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December 15, 2005



That is honestly one of the reasons the middle-east scares me to death. They don't have the same experience and cultural background that the West has. I seriously wonder if they will be able to overcome that problem.


"Today, as Catholicism spreads in Africa and China, it's important to understand the beliefs that encourage people to work hard and grow rich."

How, then, to explain Ireland, which used to be Catholic to the core yet dirt poor -- and now is secular and a smashing economic success story? (Irish exceptionalism, perhaps?)

Old Zhou

I said on the earlier thread that this guy lives in an Ivory Tower.

To think that "work hard and grow rich" can somehow apply to most people in Africa and China is to demonstrate incredible ignorance of what lies outside their comfortable Western university environment.

Many work hard and stay very poor.
A very few, with right connections, often very evil and corrupt, grow rich.

And when did Catholicism become about growing rich?

Mike Petrik

I'll offer a guess or two: Ireland was subject to England's yoke for centuries where it was exploited and prevented from organically producing a normal economy. These constraints were gradually lifted in the 20th century at a time when all the best and brightest advocated socialism, which is an economic system that does not "encourage people to work hard and grow rich." After adopting statist economic policies, more recent market economy-based reforms have altered the dynamic, and the Irish are now thriving economically. I think the changed relationship between the Irish people and the Church is more a consequence of this phenomenon than a factor. Sadly, affluence can tend to make men rely on God less. Also, when people do not think of themselves as victims they no longer feel the need to look to the Church for advocacy regarding their predicament.
Just a few random thoughts. Probably off base, since I'm hardly an expert on these matters.

john hearn

And when did Catholicism become about growing rich?

Hasn't worked for me yet!


Andrew Greeley's 2nd most famous sociology study demonstrated that Catholics and Jews have done better economically in the U.S. than any other religous group, once you adjust for average years since immigration.

What many have done with those blessings is the scandal, not that God blesses those who keep His covenants.



Maybe "prosperous" is a better word than rich, certainly more scriptural. I am not a big believer in the Evangelical "gospel of prosperity," the idea that material blessings are a direct sign that I am in God's favor, but we all want to be prosperous.

Art Deco

Yootikus is in error on one point. Ireland has had exceptionally rapid economic growth over the last 15 years, and also suffered some severe economic disequilibria in the antecedent 15 years, but it was not, on an international scale, a poor country, merely less affluent than other Western European countries. If my memory serves me correctly, you can consult the World Development Report for 1982 and will find that the World Bank classified Ireland as among the world's affluent countries, with a per capita income about forty percent that of the United States and about two-thirds that of Great Britain. Ireland was at that time adjudged more affluent than Portugal, Greece, Israel, South Korea, Argentina, and much of Italy, so the designation 'dirt poor' can scarcely apply.

Every social research discipline has devoted countless man-hours to configurative and comparative statistical, ethnographic, and historical studies to tease out the causes of modernization, with less than comprehensive success. It is an error to think we can do more than generate a hypothesis by contemplating a single factor in a single country.

By the way, Spain under Gen. Franco and Portugal under Dr. Salazar experienced rapid economic growth as well. Iberian exceptionalism?

Kevin Jones

How, then, to explain Ireland, which used to be Catholic to the core yet dirt poor -- and now is secular and a smashing economic success story? (Irish exceptionalism, perhaps?)

I'm told the Irish were pretty successful economically in the second half of the first millennium. If they were dirt-poor then, the Vikings would have likely found someone else to raid.


Why didn't Maureen Dowd write this column?

Thank you, Mr. Brooks.

Donna V.

Zhou, in my experience, most Ivory Tower types are strong believers in redistributionism of some sort. Your average academic is hardly a cheerleader for capitalism. Stark is an exception in this respect. (Although his contention that the roots of capitalism lie in the Church of the Middle Ages and not the Renaissance and Reformation mirror Thomas Woods'arguments in "How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.")

Many work hard and stay very poor.
A very few, with right connections, often very evil and corrupt, grow rich.

And that has been true throughout most of the world throughout most of history. It's no accident, though, that democracy takes root most strongly in countries with a large and vigorous middle class, and strong and vigorous middle classes only develop under capitalist systems.

And when did Catholicism become about growing rich?

Well, I'd agree that the phrase "growing rich" immediately reminded me of Calvinism and Bruce Barton's take on Jesus as The Greatest Businessman Ever. But sometimes I wonder if Catholicism doesn't go too far in the other direction at times. It's occurred to me that Ireland's rapid rise in prosperity and equally rapid decline in Catholic belief and practice might be partly due to the (false) notion that one necessarily precludes the other. In other words, poverty equals holiness and since we're not dirt poor anymore, we can't be holy, so why bother going to Mass on Sunday morning?

Donald R. McClarey

"How, then, to explain Ireland, which used to be Catholic to the core yet dirt poor -- and now is secular and a smashing economic success story? (Irish exceptionalism, perhaps?)"

1. As Mike pointed out, the Irish were reduced to serf status by the English beginning in the Sixteenth Century, and didn't emerge from this yoke until the middle of the nineteenth century. This had a stultifying impact on Irish entrepreneurship.

2. Ireland has very little in natural resources. Green hills that are subject to frequent showers are pretty to look at but have little in the way of economic attractiveness other than tourism from homesick Irish Americans.

3. The British policy of favoring Belfast economically distorted badly the development of the Irish economy.

4. Irish faith in politics rather than in economics as the path of national development.

5. The Irish diaspora that generation after generation sent from Ireland some of the most hardworking portion of the population.

6. Aping of English socialist economic policies.

7. Lack of internal improvements. The English did the bare minimum while they ruled Ireland.

8. An educational system modeled after the British system that paid scant and scornful attention to "trade".

9. The British policy of Imperial Prefence in trade that endured into the 1970s.

10. Lack of capital investment funds, either foreign or internal.


This analysis by David Brooks explains why Latin America, probably the most uniformly Catholic region of the world, is such an economic success story. Right? Right?

George G.

I don't think the writer is saying that Catholicism=Capitalism and therefore prosperity, but simply that Catholicism as a faith, and as a mode of thought, has opened the way to capitalism. That doesn't mean that Catholicism necessarily leads to wealth, but that economic enterprise can potentially develop within a Catholic framework--as happened in several parts of medieval Europe.

Of course the purpose of the Catholic faith isn't to make people rich but to save souls. and any view of the faith that doesn't recognize this is just wrong.


This analysis by David Brooks explains why Latin America, probably the most uniformly Catholic region of the world, is such an economic success story.

Well, the fact that when Latin America was a Spanish colony, the Spanish treated it similar to the way the English Treated Ireland?

Made sure every decision (even replacing the paving stones in the Plaza at Lime) had to be done through the bureaucracy in Madrid?

Only allowed gachupines (Spanish-born nobles appointed by Madrid from Madrid) in any position of responsibility?

And kept it so backwards and feudal that after independence "freedom" meant only "now I get to be El Caudillo, not Madrid"?

Right? Right?

Palatine, I know of no other way to interpret that other than "NYAAH-NYAAH-NYAAH-NYAAH-NYAAAAAAAAAAH!" My stepmother used to use the exact same line on me; with her it meant "Agree with ME 1000% OR ELSE!"


1. Does it really matter whether your nobility has English or Irish roots ? And how many generations does it take to change your nationality. There were Penal laws on catholics and other religious groups, but their economic effect is rather doubtful

2. The Netherlands (pre-North-Sea oil ) didn’t have any natural resources, yet they were much more prosperous than even richly endowed states, so that doesn’t explain Ireland.

3. Which time period are you talking about ?, .

4. If you talk about faith in politics, which period in time are you referring to ? South Korea industrialized pretty successfully under political guidance, so yes, even politics can get it right

5. There is the sentence, “Ireland industrialized, unfortunately outside of Ireland”, but the British and German were emigrating as well, why didn’t it hurt them ?

6. When did they ape the English, and which policies are you referring to ? And btw what you might claim are socialist policies (social insurance anyone ?) might in some countries actually be sound economic policies (and in some actually not)

7. You just accused them of socialist policies, wouldn’t building up infrastructure with public money be a socialist policy….? Also Ireland is an Island, so much could be done with ships (especially if your biggest economic centers are actually port towns)

8. Ireland was exporting linen to America already in 1700, so I think they knew what trade was and that you can make money out of it

9. Britain abolished internal tariffs between Ireland and England in 1801, isn’t free trade a good thing ? And why is a preferential trade scheme hurting Ireland, didn’t it allow Irish firms access to the larger and richer English market ?

10. The industrial revolution in England (in contrast to Germany and probably the US) was actually not that capital intensive, so you can even do it if you don’t have that much money around

Mr.McClarey, if you want to make those sweeping claims, please be precise what time period you are talking about, and be sure that cultural and political institutions actually have a real negative economic impact before you give them too much credit.

I don't have a ready answer why Ireland was poorer than England. But it is very likely an economic question (why did Ireland actually "de-industrialize in the late 18th and early 19th century ?) and not so much a cultural one.


the whole thing seems to me like a try to get around the Max Weber protestant work ethics thing and to make a historical argument against it (see, they were successful even before there were protestants at all, so that can't obviously be it...)

Economists tends to believe that institutions (formal and informal rules which govern the human behavior within a society) are the main driver of development. Religion can influence institutions in a positive way and it can influence them in a negative way. But to make religion causal for development, you really have to come with a strong influence on institutions. And there is just not much evidence that it actually mattered that much.

Doug Barber

Max Weber started this argument, and regardless of the merits of his theories, the things which set him to thinking are simply facts: England and the Netherlands economically leapfrogged over Italy and Spain following the Reformation.


The economy in the Middle Ages was not capitalism it was a distributive economy. Do not confuse scientific discovery and technology with capitalism.

The ownership of most of a nation's wealth by very few people is capitalism and nothing else is capitalism (to paraphrase Cecil Chesterton).

The ownership of a nation's wealth by the state is socialism and nothing else is socialism.

The ownership of most of the nation's wealth by most of the people (privately) is distributism and nothing else is distributism.

Socialism is not an option for Catholics (Pope Leo XIII - Rerum Novarum).

Capitalism has serious flaws, which make it almost completely incompatible with the gospel.

Only a distributive economy of some kind is compatible with Catholicism.

Read the social documents of the Church here:

Join in the discussion on distributism here:

Mike Petrik

Distributism is not an economic system. It is a romantic notion.
And Cecil's definition of capitalism is his own and only his own. We all can appropriate words and assign them meanings that suit us I suppose.



I haven't read Weber so I don't know what he really argues. Given the example you cite, the question is, whether correlation implies causality.


in the middle ages, most (agricultural workers) didn't really own anything, but a few (nobles,etc) did own quite a bit, so isn't that in your classification a capitalist society ?

also isn't your classification a little bit simplistic ? If the state owns 50% of the capital, is it already socialistic ? When turn "a few" into "many" ? If an absolute king owns most of the wealth, is it socialism or capitalism ?

Charles R. Williams

I think neither Weber nor Stark are right. Development is quite a complex issue. Certainly England lead the industrial revolution and this was partly the result of policies that crushed the rural poor. Ireland was Catholic and backward but so was Lutheran Mecklenburg. Why? There is no simple answer.

And economic backwardness can be a blessing as well as a curse. The Irish, poor and backward as they were on the eve of the famine, had a far healthier lifestyle than either rural or urban workers in England. The simple reason was that the potato-based diet was far healthier than the grain-based diet common in England. Why was the population of Ireland exploding just prior to the famine with little Catholic emmigration while large numbers of indigent people left Britain as free emmigrants, indentured servants and convicts sent to penal colonies?

The facts just don't fit into the neat little categories of either Stark or Weber.

Art Deco


Latin American is poor only in relation to Western Europe, North America, the Antipodes, and peripheral East Asia. Collectively, these areas account for about 17% of the world's population. It's economic performance has been comparatively good compared to the rest of the world.


It is true that economic geographers have crafted a hypothesis that an abundance of natural resources can be a curse on an economy's prospects for economic development, because of the effects of the additional margin on the behavior of a country's elites. (Venezuela and a selection of Arab countries might provide case studies for this view).

That having been said, solitary counter-examples can qualify, but not fully refute, general principles of economic behavior, inasmuch as the counter-examples can embody particular and temporary phenomena that are difficult to replicate elsewhere. The economic historian Stanley Engerman put it thus "You can beat the market for a while, but it catches up with you."

The provision of public goods and the regulation of the use of common property resources cannot be regarded as 'socialist' in any serious way because the impulse to adopt such policies requires neither the adherence to any sort of equalitarian ideology or to a conviction that the judgment of the intelligentsia is more reliable than that of merchants and artisans. The physical properties of some goods are such that they must be provided by administrative command if they are to be provided at all (e.g. national defense) or they must be extensively regulated if factors of production are not to be degraded (e.g. the output of fisheries). This remains so without regard to whether your conception of justice and sense of the dynamics of social relations resembles that of Wendell Berry or Friedrich Hayek or John Rawls or Karl Marx.


Art Deco,

I have no problem with saying that natural ressources can be very helpful for economic development, I just tried to critize the argument that they are necessary.
Also if you take Sokoloff and Engerman's work on America, they actually argue that in some cases factor endowments can be used to explain the gap between North and South America today (along the lines that South america had more natural ressources, causing more unequal societies and therefore causing a long-term growth problem)

And I also agree that the provision of public goods isn't necessarily socialist. My comment was more of a reaction to calling Englands policies socialist. Maybe a few policies actually were, but for most parts Western Europe and Canada are far from being socialist (I just don't like the constant bashing of Europe and Canada as socialist and showcasing the US as the shining example of a free economy)

I think your point is simply that there are cases where you get a market failure (free-riding in public good provision, coordination failure in the "tragedy of the commons" problem (although the original commons system in english agriculture didn't have the problem)) and the state is the most practical solution of overcoming these failures. And yes, this is far from socialism.


small trivia

What was the richest state worldwide on a GDP per capita basis in 1790 ?

and the answer is (very likely)


John Murray

Stark has a great story: counterintuitive (if you spend any time around university history departments) and I have no doubt that his evidence will be quite good. Given the scholarship of his previous work, this should book should make a big splash.

The Irish case is very interesting. The take in the economic literature seems to be that Ireland benefited from the confluence of EU aid and some market-oriented economic policy reforms that happened at about the same time. Thus, to a degree, the luck of the Irish.

On Weber, he had a great story too, that's why we still read and think about the Protestant Ethic. However, the facts on the ground to support it are somewhat questionable. An easily accessible assessment by an important economic historian can be found at: http://eh.net/bookreviews/library/engerman.shtml
The most damning criticism was probably Kurt Samuelsson's _Religion and Economic Action_.

Donald R. McClarey

Flo to respond to your points:

1. The English made it a policy to impoverish the native Irish and they succeeded. Almost everything worth having in Ireland until the Nineteenth Century was owned by the British and the native Irish were helots in their own land. This had a devastating impact on the Irish and encouraged mass emigration.

2. The Netherlands had been a crossroads of trade in Europe long before the Protestant Reformation. This compensated for their lack of natural resources. Ireland, alas, lacked this geographic advantage.

3. 1800 - 1921

4. The Irish did not. The Irish concentrated their efforts on attempting to create governments that would solve their economic problems rather than going into business to really solve their economic woes.

5. Actually I do think that emigration hurt Britain economically, certainly after 1850. In regard to both Britain and Germany the proportion of the population going abroad however was minute when compared with the experience of Ireland.

6. Late Nineteenth and through most of the Twentieth century. London School of Economics ring a bell? Socialism is death to expanding an economy particulary on a developing nation which is what Ireland was.

7.Using public funds to build roads and railroads is socialism only if one views Abraham Lincoln as a socialist. I don't. Such internal improvements are necessary for an expanding economy. The British, with the sole exception of Ulster, viewed Ireland as an agricultural colony that didn't need extensive improvements. They followed a similar policy in most of their African colonies with equally disastrous economic consequences for the inhabitants.

8. If you don't think there was a bias against "trade" in the English and Irish educational systems, especially at elite schools, you really need to read more on the subject.

9. After Irish independence Imperial Preference hurt Irish trade with Great Britain. Before independence Ireland was unable to freely trade with the rest of the world. They suffered under the same trade restrictions that helped spark the American Revolution.

10. Disagree. The industrial revolution was very capital intensive.


To 1:
The English/Scots elite in Ireland were actually improving the economy by introducing more efficient agricultural practices. How exactly were they plundering the economy ? You are basically stating that Ireland would have done much better if left alone, do you really believe that ?

To 2:
Ireland had a flourishing linen industry through most of the 18th century, again the point was that the absence of natural resources doesn’t necessary condition backwardness of a state. And the Dutch made it big once they got independent and Amsterdam took over from Antwerp, they weren’t a major trading center before then.

To 3:
Sorry, I have no idea about specific policy favoring Belfast (or not), so I can’t argue about this.

To 4:
I assume you are talking about 20th century, especially after WWII, again, don’t know enough about Ireland to really argue about it.

To 5:
I guess we would have to start discussing the motivation behind emigration as well as economic effects, I don’t think this is the place to do it.

To 6:
I know the LSE, but I don’t think that England (and Ireland) were socialist before WWI, and probably after that. (for example, England (and therefore implicitly Ireland) was the major force behind free trade through most of the 19th century, hardly socialist or ?)

To 7:
The English turnpike system was based on local parishes, not a national plan. It was even partly operated by private enterprises, the english railway system was private, not public. Why should the british build something in Ireland with public money if they don’t do it at home ?

To 8:
I don’t know about english/irish education, I just wonder why England was such a big trading nation if they had an indoctrinated bias against it ?

To 9:
Before independence Ireland could trade freely with England and therefore implicitly with the whole world. Wasn’t London the worlds biggest marketplace, and Ireland had free access to it ? After independence, wasn’t Ireland part of the Dominion and received preferential treatment ? Although you could argue that the Irish couldn't rise tariffs against the english and that is why they lost out during the english industrialization....but then when did protectionism really work ?

To 10:
The Industrial revolution in Britain was driven by the textile industry. The capital invested into this industry was comparatively low (I think below 10% of total capital stock) . (Again this was different in other countries, Germany for example had a very capital intensive industrialization)

I guess one of my problems in this discussion is my non-existant knowledge about the Irish economy during the mid-to-late 20th century.

Jim C.

"But the more we learn, the more we realize that most of the progress we link to the Renaissance or later years actually happened during the Middle Ages."

C.S. Lewis addresses this subject in his book, "The Discarded Image".

Jim C.

My point being that medievalist experts have known this for some time. It's just finally filtered through to everybody else.

Donald R. McClarey

Thank you Flo for your interesting comments, and in response:

1. Certainly the native Irish would have done better. Have you ever heard the expression "Hell or Connaught"? Since the native Irish made up the vast majority of the population the British policy made no sense economically but a lot of sense in "keeping the paddies down" as the charming phrase went.

2. Your point in regard to Amsterdam is partially correct but really is irrelevant to the point I was making. The Netherlands benefited from geographic location, Ireland did not. I don't think that negates my point as to the lack of natural resources being a factor in regard to the relative poverty of Ireland. As to the linen industry I do not deny that some portions of the economy of Ireland were successful, my point is simply that the factors I enumerated help explain Irish overall poverty.

3. It is a sore point in Ireland to this day. I think some Irish Catholic writers have exaggerated the distortion of the economy caused by British favoritism to Belfast, but that it did cause some distortion I believe is beyond doubt.

4. Too many Irish wanted to be a lawyer (like me) and run for office. Too few wanted to run a business and employ others.

5. Agreed. The Irish emigration figures following the Potato Famine were simply astounding. Whole villages at a time simply left for America.

6. The first Labor government took power briefly between the wars in Britain. Until Thatcher Labor tended to dominate British politics post WWII. Most Irish parties from independance would be considered socialist by U.S. standards. Socialist ideas were much in vogue in Britain and Ireland from around 1890 forward. Even that great anti-socialist, Winston Churchill, seized eagerly on socialist ideas and helped usher in the Welfare State in Great Britian in the Liberal government prior to WWI.

7. I am more familiar with American railroad development than I am with the British. However, although the railroads were private in England I believe they depended heavily on government action to be built: right of way access, condemnation, etc. As to why the British should have built such systems in Ireland, I can answer in one word: profit.

8. Napoleon called the English a nation of shopkeepers and this was partially true. But, there was an old bias against educating the British elite to take part in "trade". Education for government, civil service, the military, the Church, yes, but not business. The Irish aped this foolishness.

9. Ireland lost dominion status after it declared full independance. Com boxes are too short to discuss this complex subject, but trade within the Empire was usually set up to maximize benefit to London at the expense of the colonies. Ireland was definitely considered by the British to be a colony.

10. You may be correct as to the British textile industry, I really don't know. As a whole, however, finding capital to finance industrialization was a common problem in most nations in the nineteenth century.

Good discussion! Thank you for a thoughtful exchange!

Jimmy Mac

"Today, as Catholicism spreads in Africa and China, it's important to understand the beliefs that encourage people to work hard and grow rich."

And what would these (Catholic)beliefs be? I was NEVER taught that if I worked hard I would be rich! Exactly which version of Catholicism teaches THAT?


I should probably point out that when folks say above that it was policy to impoverish the Catholic Irish, that was meant literally.

Under the Penal Laws, it was forbidden for an Catholic Irish person to own, IIRC, a horse worth more than 5 pounds. So if you worked hard, bred good foals, raised them on good Irish grass, and came up with a good marketable horse that wasn't a bag of bones -- you were breaking the law. You would be fined severely, in addition to having the horse/s confiscated. If the local law wasn't particularly fair, even a bag of bones could be judged as worth more than 5 pounds.

So a Catholic Irish person effectively was forbidden from having a decent horse or maybe even a horse at all. This would have serious economic impact.

The fact that Catholics were barred from any kind of legal schooling also had an impact, and there are many other examples. It wasn't just a loss of religious freedom, or even of civil rights; it was a law against just about everything.

I should also note, however, that the Penal Laws were foreshadowed by the colonial laws passed by Catholic English kings. There were all sorts of things in these laws (they forbade Irish dress and hairstyles, for example). But what's important to this argument is that in an early form of mercantilism, they either heavily fined, imposed customs duties, or totally forbade the production or exportation (depending) of many kinds of goods which were also produced in England by influential guilds. England wanted Ireland to be a natural resource farm and breadbox that also would buy English goods. It didn't want Ireland to be self-sufficient or industrialized.


I also forgot about the hay. One fundamental fact of Irish farming is that you can't use hay for winter feed. Until modern times, there was no good way to store hay in Ireland's damp climate. It would rot, that's all.

Now, that was fine if you had a typical damp but warm Irish winter, protected by the Gulf Stream. It was not fine if you had a hard winter and the grass was covered up by snow and ice for long periods.


Re: the Irish linen industry


"The lack of a national coinage and the English Crowns ability to control coinage to Ireland in effect could and did stymie the Irish economy so as not to affect English commerce negatively. Irish tokens, though used successfully in local commerce, helped prevent travel within Ireland by it's people far from their place of birth since token acceptance and redemption value decreased as the distance from the point of issue increased. A similar situation took place here in the U.S. when turn of the century coal companies used scrip to pay workers, thus assuring they would deal with the company stores.

"The Irish linen industry of the 1700's was a prime example of the economic tactics the English used to control Irish development. As the Irish linen merchants began to surpass the English linen trade a number of steps were taken to assure competition from it's colony didn't hurt the mother country's businesses. A major step was to drastically reduce coinage to prevent the Irish economy from functioning with any degree of efficiency."


Rodney Stark's insight corresponds exactly with Charles Murray's in his important book Human Accomplishment. Paradoxical as it may seem, St. Thomas Aquinas deserves much more credit for the creative take-off that occurred in the West--including the Scientific Revolution--than is commonly realized. Too, the demise of this creativity over the past hundred years may be tied to the loss of faith. Which works of art over this time will be enduring? Well, besides The Far Side and Calvin & Hobbes.

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