Of God and Money

A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walk into an economics lab. Which one is most likely to increase contributions to the public good? A new study found that Protestants were more likely than Jews or Catholics to contribute money to a public pool. The Protestants also worked hardest for wages in a labor market game. Consider it evidence for the Protestant work ethic. (HT: Chris Blattman) [%comments]

Mojo Bone

Still waiting for the punchline....


The so-called "Protestants" were probably non-Christian Unitarians and/or "Friends" -- believers in cause and effect. I suspect generosity and religiosity do NOT correlate.


That may also be due to the fact that in general, a catholic priests and Jewish Rabi would work full time in a position paid by their own church. Protestants pastors are more likely to have an alternative occupation (like, they earn money somewhere else, even if they receive church support)... so sure, put them in a lab, and protestants will work... not out of work ethics, but of institutional differences


the punchline is we're all gonna need LOTS of charity when the USA completes it's economic transmorgification into Brazil circa the late 1980's.

don't worry, only AIG bankers *get* that one.


Your question asks which of the three is most likely to increase contributions to the public.

Your answer assumes that the only contributions that "count" are those that go into a "public pool."


If a Catholic directs his contribution to Catholic poor and a Jew directs his contribution to Jewish poor, are the Catholic or Jewish recipients not members of the public as much as anyone else is?


That was a lot less funny than I expected.


I get it. We just need to get folks motivated, focused on the next step. Part of what drove the early protestants was getting away from something ( a taxing mother church), and creating something new.

We need to get away from politics and supporting the status quo, and start doing things that give us freedom.
Don't argue about climate change, take a few steps that happen to lesson your being an energy hog.

For example, would anyone here, anyone at all, give up their cherished rat race for a quiet life on the farm?

Sustainable agriculture not only feeds people, it feeds freedom and quality of life. Small farms (with big screen televisions helping to heat the house) will be important to helping to ensure quality of life for nine billion people.

As for climate change, whatever happens will happen. Worrying about climate change instead of quality of life ( more free time with family, better quality food, feeling better about saving energy and Earth) - is a red herring, like saying that either the Democrats or the Republicans favor big business or big government to the exclusion of the economic viability of mom and pop (small business owner [farmer]).

Both the Republicans and the Democrats favor big business and big government. This is the nature of economic corruption.

So don't get hung up on global warming, per se.

It's okay to have big corporations, some of them sending grain half way around the world to help feed hungry people, but most of us should be focused on how to increase our quality of life by scaling down a little.

It will feel better, too.




This study did not actually look at donations or charity. It took 4 people and gave them the opportunity to put in some money, have it matched by the researchers, and then have it spread amongst all 4 participants. This means that rather than "donating" money, the participants are paying for the privilege of redistributing the lab's money to the study participants.

Not really sure how redistributing money from a researcher to a subject really counts as charity.


Is the minister prime?



That's what a public goods donation game IS. The authors don't mention charities--that's a different animal altogether.

These games are meant to have the same sort of properties of any public good. You can donate, but you'd rather benefit from other people's provisions. The socially optimal outcome is to have everyone donate, but each person has an incentive to free ride. The question is which types of people are the free-riders. Think parks, not charities.

Kip Hansen

Well at least JoelP looked at the study itself, which is conveniently (thank you Freakonomics) linked, which apparently isn't true for commenters 1 thru 7.

That said, this isn't a real world study of the actual actions of real people in their normal lives, but a Psych Lab study using university students (not, and I apologize in advance for this even though it is screamingly pertinent, real adults) paid to participate.

All of your who participated in Psych Lab studies while at uni to make a couple extra bucks raise your hands. Thank you. Those of you who took these tasks as seriously as the researchers keep your hands up, everyone else put your hands down. Alright, the one guy with his hand still up, are you kidding me?


This study has a key failure and it is that it ignores the "minority" status of both Catholics and Jewish. Of course someone who is part of a minority will rather contribute to his or her own community goods. Before making such statement, the test should be carried in countries where the Catholics or Jewish are the predominant religion. No evidence for the Protestant work ethic, you should be more careful with this kind of post and the statements you make in them.


From the look of things, this study has not, as of yet, been published in a peer-reviewed journal and therefore should not be the basis of an article--or even a blog post-- in The NY Times.


Got it right thanks to my families tireless emphasis on the correlation between hard work and god. lol


Let me just say that atheists are the best of all.

Dharmendra Goel

Dharmendra Goel 3.30pm,Nov. 21, 2009.
Yes to me an Indian the question is whether religiosity becomes sectarian Charity when it slecifically helps its own brand of Faithfuls. What about indigentshirtless tribals and animists and dire poor who do not know of any sacrament and rituals than thedaily grind of feeding the empty Belly. such also are there in our World in millions.
Must they come as Catholics ,Jews , Musalmans or Hindus before a humaniast is moved to do somethingt o alleviate their dire indigence?
A true humanist should do charity unmindful of evangelism of any kind and only rescue the Shirtless humans of any race, creed or nationality.This is what philosophy which i have nourished my soul with ,over decades of contemplation of greatest Thinkers of the World have left on me as the crystalline Truth. D. Goel

Eric M. Jones

-11: — Kip Hansen--I agree completely.

This study has no relevance in the real world. It should carry a warning on the cover sheet.

What is a Protestant anyway? Is a Protestant like my Missouri-Synod Lutheran GF? Or like my Grandma? Is a Catholic like my wife or the Pope? What characteristics define the grouping of these sects?

This certainly isn't Science, logic, or even worth the teeny-tiny electrons used to display it. It is surprising poor work.

For my money, when you consider the small population, emphasis on learning and the arts, and support of charities, curtural and intellectual institutions, and the creation of real value; it's absurd not to place Jews at the very top of the "Most Likely to Increase Contributions to the Public Good" list (at least in Western civilization).

BTW: I once picked up a book with the title, "The Jewish 100- The most Influential Jews...". The top four are:


Here's a man in need of some serious psychotherapy!



Good grief this post is like everything that is wrong with this field all at once. It's extrapolating way beyond it's findings then couched in sexy and relevant social terms for popular consumption. A topic like this deserves less superficial treatment.

Jay Anders

@ # 17

what a crock - at least three of these nominally Jewish figures are fictional/biblical - Moses, Abraham, Jesus ? haha

D.B. Borsody

Of all people walking into a economics lab, I would hope that a priest, rabbi and minister would be able to explain that there are many ways to contribute to the public good in addition to giving money. One can give time and energy by volunteering, or even by doing one's best daily to practice compassion and not give into anger and apathy. These actions also have a valuable economic affect on the well being of society. There's no doubt that contributing money is an essential part of a healthy liberal democracy, but it's only one part of the solution. Indeed, too much focus on charity only in the financial sense can bring us further way from the true and original meaning of charity (agape, compassion). As I think Dorothy Parker quiped, " If you want to see what God thinks of money just look at the people he gave it to."