Max Weber was wrong: greed does not make capitalism thrive, it ruins it


My friend Greg Forster has written a thought-provoking article on the humane roots and recent corruption of capitalism. I recommend this as well worth reading. Here’s the first bit, to whet your appetite:

Last week John Starke wrote for TGC about “The Myth of the Protestant Work Ethic.” I’m grateful to Starke for exposing the egregious theological errors in Max Weber‘s theory of capitalism’s origins. But Weber’s theory of what happened next, the “cultural contradictions of capitalism” thesis, has done just as much damage. Christians ought to understand how Weber’s view of capitalism undermines the moral foundations of a humane and genuinely productive economy, promoting materialism, greed, faith/work dualism, debt, and crony capitalism.

Weber’s argument goes something like this: Teaching people to view productive work as a calling from God somehow (Weber is ambiguous about how) caused people to think their calling from God was to accumulate wealth for its own sake. Quickly, capitalism abandoned its Protestant foundations and became simply about the profit motive. This turned out to be an even more successful basis for the economic system, because it drove businesses to ruthlessly rationalize their operations to maximize profit. Thus we now live in a dehumanizing “iron cage” where every aspect of our daily work, down to the tiniest details, is controlled by the profit imperative.

I understand why many people find this account plausible. Recent events have made it clear that the spirit of greed predominates in some of our most prominent companies. In one part of the economy, the financial sector, greed seems to have spread beyond individual companies to become a systemic problem. And the iron cage resonates with many people unable to see how jobs on factory lines could be humanizing.

But does our greed problem really come from where Weber says it does? And is there really an iron cage?

You can read the rest here.

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