Wednesday, January 24, 2024

A Tweet to Ponder: II

My previous post on Catholic economic under-performance in Prussia during the late 19th C got me thinking about confounding factors that could have influenced the disparity.  I mean it may have been possible that the Catholic situation may have come about because the Protestants in Prussia may have rigged the game against them. After all Catholic/Protestant relations were quite hostile for a long time and perhaps, if Catholics had been "left alone", they would have reached or exceeded economic parity.

The problem with this line of thinking is that there is a very easy argument to refute this with and that is the economic situation of the Jews.

Now, in 19C. Prussia, Catholics and Protestants disagreed on many things but one thing that they both seemed to agree on was antisemitism.   And while the antisemitism in Prussia was not the antisemitism of the Nazi party, hostility to the Jews was widespread and many in many higher bourgeoisie environments they were considered declassé and deliberately excluded from them.

The things is that none of these social disadvantages translated to a decline in economic performance. In fact it did the opposite. This paper deals with Germany as a whole but I think that the numbers would be fairly representative of Prussia:

In the early twentieth century, a dense corporate network was created among the large German corporations ("Germany Inc."). About 16% of the members of this corporate network were of Jewish background. At the center of the network (big linkers) about 25% were Jewish. The percentage of Jews in the general population was less than 1% in 1914. [ED]What comparative advantages did the Jewish minority enjoy that enabled them to succeed in the competition for leading positions in the German economy? Three hypotheses are tested: (1) The Jewish economic elite had a better education compared to the non-Jewish members of the network (human capital). (2) Jewish members had a central position in the corporate network, because many of them were engaged in finance and banking. (3) Jewish members created a network of their own that was separate from the overarching corporate network (social capital). The density of this Jewish network was higher than that of the non-Jewish economic elite (embeddedness). Our data do not support any of these hypotheses. The observed correlation between Jewish background and economic success cannot be explained by a higher level of education, a higher level of social capital, or a higher proportion of Jewish managers engaged in (private) banking.
In a footnote in the article, Weber himself is cited with data from the late 19th C which illustrates the extent of disparity among faiths:   

Average capital tax per 1000 persons of each denomination for 1895: Protestants:954,900 Mark; Catholics 589,800 Mark; Jews: 4 Million Mark.
If the economic field was "rigged" against everyone who wasn't Protestant then the Jews had found a way to bypass the system.

The point of this is if we control for economic performance within one country--where we can eliminate the confounding variable of different national economic policy--and religious bias as well, we see that religious differences really do matter when it comes to economic performance.

Finally, its not as if Catholics at the time weren't aware of their economic status. From the Catholic Encylopaedia of 1907.
One important consequence of the Kulturkampf was the earnest endeavour of the Catholics to obtain a greater influence in national and municipal affairs; how weak they formerly were in both respects was clear to them only after the great conflict had begun. These efforts took the name of the Paritätsbewegung, i.e., a struggle for equality of civil recognition. In turn the discussions awakened and fed by this movement soon led to a vigorous self-questioning among the Catholic masses as to the fact of, and the reasons for, their backwardness in academic, literary, and artistic life, also in the large field of economic activities (industry, commerce, etc.). On the other hand, the reconciliation between Church and State made it possible for the Catholics of Germany to participate more earnestly than hitherto in the public life of the Fatherland, in illustration of which we may point to the notable contributions of the Centre party. (1896-1904) to the solution of the great imperial problems of that period.
Now the reason why economic performance matters is because of the relationship of economic power to modernity.  If we consider modernity as being about the material conditions of existence, then those who control the provision of these goods and services will in fact control modernity. The people who control the media will control what is presented on it. The people who invest in technology and infrastructure will control what gets built and where. The people in government will regulate all of it.

The contention of this blog is that the Protestant world was by and large the principal shaper of material world of modernity until about the early 1970's, the Catholic world lived in its shadows and was also shaped by it, and it is its collapse that has ushered in the Negative World.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

There are philosophical issues that may explain why Catholics tended to lag behind others within mixed societies. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, modernity started, and "This had made many Catholic intellectuals and Popes very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move."

Even circa 1900 you get Catholic critics of capitalism (Chesterbelloc; Revum Novarum). You have Belloc questioning whether the industrial revolution was a good thing at all, stating it never would have happened (or would have been slower) without the reformation, and hoping it will collapse so people can become yeoman farmers. There is this big agrarian (or at least low-growth) streak in distributism. There's this whole anti-modernity, anti-capitalism, anti-industry streak in Catholic thought. The anti-modernity theme continues even today, among non-fringe Catholic intellectuals, both "right" and "left". Brad S. Gregory, a currently working Catholic historian at Notre Dame, blames the industrial revolution and secularization and modernity on the reformation. The worlds leading Thomist, Ailasdair MacIntrye, is an ex-Marxist and still hates capitalism. Eugene McCaraher (leftist) and Augusto del Noce (conservative) are other examples. Russel Kirk called automobiles "mechanical Jacobins". Dorothy Day and all these Catholic Worker anarchist farming communes. Lord of the Rings fans.

Being a Catholic, I am less well versed on protestant thinking, but I am not aware of the same themes occurring. They all seem to be on board, intellectual, with one or more vision of modernity. There's left wing mainline protestants who equate the social gospel with a (modern) Nordic style social democratic welfare state, there's fundamentalists who complain about modern social values while supporting (modern) libertarian economics, I'm not sure if there really are protestants who actively despise modernity itself. 100 years ago, these different attitudes may have shaped Catholic and protestant cultures differently.

Anonymous said...

As I understand it, Jews were middleman minorities. You only get to be a middleman minority if you are a small percentage of the population, like 1%. Chinese-Americans and Japanese-Americans (and Jews) are not a "threat" if they get white collar jobs in San Francisco. Black-Americans in Birmingham, Alabama, or Irish-Americans in Boston, are a "threat" if they get white collar jobs, being much larger groups that could start to exercise mass political influence. I have no idea how much persecution Catholics were under in Germany and how it compares to these US examples. It could have been negligible.

Hoyos said...

The thesis of SP is hard to argue on the face of it. We’re all having this conversation in English on devices that are largely a product of the English speaking world, communicated via means pioneered in the English speaking world.

Catholics are willing to accept that the church has not been perfect in practice in every place and every time. Why is the economic question so vexing that it must be explained away?

I think there is still a remnant of bad economic thinking that prevents fully comprehending the issue. As much as I like Chesterbelloc, their understanding of economics was terrible. There is no crime in scripture that I can see that makes men freely exchanging goods and services between each other exploitative. Nor is there a crime in seeking economic betterment. Proverbs in particular seems to me nakedly unashamed of pursuing enjoying material prosperity and even likens spiritual goods to physical ones to show their desirability.

There seems to be a strain in Catholic thinking that views economics as a zero sum game. The rich can only be rich because he took from the poor, saints can never be rich (Job notwithstanding apparently), and a confusion that poor men are spiritually better in general (notwithstanding Solomon in Proverbs who seems to say the safest spiritual harbor is in the middle, the rich man thinking he doesn’t need God and the poor man being tempted to be angry at Him).

The net result of this is paradoxically exploitation in Catholic countries. America had to be taught organized crime by Italians. Throughout South America, poor working men are exploited in ways that would cause outrage in the English speaking and historically Protestant world. If the only way to be rich is through exploitation and you want to be rich, exploit is what you do. The Protestant offers an alternative means “build a better mousetrap”.

This is all a generality of course, but we can’t ignore a general proportional trend.

xxxx said...

Christianity values poverty. Look at the Bible. The parable of the rich man..Blessed are the poor...You cannot serve God and money..If you want to be perfect, give everything to the poor...Isaiah..epistle of James...the guy who put all the grain in the store...if you win the world and lose your soul...and 1000 times more. I am falling asleep and I don't feel like copying and pasting half the Bible.

Catholicism is faithful to this aspect of Scripture. This is why Catholic countries only got rich when they lost the faith.

Calvinism found a workaround. If you are rich, you belong to the elect. So they could abandon Christianity while retaining some of its concepts.

xxxx said...

"The rich can only be rich because he took from the poor, saints can never be rich (Job notwithstanding apparently), and a confusion that poor men are spiritually better in general (notwithstanding Solomon in Proverbs who seems to say the safest spiritual harbor is in the middle, the rich man thinking he doesn’t need God and the poor man being tempted to be angry at Him)."

All exceptions. Most prophets were poor. The Son of Man does not have where to rest. John the Baptist living in extreme poverty. The Apostles leaving all their properties to follow Jesus. The Qohelet saying that wealth is not worthwile. Yes, you have Joseph of Arimatea and some wealthy person mentioned by Paul. But that"s it for the entire New Testament. In the Old Testament, the Kings of Israel and the Queen of Saba.

Hoyos said...

@xxxx The site ate my first comment so here goes, your post is exactly what I’m talking about.

Either Proverbs at least is wrong, although I’d argue you’d have to throw Job in there as well, arguably Philemon, and I can make the case for others, or your interpretation is wrong.

You can’t read into scripture stuff that isn’t there. Poverty is no sin, neither is material good, after all we are not gnostics. And this goes to the heart of the matter for me, was the story of the rich young ruler about poverty or was it about obeying Christ and the danger of riches? Is it what goes into a man that defiles him or what comes out? Careful how you answer.

This is a standard problem, you just word associated poor to mean good in itself and rich to mean bad in itself which is not what the text actually says so far as I can tell, then hand waived verses that don’t support your position. You have to reconcile them.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Anonymous

There's this whole anti-modernity, anti-capitalism, anti-industry streak in Catholic thought.

This is true. The Catholic Church hasn't handled modernity well and instead of looking into itself as to why, it blames modernity for its predicament and not itself. Vatican II was an attempt to deal with modernity--and a belated recognition that the Church was becoming irrelevant to the World-- however the Church's failure to understand the problem within itself hampered its ability to provide an appropriate response.

As for Protestantism's relationship with modernity you first need to define what you mean by modernity. If you mean philosophical modernity there are quite a few strands of that are fiercely opposed to it.

If you mean experiential modernity, i.e. living in a post agrarian society, then Protestantism, I feel, has no problems with it.

As much as I hate to say it, many of the Catholic critics of modernity decry it while living with its benefits. They critique it while drinking clean water, using the computer, eating cheap, healthy refrigerated food while living a level of comfort which which was undreamt of at the end of the 19th Century. I'd have a lot more sympathy for them if they ate their own cooking. i.e. started living like a medieval peasant. The Problem with returning back to the high middle ages is that we would probably have to give up all these things, since the Catholic conception of Holiness results in a disengagement from the world.

As I see it, Protestants work with the world as it is, while the Catholic Church is trying to restore a social order which self-destructed at its peak.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Anon

As I understand it, Jews were middleman minorities.

No. The Prussian voting system gave them disproportional power relative to their population. Prussia was in many ways a very enlightened culture, despite the reputation of it in the anglosphere. It seems to have been a culture that recognised merit despite the background, and though many people REALLY didn't like the Jews, the "rules of the game" let them prosper.

I was flicking through a biography of Bismark the other day and I must admit that I surprised at the level of antisemitism present at the time.

The Social Pathologist said...

@xxxx

Christianity values poverty.

The relationship between Christianity and "poverty" is complex. Get yourself a JSTOR account and read this article.

https://www.jstor.org/stable/44618608?read-now=1&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Chent said...

@Hoyos

Either Proverbs at least is wrong, although I’d argue you’d have to throw Job in there as well, arguably Philemon, and I can make the case for others, or your interpretation is wrong.

You can play this game both ways. Either most lines about poverty in the New Testament are wrong or your interpretation is wrong.

Proverbs is not above the New Testament. Neither is Job, one of the least important books of Scripture. You should read the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament and not the other way around. This is official Catholic doctrine. Other churches do it too.

And this goes to the heart of the matter for me, was the story of the rich young ruler about poverty or was it about obeying Christ and the danger of riches?

There is no danger of poverty in the entire Scripture. Jesus was poor and most prophets and most apostles. In the Gospels and most of New Testament, there is no admonition about poor envying rich people (which is the Tenth commandment). It is always about rich people being selfish.

Is it what goes into a man that defiles him or what comes out? Careful how you answer.

Of course, what comes out of it, as the Gospel verse says. But this is irrelevant for our discussion. Greed is condemned in the New Testament once and again. Envy not so much.

This is a standard problem, you just word associated poor to mean good in itself and rich to mean bad in itself

I have not done that. I have said that Christianity values poverty. I may have expressed myself badly because I was writing on a tablet while falling asleep (It would be better to say that Christianity does not value wealth and see lots of dangers in it, while the poor are praised and defended). Even with my bad expression, this is not what I said. Please, don't do a straw man.

Do you want exaltation of riches and capitalism? Go Joel Osteen and the prosperity Gospel.

When our estimated host, which I have learned a lot from, judges Catholicism and Protestantism, he uses wealth as a measuring stick. It may be that Protestantism is better than Catholicism in producing wealth. I don't know: I think it is more complex than that, but let's accept it.

Ok. Protestantism produces more wealth than Catholicism. So what? This is an extra-biblical and extra-Christian and extra-Catholic measuring stick. You judge Christianity for something Christianity never intended to do. It is like saying Protestantism is better than Catholicism because the King James Version is more beautiful than any Catholic translation, but the point of Christianity is not beauty in translations.

which is not what the text actually says so far as I can tell, then hand waived verses that don’t support your position. You have to reconcile them.

You use Job and Proverbs as if they are the be all and end all of Scripture. There are very secondary books. Even Philemon is one of the most secondary books in the New Testament. Everybody reconciles but you reconcile the main books (the Gospels) in the light of the secondary books. I do it the other way around, the way the Catholic Church does (and most other churches do).

Chent said...

@The Social Pathologist.

The relationship between Christianity and "poverty" is complex. Get yourself a JSTOR account and read this article.

https://www.jstor.org/stable/44618608?read-now=1&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents


I have created a JSTOR account and I am going to read this. But, please take into account that Thomas Aquinas is not recognized as an authority by Protestantism, so it cannot be used in an argument to distinguish between Protestantism and Catholicism.

A Protestant could argue that rejection of Aquinas is what made Protestantism richer. I am not expert in Aquinas but he might have some things about helping the poor which are not good for the wealth accumulation we see in Protestantism.

But I come back when I have read the article.

Michael Dyer said...

@Chent

Not so! If God’s word is God’s word you don’t get to demote and hand wave scripture. God does not contradict Himself.

Again you’re loading extra meaning into passages of the Bible about poverty and turning your nose up at “secondary” books of scripture like they can be ignored whereas I have not done the same. I never said poverty was unrighteousness in fact I said the opposite, and never said wealth was righteousness, in fact I’ve said the opposite. I merely said that riches are not sinful and what’s more I’ll say material prosperity can be a blessing from God, also explicit in the Pentateuch or is that secondary as well?

Plus Solomon, the man God gave wisdom to above all men, is secondary? Who are you that I should listen to you and not Solomon? Also Job is mentioned with Noah and Daniel in Ezekiel 14 as bywords for righteous men but I should listen to you? Refer me to Osteen, and I refer you to Solomon and Job.

And Catholics accuse Protestants of throwing out scripture. I can answer your passages but instead of answering mine you hand wave them as secondary.

Michael Dyer said...

@Chent and another thing I’m not even sure a lot of what you’re saying is even Catholic. I can’t think of a single Catholic writer who would dismiss Solomon and Job out of hand as secondary. And I’m not totally sure you’ve even got the point of the Toledo post. Protestants don’t take care of the poor supposedly that would interfere with wealth accumulation, we just make sure a lot more of their kids survive child birth. And “envy not so much”? It’s mentioned in I Cor. 13 explicitly as something the highest virtue, charity, does not do.

Listen, it’s hard to get tone through text. I mean no disrespect and I’m going to assume none was intended. I reacted to the Osteen dig a little and I am sorry for my intemperance towards you in writing. I am genuinely taking umbrage at the idea that those books of the Bible are secondary IF it means they can be ignored or are somehow less inspired than the rest of the Bible. Again that’s IF. Because if that is what you’re saying, that idea is not Bibljcal or even Catholic so far as I can tell.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Chent

But, please take into account that Thomas Aquinas is not recognized as an authority by Protestantism,

My aim in quoting the article is not to convince any Protestant of my position rather to outline what until recently was the "mainstream" the Catholic position. The idea that Poverty is good, in itself is not a traditional Catholic position and is more a persistent perversion of thought in the Church and one that has gained increasing traction among the "orthodox" elements of the faith, just like the attempt to get rid of the death penalty.

From the article:

"it's one thing to have money; another to love it. Many posses it without loving it; many love it without possessing it."

It's clear that the inordinate love of money is an evil, but what a lot of people don't realise is that that bar for salvation appears to be set higher among those of high privilege. Being poor may cut you a lot more slack with God than being rich, and not because God loves the poor more than He loves the rich but because the poor are far more constrained by their poverty. He's a fair judge.

It would be wrong then to think that having wealth is a curse and then the best course of action is to get rid of everything in order to avoid damnation. Matthew 25:14–30 shuts that option down completely. Rather, wealth is given to some people and they are expected to be good stewards of that money, which as Christ tells us should yield some return.

What worries me is that poverty gospel of the Catholic Church is a bit like the prosperity gospel of some of the protestant. An anti form of the same. Both are wrong.

Ok. Protestantism produces more wealth than Catholicism. So what?

There are two issues at play here.

a) Wealth when used properly confers real world benefits to the poor. Clean water, pure foods, refrigeration and modern medicine are all the products of a "wealthy" world. Poverty, where kids die young, is nothing to laud about. Neither did Aquinas laud that type of poverty.

b) Wealth is proxy marker of owning, or directing, the means of production and therefore is a measure of the influence in the shaping of material modernity. What the economic data shows is that until recently, the Protestants were in control and the Catholics were not.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Michael

I think your point is very valid.

Scripture is a bit like the constitution, it sets the boundaries for Christian belief, and like you, I agree, that you can't ignore bits that are "inconvenient". Scripture clearly states in several instances that God blesses people through wealth. It also allows the death penalty no matter how much the "Gosepl of Life" crowd want to decry it. I allows for war and asserts the existence of Hell. The trick is how to interpret it correctly and I'm not sure that the clergy has always got it right.

While I think Christian belief can develop in such a way that stuff may be "added" it can never be done in such a way that refutes scripture.

Michael Dyer said...

Had a weird thought that seems pertinent, “whoever heard of Protestant organized crime?” I mean it technically exists, kind of, but largely its liturgical milieu where its biggest and strongest in the Christian world. Eastern European, Italian, Irish, Greek, etc. Shows maybe don’t get on the high horse about how sloppy and loose Protestants are. Of course I’m not saying you’re doing the that, the opposite actually. But I think at the least it shows an internal faith reaching outward is more powerful than performing the right rituals, which I think all Christians could agree on.