• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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    blogs.salon.com/0003494
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Max Factored

Why does Max Weber look like he’s sucking on a lemon? Perhaps he’s pondering this:

ln(ui t ) = ?i + ?t + ? ?? · Proti · I? + ? ?? · controli · I? + ? ?? · controli · Proti · I? + ? i t

That, apparently, is the equation devised by a young scholar named Davide Cantoni which supposedly explodes Weber’s famous “Protestant work ethic” thesis. He explains:

Using population ?gures in a dataset comprising 272 cities in the years 1300–1900, I ?nd no effects of Protestantism on economic growth. The ?nding is robust to the inclusion of a variety of controls, and does not appear to depend on data selection or small sample size. In addition, Protestantism has no effect when interacted with other likely determinants of economic development.

Of course, this is far from being the first challenge to Weber’s theory. A cracking 2004 review essay from the New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert observed that:

Almost immediately, “The Protestant Ethic” became a target of criticism, which Weber, alternately aggrieved and irascible, spent years trying to answer…In the century since then, there is hardly a claim made in “The Protestant Ethic,” either about the history of religion or about the history of economics, that hasn’t been challenged; one Weber scholar recently dubbed the ongoing debate “the academic Hundred Years’ War.” The reason that Weber’s essay remains so compelling despite all the controversy is that it isn’t really a work about the past; it’s an allegory about the present.

(Hat tip: Damian Thompson)