I am surprised that I agree with Francis Fukuyama’s analysis of Weber’s Protestant ethic. It was not so much religion and culture that allowed capitalism to flourish, but the constellation of political and social institutions that obstructed it.

What held traditional China and Japan back, we now understand, was not culture, but stifling institutions, bad politics and misguided policies. Once these were fixed, both societies took off. Culture is only one of many factors that determine the success of a society.

However, Fukuyama’s analysis falls prey to another myth regarding religion, geography and economy:

no one can deny the importance of religion and culture in determining why institutions work better in some countries than in others. The Catholic parts of Europe were slower to modernize economically than the Protestant ones, and they took longer to reconcile themselves to democracy. Thus, much of what Samuel Huntington called the ”third wave” of democratization took place between the 1970’s and 90’s in places like Spain, Portugal and many countries of Latin America.

NO, NO, NO, NO, NO! A thousand times NO! The map of the spread of capitalism does not travel from Protestant to Protestant country (although I would qualify the Protestantism of the Anglican Church).

After Northern England,the next destinations for capitalism were predominantly Catholic territories: Liege, Aachen and Krefeld, areas that are part of the “blue banana” that were strongly, although not predominantly, Catholic. Looking at the core of European urbanization, there is a strong presence of Catholics who live among large Protestant minorities. If we are to look at religion as a factor in development, it is this coexistence of faiths that fosters development rather than one faith over the other.

Besides, no one ever argued that the Protestant Junkers were great industrialist!

[Edited for clarity on 3/15: I was in a “celabratory” mood when I wrote this, having just turned in an application.]