The Almighty and the Dollar

Economics is often portrayed as the most imperial of these social sciences. That, however, has never stopped scholars, including economists, from contributing to negotiations on the relationship between faith and economics. Nor has it inhibited them from writing huge tomes about faith’s role in capitalism’s development.
This line of question is associated with Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. What is common about most such texts is their endeavor to establish some causation between particular religious faiths along with also the advent of the most transformative economic system in history.
I’ve long been skeptical about such endeavors. It is notoriously tough to establish linkages between specific theological positions (which often turn out to be misrepresentations, or even caricatures) and specific economic thoughts, institutional forms, or expressions of economic culture. For each claim that a specific religious entity, ethic, or guess provided the crucial component or a”decisive” impetus for the development of capitalism, then there are loads of counter-examples. The Industrial Revolution first occurred in Britain, a Protestant nation. Yet the second nation to move down the path of industrial capitalism has been Belgium, closely accompanied by the Rhineland and Silesia from Germany, and then northern France–most of Catholic regions not especially known for the influence of Puritan ethics which Weber recognized as playing a critical role in capitalism’s development.
Thus far, it has proved hard to get beyond broad generalities within this area. There is a case to indicate that Judaism and Christianity’s conception of God as a rational being, their de-divinization of their pure universe, linear view of history, anxiety on free option, and confidence in reason’s capacity to know reality eventually shifted people’s understanding of themselves and their connection to the content world in a way that enhanced economic productivity. That, nevertheless, is a far cry from being able to state with confidence that, absent specific Christian or Jewish thoughts or doctrinal places, post-Enlightenment economics would have been very different.
Even establishing firm associations between an individual’s religious beliefs and his economic views isn’t a very simple matter. Quite a few things help form our views of many topics. Thus, to state that an individual’s religious faith or background explains why she prefers free markets within socialism or vice-versa is a perilous practice, provided all of the additional dynamics (household setting, education, political beliefs, self-interest, employment experience, philosophical obligations, etc.) likely to be on the job. In the event the linkage between special religious beliefs and certain economic places was so clear, why is it that individuals who cleave closely into the very same doctrinal teachings often end up advocating very different economic rankings?
Then there are disagreements that religious beliefs exert influence on people’s economic thoughts without them knowing it. Perhaps they’re doing. But I have yet to see anyone studying these concerns get beyond cautious, hyper-qualified conjectures–or, more often, raw assertions.
Predestined and Enlightened
The extensive name is misleading, as the Harvard political economist’s focus is mostly on various civic doctrines and confessions and also the way in which he believes they shaped specific economic thoughts from Britain, colonial America, along with the USA.
Friedman starts with Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, which he presents in the context of these philosophical ideas on the job at the late-17th and 18th centuries. But he situates Smith’s intellectual revolution against a background of religious beliefs and debates which had flowed from the Reformation and continued to spark controversies over forthcoming centuries throughout Europe. The doctrine of predestination supposes a central location . After describing its origins in Scripture and the theology of characters like Augustine, Friedman traces how predestination acquired specific kind in John Calvin’s labour and the manners that Calvinist remedies of the topic slowly worked their way during the religious landscape of the British Isles.
The Enlightenment strain on improvement was not always regarded as in conflict with regular Calvinist happens on predestination.Friedman’s reflections on the development of Smith’s economic thought and its connection to philosophical movements of the time are more solidly grounded than his account of related theological developments. Friedman argues, for example, that the major innovations in economic idea pioneered by Smith owed much to some fading of the more conventional Calvinist rankings on predestination which had hitherto reinforced (presumably) fatalistic and pessimistic views in truth. A waning of such views, we’re advised, opened the doorway to greater confidence about humanity’s potential to shape the world through the emerging social sciences.
Section of this evaporating which Friedman has in mind revealed the religious setting surrounding highly-educated 18th-century Scots like Smith. This was a world Where the dominant Moderate Party faction of the Church of Scotland, led by Presbyterian clerics like Rev. Francis Hutcheson (Smith’s coach at Glasgow University), Rev. William Robertson, and Rev. Hugh Blair, moved away, by Friedman’s account, from orthodox Reform accounts of predestination.
Hutcheson and Blair certainly articulated a positive view of humankind and our capability for merit. But this did not signify that there was an enormous gap between their views about predestination and people that were comparatively regular among Presbyterian and Reform clergy and theologians during 18th-century Northern Europe.
Nor is it clear that a number of people who belonged to the Church of Scotland’s more richly orthodox wing (called the Popular Party) who held stricter visions of predestination were always closed, let alone hostile, into the new learning connected with the Scottish Enlightenment. There is no proof, by way of example, which Rev. John Witherspoon, the dominant Popular Party leader and eventual signer of the Declaration of Independencehad any difficulty swallowing or accepting the crucial economic messages of books like the abundance of Nations. Presbyterian clergy like Witherspoon, in his capacity as President of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), created a point of incorporating Scottish Enlightenment emphases and texts into their reforms of college curricula throughout colonial America. In these scenarios, the Enlightenment strain on improvement was not regarded as in conflict with regular Calvinist requires on predestination.
American Religion, American Economics, American Politics
Section of Friedman’s argument is that the disappearing of orthodox Calvinist predestination doctrines made more space for the types of outlooks which were amenable to economic originality and growth.
Protestant clergy, Friedman notes, reflected upon and wrote a terrific deal about economics from 19th-century America. Of the 181 founding members of the American Economic Association, 23 were ministers of various Protestant churches. Friedman also states that doctrines around predestination do not appear to have played a significant role in fostering their economic idea. This much is true. But did that absence of attention to predestination donate, as Friedman asserts, to more positive views about the capacity of economics to improve the world? If this is the case, exactly how did that happen? Yet more, purposeful causation isn’t established.
The previous portion of Friedman’s book explores why adherents of special Protestant confessions have supported economic policies ranging from people connected with the Social Gospel movement into the fiscal conservatism that began its rise to prominence to the American right from the 1960s. Friedman focuses on the political tastes of those Americans who (at least nominally) belong to various faiths and their views about the state’s economic role and whether people are able to get socially and economically cell through their unique efforts.
Among other matters, Friedman argues that Evangelical customs of favoring voluntary and associational solutions to social and economic problems help to spell out the small-government views and conservative-leaning voting patterns of the section of America’s inhabitants. Again, I’d suggestwe can always say,”Well, perhaps.”
Yes, such customs exist. Perhaps they did surfaced American Evangelicals to favor bigger government and less economic intervention about the state’s part. But how can we assess that? What about the burden of different elements which might have been on the job? Perhaps Evangelicals were just, like most Americans of all faiths and none, profoundly unimpressed by the social and economic outcomes of the New Deal and Great Society. Could it be that some Evangelical leaders invited members of the churches to support fiscally conservative policies as part of a implied bargain with different groups to construct a political movement which would also promote aims closer to their hearts like rolling back Roe v. Wade, protecting religious liberty, or beating atheistic communism?
The brief answer to those and similar questions is perhaps, or perhaps not. In short, despite Friedman’s finest attempts, we do not appear to be getting any closer to the reality of such matters. Attempts to estimate faith’s role vis-à-vis economic thoughts, tastes, and practices too often confuse correlation with causation, or just progress hard-to-prove along with easy-to-dispute hypotheses. Our understanding of how religious beliefs, doctrines, institutions, and customs shape economic life and thoughts consequently remains delicate, tentative, and profoundly driven by speculation and ideology as opposed to compelling proof.