Michael Novak in First Things:
In the century since Max Weber published The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the book has been subject to severe and sustained criticism, much of it justified. Yet reflecting on its thesis in the light of worldwide economic developments during the past several decades reveals that, for all of his errors, Weber grasped something crucially important about the spiritual wellsprings of capitalism—something that has been neglected by capitalism’s radical critics no less than by many of its most enthusiastic champions.
As Weber began to contemplate a study of capitalism’s emergence in the early modern world, he pondered a fact that many others, including Adam Smith, had noted before him—namely, that there are many areas of the world in which people—even dedicated, persistent, industrious people—tended to work only to a target they set for themselves, after which they stopped. Yet Weber also noticed that some groups were gripped by what he perceived as a new and different work ethic, such that they felt motivated to earn as much as they could and go constantly beyond their earlier gains. What accounted for this difference in values?