I spend most of my waking hours studying some aspect of business law. I have a special interest in entrepreneurship. Does this have anything to do with Mormonism?
Consider the following from a blog post by Rob at BusinessPundit:
Kentucky’s past was one of coal mining and tobacco farming, so education wasn’t a priority until recently. We are definitely in the Bible Belt, with one of the largest churches in the country here in Louisville. That seems to breed a community more focused on family than anything else. There aren’t many devoutly religious people insistent on introducing new technologies to the world, or on making a billion dollars.
Hmm. That doesn’t sound like Mormons, does it? Reading this prompted me to unearth a paper I had read several years ago entitled, People’s Opium? Religion and Economic Attitudes. The published version is now available here. In the abstract, the authors summarize their findings as follows:
We find that on average, religious beliefs are associated with “good” economic attitudes, where “good” is defined as conducive to higher per capita income and growth…. Overall, we find that Christian religions are more positively associated with attitudes conducive to economic growth.
This paper follows of long tradition of connecting religious belief and economic attitudes. Most of us are at least passingly familiar with the work of Max Weber and the Protestant Ethic. Many recent studies offer empirical evidence of a connection between Catholicism and the lack of development of institutions conducive to economic development. Unfortunately, according to the authors of the Opium paper, most of these studies are not able to distinguish between two competing hypotheses:
One possible interpretation is that there is something intrinsic to certain religions … that makes them inimical to the development of talents and institutions that foster economic growth. An alternative interpretation, which is equally consistent with the results, is that there was something in the past (correlated with religion, but not necessarily religion) that trapped a country in a bad equilibrium. According to this interpretation, there is nothing fundamental, but it is hysteresis that keeps a country trapped in this equilibrium.
Approaching this topic with reference to Mormonism probably requires a shift back to the Weberian perspective. Rather than asking whether there is something intrinsic to Mormonism that makes it inimical to economic development, we might ask whether Mormonism is hard-wired for entrepreneurship (or economic development). In our case, it may be impossible to separate the intrinsic nature of the religion from its historical roots. Rather than prolong this post with some of my own half-baked ideas, however, I will open this up for discussion.