Mike King’s 2014 book Quakernomics: An Ethical Capitalism should interest anyone who wants to learn more about the history of 19th century British Quakers in business. Beyond that, the claim that the book provides “an immediately relevant guide for today’s global economy” should be treated with skepticism. 

The historical narrative that makes up the first half of the book is definitely interesting, but it is worth mentioning a couple of important concerns:

-          First, as one reviewer on Amazon notes there is little statistical evidence presented to back the author’s claim that Quakers were any more ethical than their counterparts. “it is difficult to know what percentage of Quakers followed the examples of looking after their workers that are given in the book. Similarly there is an impressive list of companies run by Quakers but do we really know how many in these Quaker ‘family’ firms were really practising Quakers? Without any figures it is difficult to make a judgement on the claims made… is it possible to say whether the percentage of Quaker employers who looked after their workers was significantly higher than the average?”

-          Second, his historical argument is that “Quakernomics…is a philosophy of wealth creation which sought from the outset to put its wealth to social ends” (128). While he does provide some examples of Quakers seeking changes in public policy, the bulk of his examples to support the idea of the social concerns of Quaker business owners (above average wages, model villages, hot chocolate instead of beer, etc.) are rooted in voluntary action and moral persuasion rather than legislation. This historical evidence is at odds with the author’s personal conviction (which informs the economic analysis in the second half of the book) that “the state must inexorably play a key role in the construction of an ethics for reining in raw capitalism” (255). 

You can read more here: http://quakerlibertarians.weebly.com/blog/quakernomics

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Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 13, 2015 at 1:55pm

I've referenced that book quite a bit in leading interest groups on "What is Quakerism?" to groups of non-Quakers, example here:

http://controlroom.blogspot.com/2014/10/a-quaker-arc.html

The story these non-Quaker authors tell delightfully piggy-backs on science fiction already in the bag:  The Iron Bridge.  That helps keep the tone light and more literary.

http://www.quaker.org/fqa/types/t10-iron.html

Also apropos, George Bernard Shaw was looking to ridicule and/or satirize the socially responsible businessman but shied away from using Cadbury, not evil enough to make his point:

http://worldgame.blogspot.com/2008/06/major-barbara-movie-review.html
(see ending paragraph)

What I get from the book is how business-oriented Quakerism was and therefore still could be or even is in some respects.

One need not dig too deeply to impress a newcomer with this orientation, given the prominence of Meetings for [Worship for] Business Meeting and emphasis on check-and-balance workflows among committees (talking unprogrammed here, what they had in the 1790s, more than pastor-led). 

A finely tuned Meeting could manage millions if not billions in assets, with processes already on the books or within reach of innovation, would be my contention.  Ethically?  That may be a function of Meeting depth, more than simply design i.e. that depends on the Meeting.


Kirby Urner
Co-clerk IT Committee / NPYM

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