Is Capitalism Bad For You?
Max Weber on The Protestant Ethic & The Spirit of Capitalism

Press Start for “Is Capitalism Bad For You?“ by 8-Bit Philosophy, where classic video games introduce famous thinkers, problems, and concepts with quotes, teachings, and more.

Episode 22: Is Capitalism Bad For You? | Max Weber on The Protestant Ethic & The Spirit of Capitalism

Written by: Matt Reichle
Created & Directed by: Jared Bauer
Narrator: Nathan Lowe
Animation Producer: MB X. McClain
Original Music & Sound by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Academic Consultant: Mia Wood
Producer & Additional Artwork by: Jacob S. Salamon

Is Capitalism Bad For You?

Picture yourself as a laborer in a field picking turnips. You are compelled to increase production. Perhaps you are worried about keeping your job—perhaps you are worried that other people are working harder than you. The important thing is this: you have to pick more turnips; you can’t stop now… no matter what. Where might this anxiety come from?

Written in 1904, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is Weber’s attempt to explicate the ways that American style capitalism grew from a specific set of beliefs, namely Calvinism.

You see, the protestant ethic is a calling to work—a way of showing glory to god. The Calvinist is not just called to work—they are pressured via the fear of eternal damnation—and this has to cause some serious angst. Beset by the expectations of a boss, working to finish a deadline, aching to make ends meet, struggling for everyday salvation—capitalism creates anxiety in its own right. It makes it difficult to get up each morning and make the morning commute.

Calvinists believed in predestination, or the idea that very few people deserve access to the golden gates of heaven while the majority of the world, is condemned to hell… …forever. In order to ensure salvation, the Calvinist worked tirelessly, endlessly, without lavish possessions—for their very salvation was at stake—they proved they were chosen through disciplined work and practice.

With modern capitalism there is a similar parallel—work hard and you will be rewarded. It is the mantra of “picking yourself up by your bootstraps.”

With Calvinism capitalism found the perfect worker. Protestantism’s dedication to a calling—to the need to work for the glory of god created and environment that paved the way for a work force eager for eternal reward.
Over time the sacred practices of Calvinsim: hard work, self-restraint, specific routine practices, efficiency, lack of idleness—all became the defining traits of a western work ethic. It’s the reason why Americans tend to work long hours, take fewer vacations, have short lunch breaks, and reserve Sunday for rest—it is the secular expectations of a work force founded on religious principles.

If ghosts are the remnants of past entities—Protestantism haunts modern capitalism—we are left with the echoes of religious anxiety over the fear of damnation. Living in the iron cage of capitalism is akin to praying to be one of the chosen few that’s selected for economic salvation, constantly working in order to prove that you embody the proper work ethic. Well beloved viewer, if “God helps those that help themselves” who does modern capitalism help?

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