Religion and the Rise of Capitalism | Benjamin M. Friedman

Summary of: Religion and the Rise of Capitalism
By: Benjamin M. Friedman


Get ready to embark on a compelling journey that will unravel the intricate relationship between religion and capitalism in the United States. ‘Religion and the Rise of Capitalism’ by Benjamin M. Friedman delves deep into the impact of Calvinism, Adam Smith’s ideologies, and the influence of modern-day evangelical voters on American economy. Through this book summary, you will gain insights into the historical roots of free market economics and their interwoven connection with religion. Discover how the United States differs from other developed countries in terms of its religiosity and wealth, and how religious beliefs have affected policies and social thinking.

The intersection of religion and economics

In “The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth,” Benjamin M. Friedman explores the relationship between religion and economics in the United States throughout history. Focusing on Adam Smith, Calvinism, and modern-day evangelical voters, Friedman’s comprehensive approach reveals why the US economy differs from other developed countries. Academic, financial, and literary journals raved about this thought-provoking examination. The book provides a well-researched and well-argued challenge to those who assign sole secular responsibility to economic theory. Friedman’s insights highlight lesser-known thinkers who helped shape the ideological forces driving the US economy.

The Divine Plan of Self-Interest

In “The Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith argues that self-interest can lead to positive outcomes for society. While commonly believed that economics is separate from religion, Friedman points out that in 18th-century Scotland, academic studies and religious thinking were intertwined. Smith saw free-market mechanisms as part of a divine plan, and the pursuit of self-interest could benefit the wider community. This perspective echoes Isaac Newton’s belief that understanding God’s creation could go hand in hand with scientific discovery. Overall, economics and religion have had a deeper connection than previously thought.

The Roots of American Work Ethic

Economist Milton Friedman explores the connection between Calvinist beliefs and the American work ethic. He reveals how the Calvinist notion of hard work, morality, and industry shaped American culture. Moreover, Friedman highlights how early Americans’ skepticism of government limited state authority. Friedman also explains how Calvinists used the Bible’s command for people to live by their own toil as an argument against slavery, leading to the Holy War of the Civil War.

Wealth, Religion, and Society

The book explores how concentrated wealth, Christian charity, and religiosity shaped the US economy in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In his book, Friedman examines how a small group of wealthy individuals dominated the US economy in the 19th century and how the gospel of wealth promoted the idea of using Christian charity to address social issues. Andrew Carnegie serves as a prime example of someone who shared these beliefs and sponsored numerous public buildings across the country.

The author highlights the unique relationship between wealth and religiosity in the United States, which sets it apart from other countries. He notes that 53% of Americans consider religion very important to their lives compared to just 15% in other G7 nations. Friedman also emphasizes how the social gospel movement in the late 19th and early 20th century aimed to apply Christian principles to practical social action, influencing even President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s policies in the 1930s.

Overall, the book offers an illuminating perspective on the relationship between wealth, religion, and society in the United States, and how these factors have shaped its economic and social landscape over the past two centuries.

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