In Civilization Niall Ferguson argues that the Protestant work ethic was the engine behind the growth of modern day capitalism and that it even fuelled the industrial revolution.

Ferguson goes on:

"If you were a wealthy industrialist living in Europe in the late nineteenth century there was a disproportionate chance you were a protestant.

Since the reformation, which had let many northern European states to break away from the Catholic church, there had been a shift of economic power away from Catholic countries like Austria, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain towards Protestant ones such as England, Holland, Prussia, Saxony and Scotland.

It seemed as if the forms of faith and ways of worship were in some way correlated with peoples economic fortunes.

Whereas other religions linked holiness to the renunciation of material things - hermits in caves, monks in cloisters, the Protestant ethic saw industry as the new form of godliness"

Do you think there is any truth in this?

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I think western capitalism/industry happened in spite of and not because of any religious views. Free trade and markets would have evolved naturally with or without prayers and genuflections to Jesus.   



Watch the fascinating video Guns, Germs, and Steel (streamable on Netflix and Youtube). It's based on a book of the same name by Geography professor Jared Diamond.

The book attempts to explain why Eurasian civilizations (including North Africa) have survived and conquered others, while arguing against the idea that Eurasian hegemony is due to any form of Eurasian intellectual, moral or inherent genetic superiority.

Diamond argues that the gaps in power and technology between human societies originate in environmental differences, which are amplified by various positive feedback loops. When cultural or genetic differences have favored Eurasians (for example, written language or the development among Eurasians of resistance to endemic diseases), he asserts that these advantages occurred because of the influence of geography on societies and cultures, and were not inherent in the Eurasian genomes. (Wikipedia)

I'll check that out, thanks!

Hmm.  Not sure if I entirely agree with that in detail.

Certainly (to take one example) the industrial revolution could not have begun in a place where coal and iron weren't close together, or at least on the same river with no cataracts in between.  People like to bring up Hong Kong as an example of a place with no such resources (ignoring the harbor, which is also a kind of resource) but which prospered anyway, as if it refutes a claim that resources are necessary to become wealthy.  Well perhaps they are right... today.  I believe, though, that Hong Kong could only have prospered once someone else had an industrial revolution.

But I think it is important not to ignore the other half of the equation; someone had to be smart enough, modivated enough, and free, to put the pieces together, and that is where cultural factors come in.  Without him or her, the resources are useless, without the resources, he/she is useless.

Hong Kong could only have prospered once someone else had an industrial revolution.

The rest of the world copied the west's industrial revolution, starting with textiles and moving upwards. Japan for example copied the west in everything from naval military tactics to clothing (the three piece suit etc) thus becoming the first non-western superpower (post 1900). 


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