How America's hatred of poor people ties back to Puritan work ethic

Originally published at:


I don’t think that this take on things works at all.

If you’re going to put the current American attitude towards poor people down to a lack of Catholic influence in the country’s history, then you also have to explain why the Calvinism in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Scotland didn’t lead to the same attitudes towards poor people and poverty, and why the strongest welfare States in Europe were not created in Catholic southern Europe, but the strongly Lutheran Protestant nations of northern Europe.


maybe it wasn’t sufficiently weaponized against them in those countries by politicians and others who think social programs will drain their own ability to get rich?

To me, it fits. I know so many people that are guilted by their own work ethic passed down by their religious parents, even when they themselves have rejected most of the religion. It survives in their outlook toward others, and even while being compassionate they hold onto the idea that self-sufficiency is the greatest virtue.


While Anderson acknowledges that this ethic is rooted in a very pro-worker mindset

It’s become rotten for a lot of American workers, too, leading to all kinds of wage theft as they’re encouraged to compete with each-other to demonstrate what hard workers they are (but never smart workers, oh no). I’ve seen this attitude all too often in tech, where “iron man brogrammers” brag about their shops’ eternal crunch time.


While I confess to not having thought deeply on this thread of reasoning, it does ring true, at least once you factor in the other elements of American history and culture into it. I suspect (and the author does not imply) that the “we are not Catholic” meme explains it all, but it could certainly play a role.


There was also the old “Puritans vs. Cavaliers” argument used by the Confederates to distinguish between the cultures (and, in their view, races) of Protestant Yankees vs Catholic southerners. Of course, the Work Ethic didn’t really matter to the plantation-owning Confederates who pushed this romantic vision as far as manual labour went, and in the intervening years Protestantism (via Evangelical movements) has come to dominate the culture of the South, too.


I would go even further; as the (typically) Northern European welfare states shifted the care of the poor away from religious institutions and made it a part of public expenditure, sensible programmes for poverty reduction also became prudent long term economic planning.
It is much easier for the authorities in a predominantly Catholic country to turn a blind eye to poverty, shrugging their shoulders with the expectation that the local church will somehow sort it out.


Or the local padrone, who occasionally demonstrates his beneficence with an act of private charity. Catholicism is deeply intertwined with feudalism.


I ask my evangelical protestant family in GA “Why shouldn’t there be a social safety net?”

“Because church charity is supposed to fill the gap voluntarily”

They honestly believe nobody should have a right to food or housing or healthcare. But that the churches should judge who deserves assistance according to their own whims. With the strings of proselytization attached.


I could never pull off the Puritan thing.


That’s a top excuse. But examples such as the Tulsa Riots or the Holocaust show that when a group that people want to be oppressed are successful, the excuse changes, but the hatred doesn’t.


In spite of growing up with a Conservative father, I still have a hard time coming to grips with the Conservative mindset.

I work hard, and a big part of the work I enjoy is finding better ways to do things; improve efficiency so we can get more done in less time. My dad had said he’d never met someone who would work so hard at not working. Whereas my philosophy is anything I can do to make my job easier down the road is time well spent.

Five-ish years back I was instrumental in overhauling our production process and integrating it into Trello (and I’ve since overhauled it again within Trello to smooth it out even more). By “instrumental” I mean, if I hadn’t been here the company could very well have tanked because the platform we had been using – vTiger – had its database corrupted, nobody had been doing backups, the ISP couldn’t restore it, and we lost everything. I was about a month into testing Trello, and had pulled over all of our current tasks, so when the crash happened we needed to roll it out sooner than I expected, but it saved us.

The following year, I put together a list of my accomplishments in an effort to validate why I felt I deserved a decent raise, and gave it to my supervisor who then passed it along to the owner of the company. We’re a small company, and I’m a manager, so bringing it to the attention of the owner made sense.

The owner called me into his office and verbally tore me to shreds. He was offended that I would claim these accomplishments for myself. If it weren’t for him hiring me, and putting me in my position, and it wasn’t for my supervisor encouraging me to look for other solutions, I couldn’t have done those things. I was dumbstruck. I wish I’d recorded it to refer to it later, but I had been totally caught off guard by this reaction.

I’m not the kind of person that takes credit for anything he didn’t do, and withholds credit from anyone who helps. I’m very much a person that keeps my light under a bushel. And I don’t push for raises often. I had no idea that I needed to give my boss credit for hiring me.

He begrudgingly gave me about 1/3 of the raise I was asking for, and I haven’t asked for a raise since.


That may hold for New England - but other Colonies weren’t Puritan. Philly was called Quaker City for a reason.

Maryland was a Catholic Colony. New Netherland wasn’t Puritan.


That link- spot on!

I’m amazed at how often in my own field of Machining people who should otherwise be intelligent among engineer’s and bosses are often willfully incredibly stupid.

I can point out something that is wrong and it will never be dealt with until it actually causes production problems yet much of it is simplistic and easily seen by anyone.

I have been told countless times that I overthink things when I am just thinking at all about anything. It has gradually dawned on me that this is why American manufacturing is failing- anyone remotely intelligent that is still doing it is not encouraging critical thinking in a useful way. In so many ways that article you linked is absolutely spot-on to everything I have seen my entire career.


Yeah, those buttons are ridiculous!


Also: It’s impossible to lift yourself by your bootstraps if all that’s available to you are sandals.


I try not to think about how Santa Claus teaches kids that you’re bad if your parents are poor.


Not to mention the pressure it puts on the parents who want to provide a good Christmas morning for their children, but don’t have the money for the latest popular doodads that Capitalism has deemed the “thing to get” this year or you don’t love your children.


I disagree that there is a contradiction there. There isn’t a simple claim that Catholicism causes charity and Protestantism causes hatred of the poor (at least I don’t think so). I think it’s more like America’s hatred of the poor evolved out of Protestant work ethic. It’s a claim that this happened, not that it will happen every time.

I think that pretty well all religious and philosophical beliefs can be used to justify basically anything. But in America’s case it does seem like when they opened the box the cat was dead.


The Calvinist idea of the elect-that everyone was selected for goodness or badness even before they were born-that grew into the prosperity gospel-you know god loves you because you have a good life, and if your life sucks it’s because god hates you-is very appealing. You can scorn those worse off than yourself because hey, it’s both their own fault and their destiny. You, on the other hand, deserve everything you have, because you are a good person whom god loves!
If you look at hardship as a facet of society, you might have to admit that your wealth has nothing to do with your deserving it, and their poverty might not be due to individual poor choices. Add in the idea of emigrating to the colonies as a way to escape privation in Europe and the proud individualist is born.