In view of the severe criticism that has surrounded Weber's thesis, attempts to rehabilitate it have been few and far between. We have argued that Weber's theory may be made more robust by the addition of supply-side elements to what is a predominantly demand-side theory. For example, there is an aspect of Weber's theory that seems to fly in the face of historical fact: economic development was not confined to
Protestant regions but experienced by Catholic regions as well. The most pointed—and least answered—criticism comes from Swedish economic historian Kurt Samuelsson, as summarized by Jacques Delacroix: "Amsterdam's wealth was centered on Catholic families; the economically advanced German Rhineland is more Catholic than Protestant; all-Catholic Belgium was the second country to industrialize, ahead of a good half-dozen Protestant entities.''46
Supply-side elements provide some insights into this discrepancy. Whereas Catholic areas that were isolated (e.g., Spain, Portugal, and Italy) did not progress quickly to capitalism, those areas contiguous to countries that became Protestant bumped up against vibrant economic activities and were forced to respond in order to remain competitive. For example, merchants in Catholic countries were forced to borrow at market interest rates once Protestantism eliminated usury constraints. Moreover, it was not the German cities of the Rhineland that were growing and becoming centers of market activities; the most prosperous and growing German cities in the post-Reformation period (i.e., Danzig, Leiden, Hamburg, Nuremberg, Cologne, and Berlin) lay outside the Rhine-land. Furthermore, while two cities in Belgium were among the largest in Europe in 1500 (Ghent and Bruges), Ghent declined in size and Bruges disappeared from the list in 1650. Bruges suffered adverse geographical consequences because it gradually receded farther and farther from the sea, depriving it of its vital seaport status. Belgium, of course, shares borders with both Protestant Germany and the Netherlands. In short, Weber's hypothesis is not denied by the fact that certain Catholic countries grew more or less simultaneously with the Protestant nations. A close examination of the evidence suggests a plausible reason for this coincidence.
In addition, the development of religious tourism in the "two Ger-manys'' in the post-Reformation period suggests another kind of border competition.47 By offering more religious shrines as pilgrimage destinations Catholic southern Germany competed with Protestant northern Germany for tourists in the immediate post-Reformation period (15301779). Whereas northern Germany held 6 percent of the total number of religious shrines in Europe, Southern Germany laid claim to 48 percent. This suggests that as part of its Counter-Reformation effort, the Roman
Catholic Church attempted to lure former church members back to its fold in part by offering fewer workdays as an inducement.
While it appears that possibilities exist for making Weber's thesis more robust, in the end, whether or not it can be rehabilitated is difficult to determine. The fundamental problems remain, especially the endogeneity problem—namely, in which direction does causality run? Did Protestantism encourage economic development or did economic development encourage Protestantism? Data limitations and other difficulties of framing and executing reasonable empirical tests appear daunting, given the realities of elapsed time. Despite these problems, and lack of success in dispensing them, the broader notion that religion and economic development are somehow connected has continued to intrigue economists and sociologists alike.
Was this article helpful?