It feels good to see Bill Cosby taken down. There are few people more deserving of it. For years, he has been acting self-righteous in judging others. He was the great conservative icon and father figure who was supposed to represent all that is good about the American Dream, a black man who rose up out of poverty. As part of the supposed meritocracy, he took it as his right and obligation to condemn those he left behind in poverty.
His life and popular television show expressed the social conservative values of hard work and family values. He was America’s dad, as the media liked to proclaim. Now he has fallen from grace or rather his true face has been revealed. But this is nothing new, as it follows an old pattern: Catholic priests molesting children and gay-bashing fundy preachers being caught in gay sex, Rudy Giuliani’s philandering and Donald Trump’s everything. These people aren’t aberrations to the norm and exceptions to the rule, aren’t failures of social conservatism (also, keep in mind this conservatism was never limited to the GOP, as Barack Obama no different than Cosby — both Democrats, of course — loved to bash poor blacks because of their supposed laziness and general inferiority; and don’t forget the racist dog whistle politics of our first black president, by which I mean Bill Clinton). Their two-faced morality is the norm and rule. These great men of power and celebrity, these authoritative voices and leaders represent what it meant for conservatives to have won the culture wars, and for a long time conservatives felt high and mighty, though it turned out to have been a temporary and hollow victory.
The moral depravity we’ve seen again and again is what social conservatism has always been about, alpha male authority figures swinging their dicks around (something George Carlin liked to ridicule). Deep down, conservative family values equates to the reactionary authoritarianism of patriarchy. The family, as with the rest of society, is supposed to submit to the wise father figure who knows what’s best for us and no one should be allowed to challenge him or talk back. The morality of the patriarchy was justified by power and privilege, rather than power and privilege being justified by morality. It’s the reason anti-choice activism is motivated by social control, not saving innocent lives considering conservative policies worsen women’s health and the abortion rate. Real world results that hurt actual people are irrelevant. Rich male conservatives, supported by their dick-sucking followers, always knew they were right because they felt righteous — they were in a position to force their views on others and to silence their critics, as they silenced their victims. The blatant hypocrisy of it all rubs salt into the wound.
Donald Trump was elected for the very reason that he embodies everything that the Republican Party has become. His moral depravity isn’t a minor detail overlooked by social conservatives such as evangelicals. It is precisely why they love and worship him. The more he flaunts his immoral egotism, the more his fans go wild. He shows no shame and that is taken as an inspiring example of how pure power will put feminists and liberals back in their place. The difference with Bill Cosby is that he pretended to have been different, using his claim as a moral exemplar to justify his being a moral scold. But now it has been revealed there never was any difference. Cosby and Trump are the same patriarchal archetype, proving right everything feminists have said for generations. This is what it means to make America great again, the patriarchy coming back out of hiding and damn! is it ugly when seen in the glare of open scrutiny.
Many social conservatives have stopped pretending anymore and instead have embraced this moral depravity as a point of pride, in the hope of demonstrating how much influence they still have. Trump defies all social norms of moral behavior and appears untouchable. No one can tell him what to do, just like it was in the good ol’ days when every man was supposedly a king in his own castle. But that arrogance is changing, demonstrated by the taking down of Bill Cosby. In his attacking poor blacks as being morally inferior, it should be noted that it was the rich black guy who was drugging and raping women. It turns out that wealth, ambition, and success aren’t signs from God that you are one of the divine elect. Maybe the same morality that applies to the rest of us also applies to the rich and powerful. Maybe they aren’t above the law, after all. Maybe they aren’t untouchable.
Here is my simple prayer. May Bill Cosby rot in prison and die in shame. And may the likes of Donald Trump be next for the chopping block. As for women and all others who are also rich and powerful assholes in both political parties, whether serving the patriarchy or pretending not to, we will be coming for you soon. Be patient. The moral arc of history is bending back around.
* * *
My criticisms here aren’t a response to mere moral failure. Most of us to varying degrees fail our own stated moral standards. But there is a difference. Not all of us hold ourselves up as morally righteous and superior to our fellow humans. Moral failure is commonplace, although the levels of moral failure seen with the likes of Bill Cosby exist on an entirely different sphere of outright moral depravity. That is the difference that makes a difference. Cosby’s outward righteousness was precisely correlated to his hidden depravity.
Let me share a comparable example, even if only comparable in that it is another celebrity caught up in the #MeToo movement. On far lesser accusations, Louis C.K. was brought down low and deserved it to some extent. But here is what was very much unlike the Cosby case. First, his moral depravity was much less depraved. Second, he immediately admitted to his wrongdoing and then gave a heartfelt apology. And, last but not least, he never held himself up as better than others, if anything doing the opposite in making fun of himself as a pathetic loser.
Humility can go a long way in life. I can be a righteous asshole at times. Even so, I know I’m not morally superior to others. I regularly admit to my own personal failures. All of us are imperfect in varying ways as we are all fallible humans. There is nothing wrong with that. Keeping one’s ego tamped down with humility is probably the best way of avoiding the worst forms of moral depravity. The point isn’t about being morally perfect or necessarily even coming close. The simple truth is that, the higher are the moral standards we hold, the greater will be our falling short. But that is better than lowering one’s standards so far down that they are easy to meet without effort. Or worse still, you could go the route of Trump and have no standards at all by simply embracing depravity as a way of life.
Writing this was a cathartic experience. I really am not in a position to be morally righteous, even as I’m deeply moved by a moral outrage that implicates us all in our societal failure. No one should be following my example, other than maybe in my willingness to be a truth-teller. My few moral strengths are worthy, I suppose. I try my best, which admittedly is limited. Still, I don’t feel better in seeing others brought down low, although I do feel wonderful knowing that justice is occasionally served. Justice can seem so rare that it’s a breath of fresh air when it does happen. For all the problems with the #MeToo movement, it has forced much needed change. And it was the victims that forced that change, which is how it should be.
Work, a topic that comes up a lot. The US is a society obsessed with work as identity and as a way of life, not just as a means to an end. We idealize work ethic, the greatest praise being that an individual is hard-working and the harshest criticism being that someone is lazy.
We broaden it as an entire cultural ethos, the supposed Protestant work ethic, even though Catholic Americans seem just as obsessed with work. The traditionally Catholic Hispanics used to be stereotyped as lazy, but I doubt that was ever true. The stereotype is now changing and Hispanics are perceived as hard-working, which is their ticket into mainstream American society and their pathway to assimilation not just as Americans but also into potential whiteness.
Black Americans, of course, aren’t given the opportunity to assimilate into whiteness, no matter their real or perceived work ethic. It has been assumed by centuries of whites that blacks are inherently lazy, a justification for slavery and then later forms of prejudice and oppression, including the reinstatement of slavery through chain gangs. The reality, however, is that the whites who complain the most about others being lazy are probably projecting. This country was built with the labor of minorities, along with poor (often ethnic) whites, both supposedly being without the proper work ethic of upper class WASPs. I imagine many of those upper class WASPs wouldn’t know real work if they ever saw it.
There is endless weirdness, besides bigotry, around American notions of work and all that goes with it. In recent years, some have begun to worry about the end of work. It is through work that we have defined our society. The end of work sounds like the end of the world as we know it, which I suppose is true. If machines took over most human work, then what would we do? The fear is the lazy masses, without anyone forcing them to work for survival, would just laze about and do nothing productive at all. We better build work camps to keep the masses occupied or else they might start thinking about creating a free, democratic society.
Even many left-wingers can’t seem to imagine anything genuinely different. Labor has been the pillar of left-wing politics for long before Marx was born. We talking about the lower class as the working class. That is what they are. They are what they do, work. They have no inherent value beyond that. Organizing the masses inevitably means labor organizing or so it has meant in generations past.
I get the sense that there is something odd about all this. It’s not just the obsession with work, as identity and ethic. It’s one of those issues that seems to be about something else entirely. Most of the time when people talk about work I don’t think they’re actually talking about work. It’s maybe a symbolic conflation, like abortion, pointing toward something else. That something else has to do with the social order and social control.
To give this some contrast, consider hunter-gatherers. They don’t worry about work. In fact, they do as little as possible for survival and they probably never think of it as work. Almost everything hunter-gatherers do is a social activity. It’s the social part, not the work part, that defines who they are. Hunter-gatherers don’t have specialization, as everyone does a little bit of everything. Besides, most of their time is spent doing social things, as the most important part of being human in a tribal society is the fact that you belong to a tribe. That is who you are. Work is only important for what it accomplishes for the tribe and one’s place in the tribe, not as an end in and of itself.
What if modern society ends up back where we all started? Hunter-gatherers don’t work that much in order to maintain their lifestyles. What if in the future we too won’t work much to maintain our lifestyles? Would that be such a horrible thing, that like hunter-gatherers we spent more time with our families, friends, neighbors, and communities?
The hyper-focus on work is one of the most bizarre aspects of modern society. If you can’t imagine life beyond work, the problem is in your mind not in the world. Just because cars will eventually start driving themselves, civilization isn’t going to collapse nor will the moral fiber of humanity be rent asunder. Calm down. I’m sure humanity will somehow survive the end of work.
Americans will probably find other ways to work endlessly, such as mowing their lawns more often. That is the future of the US, Americans mowing their lawns everyday because robots took over their jobs. Sure, those future Americans could buy one of the new fancy robot mowers, but then they’d lose all meaning to their existence. To preoccupy themselves, Americans will have mowing contests to prove their human worth and to prove their being part of respectable society.
“Now to be clear, I do believe that every person should play a proactive role in their own success, health, and overall well-being. The part that bothers me is that many people seem to think that black people cannot do this and exercise our right as American citizens to express displeasure with policy and practices. I would argue that being civically engaged is apart of taking personal responsibility. However, according to many right wing pundits—and increasingly people within our own community—any black person who requests a government action is asking for “free stuff” or trying to keep from taking care of our own business.”
~ Black People and The Burden Of “Personal Responsibility”, carrefourblog
We need to move past this false dichotomy.
More importantly, we need to move beyond the false accusation against poor minorities. I suspect that the average poor minority works harder and is forced to take more personal responsibility than is the average white, especially the average middle-to-upper class white who tends to make these kinds of judgments from the position of white privilege.
Also, minorities promoting social justice are among the most hardworking people around. That is no easy struggle to be involved in. Black leaders and black parents embrace the ideals of personal responsibility and hard work. They talk about it in speeches and sermons, but the best of them understand this in the context of a centuries-old structural racism. That latter part gets lost in translation when the more privileged take up this judgment, including blacks in privileged positions like Cosby.
Blacks worker harder to accomplish less than whites on a daily basis. If such ideals could solve the problems of structural racism in how it impacts individuals, structural racism would have ended a long time ago. We all need to take both personal and shared responsibility for the problems of structural racism. It can’t be solved alone by the victims of racial oppression and prejudice. However, working together, we can all be part of the solution.
In saying this, I am not trying to deny or gloss over the fact that a lot of Black people are into some bad shit. Youth are killing each other, and people desperate to survive are preying on each other. Too many Black men are into the male supremacy that is rife in this society, and too many Black women combine U.S. society’s “look out for #1” ethos with accepting its outlook on women’s place. Black people do need to get out of all this shit. They need to move from being victimized by this system to fighting to get rid of this system. They, along with basic masses of all nationalities and people from other backgrounds too, need to come forward as emancipators of humanity.
But lectures about personal responsibility won’t help make that happen. This will stand in the way of people getting what’s the real source of the problems they face, and what’s the real way to get out from under them. People don’t see any way out and can begin to think it’s because they’re fucked up. And it is a fact: Black people, as a people, are not going to “make it” under this system. The only real hope for the masses in their millions is carving out a radically different future thru revolution and changing themselves as they fight to bring a whole new world into being.
There is scant empirical evidence that demonstrates a lack of work ethic among black men. To be officially counted as unemployed, onehas to be actively pursuing a job. The black maleunemployment rate is typically about twice thewhite unemployment rate. In 2007, 9.1 percent ofblack males were officially unemployed; yet, only4.2 percent of white males were unemployed. Onecan be certain that thereare many more black mendesiring work than arecurrently employed in thisjob market.
“It’s funny, the American dream is sort of steeped in this myth of work hard, be self-sufficient and push yourself forward, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, that kind of thing. But much of the wealth in this country was not built on that, in no way, fashion or form,” Williams says.
“The foundation of American White supremacy sits tenuously on a rickety base of lies and deceptions about how Whites gained their wealth and status. A century and a half after slavery the median wealth of White families is $100,000; for Black families, it’s $5,000. The belief that Whites achieved this 20-1 wealth advantage by HARD WORK is an absurd and a historical fantasy.”
Indeed, a wave of research over the last 20 years has documented the lingering effects of slavery in the United States and South America alike. For example, counties in America that had a higher proportion of slaves in 1860 are still more unequal today, according to a scholarly paper published in 2010. The authors called this a “persistent effect of slavery.”
One reason seems to be that areas with slave labor were ruled for the benefit of elite plantation owners. Public schools, libraries and legal institutions lagged, holding back working-class whites as well as blacks.
Whites often don’t realize that slavery didn’t truly end until long after the Civil War. Douglas Blackmon won a Pulitzer Prize for his devastating history, “Slavery by Another Name,” that recounted how U.S. Steel and other American corporations used black slave labor well into the 20th century, through “convict leasing.” Blacks would be arrested for made-up offenses such as “vagrancy” and then would be leased to companies as slave laborers.
[ . . . . ]
WE all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. We’re in a relay race, relying on the financial and human capital of our parents and grandparents. Blacks were shackled for the early part of that relay race, and although many of the fetters have come off, whites have developed a huge lead. Do we ignore this long head start — a facet of white privilege — and pretend that the competition is now fair?
Of course not. If we whites are ahead in the relay race of life, shouldn’t we acknowledge that we got this lead in part by generations of oppression? Aren’t we big enough to make amends by trying to spread opportunity, by providing disadvantaged black kids an education as good as the one afforded privileged white kids?
Can’t we at least acknowledge that in the case of race, William Faulkner was right: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Yeah, he’s black. Now, don’t get me wrong — I don’t think anybody wants to suppress the story of an undersize, pudgy engineering nerd who made himself into a gritty, overachieving captain on a Big Ten champion team and who is also black. I bet the national media would love a story like that. I suspect they just don’t see it.
The gulf in physical talent between Novak and other players was glaring. Now, look at Morgan, with his gigantic biceps. If you don’t know him and you are using a simple heuristic, you probably think he’s a pretty good athletic talent, even if if is a little short. You don’t think about the fact that he gained that muscle after intense weight training. (Announcers never mention it.) And so one player is surrounded by a narrative of hustle, smarts, and toughness, and another player with the exact same qualities is not.
The situation is far better than it was three or four decades ago, when announcers would liken the skills of black players to animals. Today, they have some awareness of racial stereotyping. What’s left, I think, is far more characteristic of how racial bias typically works. Bad intent does not come into play. White people simply have certain preconceptions, and preconceptions make you see the things you expect to see and miss the things you don’t.
The fact is that I can travel through east Baltimore or any urban inner city (BLACK) neighborhood for under 10 minutes and introduce you to the hardest-working Americans in our country. I know a guy that guts houses for $50 a day, a rack of uncertified tax preparers, too many single moms with triple jobs, some freelance freelancers, infinite party promoters, squeegee kids, basement caterers, back-alley auto mechanics, dudes of all ages selling bottled water and a collection of Mr. Fix Its, all living in a two-block radius. We are all American dream chasing, all trying to start our own business, all working our asses off.
Legal or illegal, the inner cities of America are our nation’s hotbed of side hustles. Even people like me with college degrees need multiple streams of revenue to survive, and I gained that work ethic from living in the inner city. Seeing my grandma work 10-hour shifts showed me I could do the same.
There are a million grinding grandmas like mine, and Darnell Baylor isn’t the only person who gets paid for 40 hours a week but works 80. Every person I know is on his schedule and gained that work ethic from the inner city. If Duncan were exposed to a different way of life, he’d probably be running a Fortune 500 company.
Lenny and Loraine didn’t beg for drugs, they performed for them. And Lenny continued to work hard years after his crack addiction faded. The Candy and Cigarette lady should be celebrated for her innovation. And I’d bet that even if the cops rushed and ended her industry, work ethic and creativity would lead to her creating a new one.
She still works hard but will be only judged for not following traditional rules, which is unfortunate because there are so many hardworking people like us who are forced to create our own industries as a direct result of being isolated by society. To me that poses a bigger question. Why employment inequality for African-Americans is always identified as laziness?
But even if we ignore the unfairness of racial profiling, not to mention its blatantly unconstitutional nature given that whole Equal Protection Clause thing, sitting smack dab in the middle of the 14th Amendment — and even if we momentarily put aside the evidence that profiling is not justified by crime data, and can actually be counterproductive — several points have been overlooked by those who think they have either the moral or factual basis to lecture black folks about so-called pathologies in the black community. And they are points worth noting, because they indicate that not only are the Negrophobic critics of black America largely wrong about black folks (few of whom they actually know) and black communities (few of which they have ever actually spent time in), but even more interestingly, they appear to be ignoring a number of data points suggesting serious cultural rot in the white community, to which they might wish to turn their attention. Especially seeing as how they love to inveigh about “personal responsibility.” What better way for white people to take personal responsibility, after all, than to stop hectoring blacks and perhaps begin to clean up our own behavioral back yards?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying black folks shouldn’t take “personal responsibility” whatever that means, I’m saying black folks aren’t the ONLY ones who need to take some “personal” responsibility. And we certainly don’t have to be told the same thing over and over again like we are stoopid or children, or both. I don’t condone what Reverend Jesse Jackson was caught on tape saying about President Obama talking down to black folks but I understand.
Why are black folks the only ones being told they need to “take personal responsibility” for their actions? Black folks aren’t responsible for creating the current mess we find our country in. Why are black folks the only ones told they “need to stop making excuses and blaming others for their problems”. I don’t hear anyone telling democrats to stop making excuses for being whimps. I don’t hear anyone telling republicans to stop making excuses for being obstructionist. I don’t hear anyone (well almost) telling President Obama to stop making excuses.
Yet Obama had the gall to attempt selling these Morehouse men the following economic snake-oil. “You’re graduating into an improving job market,” he claimed. “You’re living in a time when advances in technology and communication put the world at your fingertips. Your generation is uniquely poised for success unlike any generation of African Americans that came before it.” Many of these African men do not have control over events within the labor market. There are entrenched racist, gendered and class-related employment barriers that are resistant to personal effort and responsibility on the part of these prospective racialized, despised and stereotyped jobseekers.
I look forward to the day when Obama will tell it like it is to ruling-class white men, that there’s no longer time for excuses for their promotion of institutional white supremacy (and other forms of oppression). Furthermore, I would like to see the display of intestinal fortitude on the part of the president in declaring to largely white graduating classes that they should not blame immigrants for taking away “their” jobs, social assistance or welfare recipients as the reason for high taxes or the capital gains tax as an impediment to job creation.
“His commencement address would have been more helpful if he affirmed those young leaders and then challenged them to use their skills to become vigorous and relentless fighters against racism, classism, sexism, economic and political exploitation. The dirty little ‘secret’ of his very own presidency is that he is the ultimate example of how constrained Black achievement really can be, if it is not accompanied by a vigorous fight against structural and institutional racism. . . .”
“Either that President Obama thinks black grads at one of the nation’s best colleges really need to be lectured about such matters; or, alternately, that White America is so desirous of exculpation for the history of racial discrimination that we need him to say such things, and he knows it, thereby leading him to feed us the moral scolding of black men we so desperately desire, and which he must know will be transmitted to us by way of media coverage of his talk.”
“But when the president speaks to the black community, there’s often a dive into the politics of personal responsibility,” he continued. “I cringe at that, as if effort and excuses have been the problem.”
“No,” Touré asserted. “It’s been structural racism.”
“The accumulated impact of historic discrimination and the advantages of white privilege and the systems perpetuate all that,” he continued. “Going into personal responsibility suggests you can make it if you try, and he knows it’s more complex than that.”
“I want our president this president, to tell America to tear down the American Berlin Wall that keeps black men separated from opportunity,” Touré concluded. “That sort of big brother-in-chief would get us closer to the mountain top.”
Leola Johnson, an associate professor and chair of the Media and Cultural Studies Department at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., said the Obamas’ speeches “are actually not aimed at black people.”
“They’re actually for white people, liberals especially,” she said. Liberal bloggers were brimming with praise for Obama after the Morehouse speech. “It’s the legacy of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and that whole group of white liberals who want to say it’s not just about structural problems that black people aren’t doing well, it’s about their own values.”
Kevin Powell, an activist based in New York who travels the country encouraging black men to take responsibility for their lives, said he has no problem with Obama challenging the black community, but . . .
“You also have to challenge the system, just as you challenge the people. It’s not an either/or,” said Powell, president and founder of BK Nation, an organization focused on education and civic engagement.
There has been a lot of debate and discussion about what Bill Cosby has said about blacks. One thing he argues for is the need for hard work. The thing that he doesn’t understand is most blacks believe in hard work as much as most whites. But being a hardworking poor minority doesn’t get you very far in this country without all the privileges of race and class.
The cook at McDonalds making minimum wage, the self-taught unlicensed car mechanic working in an alley, the people doing yardwork for cash, the prostitute, and the drug dealer are all working hard. But they are working hard in a society that is working against them when they are poor minorities.
Those are some of the hardest jobs in the world. And some of the people working them are the among the most brilliant and talented around. The guy who works his way up from a high school drop out to the head of a gang is more hard working and innovative than the average manager you’ll find in other careers. I’m often reminded of the drug dealer who was intelligent and was well informed about economics (Social Environment & Human Potential):
“In the project, Venkatesh finds men and women who easily flit back and forth between the legal and illegal economies (depending, usually, on which pays more at any given moment). Drug dealers aspire to buy small businesses, and their subordinates move between legitimate jobs and the hustle of drug dealing and prostitution. What Venkatesh is able to develop, through the view J.T. grants him, is a new way of thinking about the ghetto and ghetto crime, as the consequences that come when morality is uncoupled from the law.
“J.T. is a good tutor. He is a learned and steady bureaucrat of the drug trade, a man with some college and management experience behind him. Most of his life is spent dealing with, somewhat endearingly, the small headaches of petit bourgeois career life—managing less-than-competent subordinates, handling the objections of Taylor Homes residents, and trying to restrict police access to the project.”
These people believe in the American Dream and try to live it best they can, under almost impossible conditions. They aren’t asking for handouts. They are solving their own problems, even when those problems are forced on them by the larger society.
Take gangs, for example. Most gangs are what white people would call militias. When the police fail in their job, gangs do the job for them. If you are a black who is targeted by the police and everyone you know is targeted by the police, you’ll organize in order to protect yourself, your family, your friends, and your neighborhood.
That is how community forms when all of the outside world is against you, when life is difficult and desperate, where daily living is a fight for survival. When there are no jobs available, poor minorities make their own jobs. When there are no police to protect them, poor minorities police themselves. When the larger society is against them, they make their own communities.
They do this all under the hardest conditions in America. It is quite impressive what humans are capable of. Imagine what poor minorities could accomplish if the larger society supported them instead of trying to destroy their lives?
If hard work mattered in this country, black communities would be among the wealthiest. If there was a way to measure it, I wouldn’t be surprised if the results showed the average black is more hardworking than the average white.
Cosby isn’t wrong in saying hardwork is generally a good thing. But it misses the entire point.
It seems to me that most Americans love to work, even in our off time when no one is paying us. If Americans have a problem, it is that we work too much and work so hard that we work ourselves into an early grave.
In a just and fair world, we would work less for more. But neoliberal capitalism tells us our only worth is our time spent in labor and our worth is measured by our pay check. That seems effed up to me. There is or should be more to life than work, especially the drudgery work most Americans have to do just to get by.
We live at a time when there are more people looking for work than there are jobs. With mechanization and computerization, those jobs aren’t coming back and even more jobs will be disappearing. The advice of working harder is cruel and ignorant, especially when directed at the most poor and disadvantaged, those least likely to be able to find a job no matter how hard they work or how much education they get.
That said, if we must speak of hard work, let’s talk about working hard to build stronger communities, to build more social capital, to build better schools, to build much needed infrastructure, to build housing for the homeless, to build more parks, to build a stronger labor movement, and to build an actually functioning democracy.
Why not use our hard work for things that matter and make the world a better place? Why not use all the hard work we are already doing in order to achieve great things in our communities and our country?
The Protestant Work Ethic Is Real Thanks to a recent paper in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, we finally have some answers for why Americans work so hard. by Daniel Luzer
The connection between work and happiness is much more intense in Protestant countries than in others. Protestants suffer intense hardship from unemployment; the “psychic harm from unemployment is about 40 percent worse for Protestants than for the general population,” according to the authors. This also holds true for non-Protestants living in Protestant countries, where they suffer more from unemployment than their global neighbors.
The resulting ‘experienced preferences’ provide strong support for Weber’s original thesis: for both Protestants and Protestant countries, not having a job has substantially larger negative happiness effects than for other religious denominations. This provides a Weber-type channel relating religion to socio-economic outcomes.
In other words, Protestantism may not make you rich, but it sure makes you unhappy when you’re not rich. The old Calvinist doctrine of a livelihood as the source of one’s value, and a sign of God’s favor, wreaks great havoc on people’s lives when that livelihood is gone. What’s more, this is true even when people practice other religions (or none at all) in largely Protestant countries. They experience the same impulses. What this really indicates is just how important Protestantism is to our concept of work—all of our concepts of work.
But this one paper doesn’t prove that Weber was accurate about everything. A 2009 paper by economist Davide Cantoni, for example, looked scrupulously at economic data from Catholic and Protestant cities in Germany from 1300 to 1900, subjected the information to meticulous multivariate analysis, and discovered that there was no evidence that Protestantism made people richer. So the Dutch paper doesn’t necessarily mean Weber was right, but it does indicate that he was on to something.
As hard workers attempted to prosper in business in order to show that they were God’s chosen ones, over time hard work became the object in itself, particularly in the United States. This is ultimately sort of ironic because, as Tim Kreider wrote in his recent New York Times article condemning busyness, “The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment.” But there you have it. We work hard because it’s the American way. And it’s the American way because the Puritans did it.
Nice data and commentary.
It reminds me of some differences between Catholic and Protestant countries. Catholic countries tend to emphasize kinship and taking care of one’s own. This may not mean working less hard, rather working for other purposes, specifically less individualistic purposes. I remember seeing mention (I think in hbd chick’s blog) that countries in southern Europe have fewer homeless people because family will take in their unemployed kin. Northern Europe supposedly has higher rates of homeless. It is a lot harder to be homeless in the North than in the South. The dark side of Protestant work ethic is severe punishment of the unemployed and poor; this is what is called capitalist realism — with individualism comes the attitude of blaming the individual.
I see similar differences in the US, but it played out with different Christian denominations. In America, the earliest division was between Anglicanism in the South and religious dissenters in the North. The Puritans of course included Calvinists and the Quakers were influenced by Calvinism. Oddly, though, the Calvinist vs non-Calvinist was reversed in terms of the hardworking German immigrants who were largely non-Calvinist and the perceived lazy Scots-Irish who were largely Calvinist. There is a great passage from American Nations by Colin Woodard which I notice is quoted in full by Hunter Wallace in the Occidental Dissent blog, but here is the relevant section:
Nineteenth-century visitors ofter remarked on the difference between the areas north and south of the old National Road, an early highway that bisected Ohio and which is now called U.S. 40. North of the road, houses were said to be substantial and well maintained, with well-fed livestock outside and literate, well-schooled inhabitants within. Village greens, white church steeples, town hall belfries, and green-shuttered houses were the norm. South of the road, farm buildings were unpainted, the people were poorer and less educated, and the better homes were built with brick in Greco-Roman style. “As you travel north across Ohio,” Ohio State Univeresity dean Harlan Hatcher wrote in 1945, “you feel that you have been transported from Virginia to Connecticut.”
Why didn’t those Calvinist Scots-Irish embrace the standard pro-capitalist work ethic? The North, especially the Northeast, has always had a more capitalist tradition and the South was in the past quite wary of capitalism along with the industrialization and wage labor that went with it. This difference fed into the rhetoric behind the secession conflict, and some see this as a reason for the continued impoverishment of the rural South where the Scots-Irish settled in the greatest concentration.
It should be pointed out that the Catholic angle has a far different place in American society. It doesn’t fit into the pattern of southern concentration as found in Europe.
In most northern rural farming states (in the furthest western regions of the Midwest), Catholic churches are everywhere because many of those farmers and descendants of farmers are Catholics. There has always been a conflict between the agrarian lifestyle and industrialized capitalism. It isn’t a conflict of work ethic as those Midwestern farmers have more than enough work ethic, but it is a difference between wanting to work for oneself (and for one’s family) rather than work for a boss. Working class Catholics, whether as farmers or laborers, have often fought against the power of the capitalist elite. This might be why areas of high Catholic membership largely coincides with areas of high labor union membership.
This is one of the reasons that the Midwest wasn’t always a clear ally of New England. That said, it wasn’t really a conflict between Catholics and Protestants for Catholics were also concentrated in the Northeast. It makes one wonder, with all those Northern Catholics, why the North became so dominated by capitalism. Maybe it’s a Protestant, specifically Calvinist, founding effect that preceded the large number of later Catholic immigrants. Likewise, even after Calvinism having spread throughout the South, maybe there still is the lasting founding effect of anti-Calvinist Anglicanism.