In Box

Godly Business

The end of the Protestant work ethic.

In 1905, German sociologist Max Weber published his landmark work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, and no one has looked at religion or economics quite the same since. Weber's revolutionary thesis was that the Calvinist emphasis on worldly success drove Protestant countries to industrialize and reach higher standards of living, surpassing Catholic countries, whose citizens tended to focus on the hereafter.

Weber's ideas have been controversial from their birth. But only today do we have the tools to assess whether they were empirically true. To test his theories, I crunched the numbers, looking at population growth in 272 cities in the German-speaking world between 1300 and 1900. Economic historians have long argued that such growth is a useful indicator of a city's economic conditions; only cities with a productive labor force and good institutions expand over time. But according to my research, there were no differences in the growth of German-speaking Protestant and Catholic cities in the centuries before Weber published his famous book. The much-vaunted Protestant work ethic didn't seem to have made any difference.

Was Weber wrong about everything? Not necessarily. But the idea that modern-day capitalism evolved simply because some states or cities adopted Protestantism seems less likely when you remove the empirical backing. Some argue, for instance, that the spread of Protestantism in regions like Latin America and Africa today could fuel a dramatic economic boom. The boom could certainly occur. But it will be hard to argue that religious ideology has anything to do with it.

HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

In Box

Epiphanies: Paulo Coelho

One of the world's most popular novelists, Coelho has sold more than 100 million books in 150-plus countries. He spoke with FP about growing up in Brazil, the importance of artists today, and how to sell novels in Africa.

Since I was a young teenager, my dream was to be a writer. But of course, first your parents tell you it is impossible, then they say you are never going to make a living out of it. And in my case, they went even further: They put me in a mental institution when I was just 18 or 19, I don't remember. Three times.


Everybody is a political writer, even if he writes about plants. You cannot avoid being political. The fact that you speak out or that you are silent is a political act -- silence is also political.


What gives us a lot of hope is that, in a moment when all bridges are collapsing -- economic bridges, political bridges -- when it seems that people don't understand each other, at least they understand the story. At least they understand the music. At least they understand the ballet. So art, somehow, is one of the few bridges left intact in a moment that we still need communication between different cultures.


Every writer wants to be read. But there are limitations due to price and to distribution. You cannot be all over Africa because there are some places they don't even have bookstores. But, funny enough, they have the Internet! It is unbelievable. So I post all my books for free on the Internet, and people can download them. If they like it, they are going to pay. You have to trust people.

JOSEPH CIARDIELLO FOR FP