Tuesday, June 10, 2003

There has been enough mention of this problem recently, not that it's having much of an effect:
Nuclear nightmare in Iraq .

Mark Kleiman has a post a response to what he calls Niall Ferguson's "very curious essay" in The Times on the decline of the Protestant ethic in Europe.
The post contains this sentence:
"By ordinary economic logic, the richer we get the more we ought to be willing, at the margin, to trade off material goods for the leisure in which to enjoy them."
By such logic wealth and power should be self limiting. When has this ever been the case? Greed is self perpetuating. Luxury induces a laziness of method, which is what we have now. You can't keep an empire afloat by cutting corners, as we will be learning soon enough, but that is not what Kleiman is referring to I think.

[Actually I'll amend that: greed is self limiting only after you've admitted to yourself that you're not willing to work hard enough to keep it up. It's self limiting only after you've admitted defeat. But we have an economy fueled by immigration -by new "converts" to the cause- and that changes things.]

There's an old line about the Quakers in Philadelphia, where I grew up: "The Quakers came here to do good, and ended up doing well."
There is a contradiction between the protestant work ethic and protestant accumulation, but it's not logical, it's moral. They taught us about accumulation and secularization, and the role each played in early American history, in junior high. Wealthy men began to have their plain coats lined in silk etc. It's an old story. But it didn't make them less greedy, quite the opposite.

I've believed for years that the best religion on the planet is probably a lapsed Catholicism from a temperate climate, where the community is held together by a set of beliefs that suffuses daily life without being taken very seriously. When I was in Spain a few years ago I made what I thought was a vulgar comment, meant as a joke but, I thought, risky, that the secret of the country was that everybody was Catholic and nobody believed in God. My host almost yelled as he laughed at me: "That's IT!"

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