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Sunday, October 21, 2007

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Catholic countries: warm and lazy

Recent comments on blogs about the economic weakness and general chaos in Catholic countries (and even "Catholic cities" like New Orleans) have made me think about that classic problem: why are Catholic nations often backward in these respects? Most people would be aware of the classic explanation from Max Weber, centreing on the idea that Calvinism and the Protestant Work Ethic led to greater economic success among Protestants than Catholics. A lot of recent rhetoric contrasts the superior work ethic of WASP Americans with that ascribed to the Hispanics now flowing into America, legally and illegally.

It certainly seems that Catholic countries lag. One need only compare Latin America to the heavily Protestant United States. The British Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, of all people, writing in the 19th Century and worrying about the Irish, did however admit that Catholicism itself was not necessarily the problem. He noted that Belgium had a lot of Catholics as well as economic success.

One factor that I can't remember being suggested to explain the disparate success of the Catholic South of Europe or South America with the Protestant North of Europe and North America is simply this: a warm climate versus a cold climate. By historical accident, the more Protestant parts of Europe are also mostly the colder parts. Life is harder in colder climates, and the strongly seasonal nature of agriculture would have required more planning and hard work. As the (mostly Protestant) South in the United States demonstrates, warmer climates lead to easier living and a more leisured society.

It could be argued that Catholic nations Poland, Ireland and Quebec are comparatively cold and have also been backward, although a case could be made that these countries suffered from bullying neighbours. Ireland at least is doing rather well these days. Other instructive cases are those of Bavaria and Austria, both of which enjoy economic success, despite being Catholic. And they are cold.

So, a factor that should be considered in the debates about the "laziness" of Catholics, including Hispanics, is that it may be due in part to their living in warmer climes which make working hard neither particularly necessary nor particularly appealing.

Julian

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