I am loath to essentialist phrases, but calling Quakers “natural capitalists” got me.

Synopsis

King spends the first part of the book progressively getting into detail about what Quakernomics is not as opposed to what it is. He goes from saying that the book is not about religion but economics, and then says it is not about economics but ethics. This is a way of providing a framework for the rest of the book. However, it should have been encapsulated within an introduction since it had to include so much contextual information.

He also spends the latter half of the book getting into broader detail about economists and their comparison to Quakernomics. He deplores them for their dogmatism and lack of clear social responsibility.

Themes

King catalogues all of the notable Quaker industrialists from the Darbys to the Cadburys and noting whether their methods of capitalism fit within Quaker ethics. Although he notes that they were flawed in how they achieved them, he did note that Quakernomics seeks to promote equality and emancipation. He also notes that Quaker banks were highly trusted, and only one of them ended disastrously.

Is it a little reductive to say that the Quakers started the Industrial Revolution in Coalbrookdale? Maybe. The discovery of a more refined iron would have been possible anyway. King makes it clear that Quakers do not have this innate intelligence, rather they are human beings like everyone else. He highlights this when he noted that a Quaker industralist did not invent the non-phosphorous matchstick, a Swede did and he simply purchased the patent to sell the ware himself.
King also gets into detail how the Quaker ethical capitalists he describes were flawed, as they were complacent in the slave labor of chocolate among other complacencies. However, he argued that they did make efforts to mitigate the suffering of fellow humans in the best way they could.

The ethics that drive Quakernomics does not include prosperity, since Quakers view it as a slippery slope towards sin. Instead, they rely on four simple precepts: Peace, Equality, Truth, and Simplicity. These are the principles that would guide Quaker industrialists. As such, King argued that unlike individualist capitalists, Quakernomics involves collective consensus among the Quaker businessmen through connections to each other.

As for later in the book, Quakernomics is compared to the other economists and their theories. King places Marxism as among the economic thoughts that pinpoint the right problems, while also having the wrong mindset. Also, he deplores the economic thought of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman for their lack of explicit social responsibility, their contradictions, and their role of government as only achieving the bare minimum. King argued that Quakernomics does not have any regard for “big government,” since Quakers engage in business while also demanding government redress for any social ills.

There is one economist that King identifies as the one most closely aligned with Quakernomics, which is Richard Henry Tawney. He even frequently invokes his idea of “method of association,” when discussing the moral obligation the capitalists and the people have with each other. This is what provides that aforementioned buffer zone between the far left and far right.

King also discusses the wider implications that market economics has on the global or societal scale. In the case of what he called Friedmanism, it does not provide a strong rebuttal against authoritarianism. This results in the regimes throughout the world influenced by his Friedman’s economics, especially notoriously Chile. King also discusses how climate change is a worry worth having.

Relevance

Quakers, like the Jains and Jews, were noted for their production of wealth and persecution as a minority group. King is careful to make broadly sweeping comparisons, since he also noted differences.

King spends a lot of time discussing the distinction between Marx’s theory of economics with Quakernomics. While Marx opposes all forms of capitalism, Quakernomics works within it. It seems to me like King is framing Quakernomics as existing within its own pragmatic buffer zone between individualistic capitalism and Marxism. Although the goal of Quakernomics is to pursue ethical aims, it does so within the confines of market economics.

I could never get into Marxism because of its utopian ideals that may not happen–in our lifetimes at least. Will the classless society emerge one hundred years from now? One thousand years from now? Maybe. I’m much more concerned with the here-and-now. My outlook is 3 parts pragmatist, 1 part idealist. As flawed as times are right now, I can at least deal with it in whatever way I find best possible. If the Quakers can succeed despite persecution, then there is no reason why I can’t do anything.

Also, I used to be a libertarian who venerated the likes of Ayn Rand and even read that clunky 1000+ page “Atlas Shrugged.” I don’t consider the time I read it lost time since I consider the dense writing style to be a challenge to those who wish to endure it, but I do note the morally monochrome characters and the lack of nuance–with the small exception of the character Sheryl.

I will definitely say that Quakernomics does make you think. It’s easy to point out the flaws of the Quaker industrialists and their complacency of the abuse within their production chain; however, it would also be noted that those abuses would have happened anyway because of how commonplace and normalized they were. If Quakers did not engage in business and social progress concurrently, then they would not have become active participants in social progress.
The alternative to Sao Tome slave labor probably would have to be cooperatives where the people in such groups are paid fairly for their work. You cannot say they should cut corners by hiring cheap labor, because prosperity–once again–would not be the point. If those workers are not paid fairly or are mistreated, then no amount of corner-cutting will cut it.

Adding to my previous thought about Quakernomics’ position as a buffer zone, it would be important to note that mixed economies will happen anyway. The real position that King puts is which interplay of economics is most suitable for the here-and-now.

Source

  • King, Mike. “Quakernomics: An Ethical Capitalism.” 1st Edition. Anthem Press. 2014.

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