Thursday, September 26, 2013

David Landes wrote: Family Guys

Given the reflections on David Landes, I'd love to have our ASET book club consider reading one of his fine books.

I recommend this short essay for a taste of his perspective, analysis and skill as a writer.

Max Weber began his scholarly career as an historian of the ancient world and grew into a wonder of diversified social science--a wonder that still holds good and justifies this year's centennial celebration. In 1905 he published one of the most influential and provocative essays ever written: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. His thesis: that Protestantism, more specifically its Calvinist branches, promoted the rise of modern capitalism--that is, the industrial capitalism he knew from his native Germany. Protestantism did this, he said, not by easing or abolishing those aspects of the Roman faith that had deterred or constrained free economic activity (the prohibition of lending at interest, for example), nor by encouraging the pursuit of wealth, but by defining and sanctioning an ethic of everyday behavior that conduced to economic success, individually and for the community as a whole. . . .

The point here is the success of family business in an economy that is supposed to have left such older patterns behind. Modern students stress the advantage of managerial, corporate organization: the firm as a collection of talent. Family firms are seen as obsolete, and so noncompetitive. Yet the family, with its experience of trust, mutual support and traditional obligation, has more than held its own in those areas where these virtues matter; or where managerial teams are wanting, as in developing economies; or in Weberian strongholds like Alsace; and so on and on.

Culture counts, as Weber understood--and no one has understood it better.

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