Handbook of Economics and Ethics
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Handbook of Economics and Ethics

Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren

The Handbook of Economics and Ethics portrays an understanding of economic methodology in which facts and values, though distinct, are closely interconnected in a variety of ways. From theory building to data collection, and from modelling to policy evaluation, this encyclopaedic Handbook is at the intersection of economics and ethics.
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Chapter 75: Max Weber and the Protestant Work Ethic

Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart


Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart Studies in recent years have revived interest in the impact of values. In particular, comparative work has utilized the newly available range of cross-national survey datasets. Yet the theoretical antecedents of this work are rooted more deeply in political sociology, notably in the controversial claims Max Weber made more than a century ago about the role of religious values in the birth and growth of modern industrial free-market economies. Weber’s argument about the origin of modern capitalism is among the most influential in the history of the social sciences, attracting confirmation and refutation by sociologists, historians, psychologists, economists and anthropologists throughout the twentieth century (Lehman and Roth 1993; Lessnoff 1994; Chalcraft and Harrington 2001; Jones 1997; Swedberg 1998). The central puzzle addressed by Weber concerns why the Industrial Revolution, economic modernization and bourgeois capitalism arose first in the West, and specifically in Protestant and not Catholic Western societies, rather than elsewhere. Weber argued that legal and commercial changes, institutional developments and technological innovations in Europe were insufficient by themselves in providing an adequate explanation. After all, other societies developed banking, credit institutions and legal systems, as well as the foundations of science, mathematics and technology. He noted that the material conditions for capitalism existed in many earlier civilizations, and a merchant class engaged in trade and commerce arose in China, Egypt, India and the classical world well before the Protestant Reformation (Weber [1904] 1992, p. 19). What they lacked, however, Weber believed, was a particular...

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