SAFE Policy Web Seminar: Religious Roots of Capitalism

A panel with Benjamin Friedman, Lisa Herzog and Harald Hagemann. Moderator: Hans-Helmut Kotz.

11 Oct 2021 18:30 PM
11 Oct 2021 19:45 PM

The SAFE Policy Center organizes and cordially invites you to attend a policy web seminar on

Religious Roots of Capitalism

Benjamin Friedman, Harvard University
Lisa Herzog, University of Groningen
Harald Hagemann, Universität Hohenheim

Moderator and organizer:  Hans-Helmut Kotz, SAFE and CES, Harvard

Inevitably, theory building reflects (and reflects upon) societal background conditions. This seems to be particularly evident for theories of society. Hence, it appears obvious that such contextual traces can be found also in economics, and right from its beginnings. That is what Benjamin Friedman demonstrates convincingly in his enormously erudite and powerful “Religion and the Rise of Capitalism”. Building on “prodigious research”, he “magisterially” (both quotes from the New York Times) explains how “Weltbilder” shaped economic thinking as well as impacting on economic policy. Capitalism is quintessentially dynamic, building on individual initiative and choice. Its trajectory is everything but pre-determined. Predestination, however, was a core proposition in Calvinist Protestantism. There was ultimately no choice. Obviously, this did not sit well with a fledgling science, cherishing the freedom to choose. An opposing Protestant doctrine, Arminianism, holding that humans were innately good and did have agency, therefore provided a more favorable foundation for the economics of Adam Smith and his followers. These religious roots had substantial influence, impacting inter alia on Roosevelt’s New Deal as well as the institutions and the perception of the welfare state more generally. Reform was only conceivable, institutions malleable, under non-deterministic conditions.

Benjamin Friedman is an outstanding economist, renowned for his contributions in particular in macroeconomics, money and finance. In addition, he has written meanwhile three very well-received books for a larger audience. In our webinar, we want to critically assess Friedman’s core arguments in his Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. After Professor Friedman’s introductory remarks, we will have two eminent discussants.

Professor Lisa Herzog, a political philosopher, who, among her many publications, has written a prize-winning book on Inventing the Market: Smith, Hegel and Political Philosophy as well as Professor Harald Hagemann, a Honorary President of the European Society for Economic Thought, former chair of the Standing Committee on History of Economic Thought of the German Economic Association, with numerous important publications on economic doctrines and their traces in policies.

Prof. Hans-Helmut Kotz is Senior Fellow of the Leibniz Institute for Financial Research SAFE. Since 2010 he is a Resident Fellow at Harvard’s Center for European Studies as well as a Visiting Professor in the Economics Department. He is a senior fellow of the Center for Financial Studies since May 2010, with which he has been involved in numerous activities since the mid-1990s. Prior to joining CFS, Prof Kotz was a Member of the Executive Board of Deutsche Bundesbank (between 2002 and 2010), finally in charge of Financial Stability, Markets and Statistics.

The web seminar is a part of the SAFE Policy Lecture Series aiming at fostering debates on policy-relevant issues.