By Donald E. Frey
Lines the heritage of 2 rival American financial moralities from colonial instances to the current.
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Extra info for America's Economic Moralists: A History of Rival Ethics and Economics
Penn worried little about the form of government, saying, “Let men be good and the government cannot be bad” (Penn 1957, 111). Rather simply, Penn believed that the civil order should pursue obedience to the example of Jesus. If luxury and diversions were curbed, Penn wrote, there would be “no beggars in the land, the cry of the widow and orphan would cease” (59). For his part, Woolman inverted the belief that much poverty was due to idleness. To the contrary, the poor are often self-driven to work “harder than was intended by our gracious Creator” (Woolman 1971, COLONIAL FAITH 21 238).
Mrs. B also taught the wages-fund doctrine, which held that wages were paid, not from the product of labor, but from a fixed fund set aside by employers before they employed workers. Employers sought to spend the entire fund each year to hire the most possible labor and so to produce the most possible goods. At the end of the year, the goods would be sold, a profit realized, and the fund replenished. The wages fund, together with the size of the worker population, determined the actual wage rate.
Thus, the eighteenth century saw the transition from a morality that emphasized the self ’s obligations to God and community to one that recast ethics in terms of self-interest. COT TON MATHER Cotton Mather (1663–1728), influential Puritan clergyman at the turn of the eighteenth century, reiterated the form of seventeenth-century ethical formulas even while interpreting them in new ways. Mather retained the orthodox position that salvation rested on God’s grace alone, not good works. However, 25 26 AMERICA’S ECONOMIC MORALISTS if good works could not earn salvation, he suggested that they might at least bring some worldly benefits.