The Weber argument is interesting, but until now no one really knew whether it was true or not. It’s a good story—that much we’ve collectively agreed on—but it was hard to tell if it was Protestantism or some other factor that led capitalism (and affiliated laws and policies) to spread. Certainly there were predominantly Catholic countries that also had capitalism. Weber’s argument seemed compelling, but, like many economic or historical arguments, it was a story without real proof.

Enter a group of Dutch economists, who have discovered that the Protestant work ethic is real.

…In other words, Protestantism may not make you rich, but it sure makes you unhappy when you’re not rich. The old Calvinist doctrine of a livelihood as the source of one’s value, and a sign of God’s favor, wreaks great havoc on people’s lives when that livelihood is gone. What’s more, this is true even when people practice other religions (or none at all) in largely Protestant countries. They experience the same impulses. What this really indicates is just how important Protestantism is to our concept of work—all of our concepts of work.

…As hard workers attempted to prosper in business in order to show that they were God’s chosen ones, over time hard work became the object in itself, particularly in the United States. This is ultimately sort of ironic because, as Tim Kreider wrote in his recent New York Times article condemning busyness, “The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment.” But there you have it. We work hard because it’s the American way. And it’s the American way because the Puritans did it.