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An Economic Analysis of the Protestant Reformation

  • Robert B. Ekelund, Jr.
  • Robert F. Hebert
  • Robert D. Tollison

This paper seeks to explain the initial successes and failures of Protestantism on economic grounds. It argues that the medieval Roman Catholic Church, through doctrinal manipulation, the exclusion of rivals, and various forms of price discrimination, ultimately placed members seeking the Z good "spiritual services" on the margin of defection. These monopolistic practices encouraged entry by rival firms, some of which were aligned with civil governments. The paper hypothesizes that Protestant entry was facilitated in emergent entrepreneurial societies characterized by the decline of feudalism and relatively unstable distribution of wealth and repressed in more homogeneous, rent-seeking societies that were mostly dissipating rather than creating wealth. In these societies the Roman Church was more able to continue the practice of price discrimination. Informal tests of this proposition are conducted by considering primogeniture and urban growth as proxies for wealth stability.

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File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/339721
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Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal Journal of Political Economy.

Volume (Year): 110 (2002)
Issue (Month): 3 (June)
Pages: 646-671

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Handle: RePEc:ucp:jpolec:v:110:y:2002:i:3:p:646-671
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/JPE/

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  1. Gary S. Becker, 1981. "A Treatise on the Family," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number beck81-1, September.
  2. Nelson, Benjamin N., 1947. "The Usurer and the Merchant Prince: Italian Businessmen and the Ecclesiastical Law of Restitution, 1100–1550," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 7(S1), pages 104-122, January.
  3. Ekelund, Robert B, Jr & Hebert, Robert F & Tollison, Robert D, 1989. "An Economic Model of the Medieval Church: Usury as a Form of Rent Seeking," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(2), pages 307-31, Fall.
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