Economic laws and natural laws resemble each other. Those who draw them up make observations, discover a pattern, formulate it as a mathematical equation, and use the equation to make predictions. But there is a difference: natural laws are universally valid and thus they impose limitations on the span of all other patterns, including economic laws: infinite production, for example, is physically impossible. It is different again when we talk about distribution of scarce goods. In 1848, the influential liberal thinker John Stuart Mill, wrote the following on this subject:
The distribution of wealth is solely a matter of human institution. The things once there, mankind, individually or collectively, can do with them as they like. They can place them at the disposal of whomsoever they please, and on whatever terms. Further, in the social state, in every state except total solitude, any disposal whatever of them can only take place by the consent of society, or rather of those who dispose of its active force. Even what a person has produced by his individual toil, unaided by any one, he cannot keep, unless by the permission of society. Not only can society take it from him, but individuals could and would take it from him, if society only remained passive; if it did not either interfere en masse, or employ and pay people for the purpose of preventing him from being disturbed in the possession. The distribution of wealth, therefore, depends on the laws and customs of society.
In other words, an important part of the economic system is determined by social views. Indeed, a capitalist economy flourished earlier in countries with a particular culture, namely Calvinist. That is not to say that the reverse does not apply and that the economy does not influence a society’s culture. Calvinism happened to flourish in countries where urban commerce and industry were already in existence. Therefore it is safe to say that in a number of countries a certain affinity exists between Calvinist culture and non-agrarian economies. Of course this also applies to other social forms: a culture where people are resentful and hostile towards the ruler, as was the case in Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century, is susceptible to a communist economy, while the temptation to fascism is irresistible in countries with an authoritarian character. In short, the culture of a country influences the economy.
It is true that the Dutch consensus culture came under great pressure from 1795 to 1815, but it proved to be vital enough to endure through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and to help give form to the industrial economy. Here I am referring to the friendly relations between employers and employees, the pillarization, and the sometimes slavish loyalty to the government.
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