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Linking Religion, Labor Just Doesn't Work

August 15, 2004

Niall Ferguson suggests that differences in the number of hours worked in Europe and the U.S. are the product of higher levels of religiosity in the U.S. ("Bone-Tired? You Need a Job in Europe," Commentary, Aug. 11). He justifies this in terms of German sociologist Max Weber's work "Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism." Weber's work hardly provides support for such a proposition. He argues that the spirit of capitalism developed through the secularization of certain attitudes that first emerged in Protestantism. Weber provides no rationale for why a more religious nation should work longer hours than a less religious one.

Of course, if religiousness promoted longer work, we should see a continuum in each country of the hardworking pious, average Christmas/Easter congregants, lazy seculars and shirking atheists. We don't though. I suspect the differences we see here have much more to do with relative success of labor movements in Europe compared with the United States.

Michael Bernhard

Associate Professor

of Political Science

Penn State University


Ferguson sure has an odd way of looking at things. What he calls "lethargy" (shorter working hours and longer vacations), I call better working conditions. Then again, we shouldn't be surprised when this comes from someone who espouses the "virtues" of brutal empires. If he wants to take a contrarian approach to history, why not investigate the struggles of working people to gain dignity on the job?

Marvin Vargas


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