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Economic Study: Protestants Work Harder, Catholics Are More Generous

Protestants work harder but Catholics are more generous, says a new study by the European Central Bank (ECB) that looks at the effect of religion on the economy.

The study asked the question: "Does culture, and in particular religion, exert an independent causal effect on politics?" Using Switzerland as a model because "it is well suited to study how religion affects politics and the economy as it is one of the few countries exhibiting genuine within-country variation in religion," the ECB study used data to determine the extent to which religion can effect politics.

The study was a sort of validation of Max Weber's theories set forth in his seminal work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, published in 1904, which argued that Protestantism was more applicable to capitalism because Protestants were more likely to see hard work as a form of salvation, which in turn encouraged the accumulation of wealth.

"Based on an analysis of Weber, as well as more recent work in the other social sciences, we show that Max Weber's classic includes hypotheses not only about work ethic and thriftiness, but also about political preferences, with far-ranging implications for the choice of political institutions and therewith also on economic outcomes like average income and income inequality," the study said. "In particular, this literature suggests that, relative to Roman Catholicism, Reformed Protestantism has curbed preferences for redistribution and for government intervention in the economy."

The paper's findings also disputed the theories of the father of socialism, Karl Marx, who said that economy shaped culture and religion, but not vice versa.

"Religion is not just, as Karl Marx would have us believe, 'People's Opium', but can, by its own force, significantly change people's preferences, both self-regarding and social ones," the ECB study said.

The ECB study also noted that Catholics are more likely to support more leisure time with family and government intervention in the economy than Protestants.

According to Reuters, the ECB study came shortly after a Vatican study that called for "sweeping reforms of the world economy and the creation of an ethical, global authority to regulate financial markets."

The Vatican's Justice and Peace department said last week the financial downturn had encouraged "selfishness, collective greed and hoarding of goods on a great scale," and that the world economy also needed an "ethic of solidarity" to lessen the burden of disparity between rich and poor nations.

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