration for this essay.
In pre-Reformation Europe there was little incentive to work because there was no incentive in terms of a better lifestyle. Leisure was the only reward. It is precisely the incentive motive which makes the argument against Karl Marx’s Das Kapital (1867).
Calvinists came to accept the moral value in work more than the other Protestant sects and brought this world view to America. In America, their concept flourished particularly among Episcopalians who came to amass great wealth which was greatly disproportionate to their numbers.
The belief is simply that hard work leads to amassing wealth which leads to more wealth and is passed on from generation to generation leading to salvation. This is not to be confused with what is known as greed. Whereas other Protestant sects were more involved with religious practices within their church, Calvinists were more concerned with predestination. They believed that they could control their destiny and that of their children and their children’s children through capitalism by amassing wealth.
There are other important factors in the economic growth of America. Puritan beliefs, our system of competitive exams first introduced by Confucius and in Europe by Bismarck as well as old age pensions, the Progressive Era which broke up some monopolies, the 16th Amendment to the Constitution establishing Congress’s right to impose a federal income tax were among further developments.
This past winter after a serious snowstorm I was gratified to see two teenagers appear at my door with shovels in hand. Naturally, I eagerly paid them to shovel my front walk and told them that this is exactly what they were supposed to do in this situation. There may be hope after all.