Quakers and Capitalism – announcing a wiki

December 4, 2010 § 8 Comments

One of the reasons I started this blog was that I have done a great deal of research and writing toward a book on Quakers and Capitalism, but I’ve still got a lot of work to do, and I don’t really want to wait to share some of the fruits of this work until I publish (assuming I can find a publisher); that would just take too long. Also, I am not a trained historian, nor do I have access to very many primary sources; I have been reading secondary sources and digesting and synthesizing what I learn. Taken together, these facts mean that I am liable to make mistakes in my analysis and to miss important information. Finally, one of my primary goals with the book is to stimulate a deeper and more sustained conversation about our economic testimony than we have had to date, and I don’t want to wait with that, either.

As we have seen so dramatically in the past couple of years, the economic system is now at a crucial point of (potential) transformation, and I believe that the economic problems we face desperately need a stronger moral voice than they are getting right now. One of my points with my own work in this area is that, as with prison reform, Friends stand in a unique relationship of responsibility for the capitalist system: just as we played a key role in the development of the modern penitentiary, so Quakers have done more than any other community to give capitalism, at least industrial capitalism, its shape and early momentum. Now that it’s running amok, I feel we have a special responsibility to address its problems.

So—with the blog, I am hoping to attract the expertise of others in this area, both as a supplement and a corrective, and to get this conversation going. Already, this has been a great success. Many Friends seem interested in the topic and some have already added valuable information. For instance, I am indebted to Isabel Penraeth for her comments on hat honor.

I have felt for a while that the way to proceed might actually be to try to write the book collaboratively on a wiki. So I’ve started one: http://quakercapitalism.wikispaces.com.

There are some problems, though. Wikispaces is not an open platform like Wikipedia. You can’t just go to the URL, log in and start writing. Participants have to be invited. You will have noticed, if you clicked on the link above, that the site is protected and there’s a Sign In link in the upper right hand corner, too. So if you wanted to contribute, you would have to let me know and then I would invite you and set you up with a login. I haven’t done this with anybody yet.

Also, it’s going to take some practice, I suspect, to learn how to use it. I’ve only begun to load the material I have written, so there’s still some work to do up front. Finally, I have been writing for a while now, and in a personal voice appropriate for a privately authored book, but not so appropriate for a collaborative effort like this. If I had known from the beginning that I was going to moderate a wiki, I would have started writing in a more neutral voice. Well, I’ve gone way too far to rewrite it all, so I invite contributors to use their own voice when writing, if they wish, and we will see what this stone soup turns into. If the project works out, the result will be colorful, at the least.

So this is an invitation to an experiment. I hope that some of my readers, especially those with knowledge of our history, will be interested in joining me in fleshing out our economic history. By “economic history,” I mean a history of Quaker economic fortunes and also a history of Quaker contributions to economics and to the structure and history of capitalism as a system. I mean to go beyond just a history of Quaker attitudes toward money.

I hope, also, that you will notify other Friends who might be interested. For instance, I know Larry Ingle a little bit (we were at Pendle Hill together in 1991), but not well enough to find him and invite him personally; but maybe some of you do. Also, Hugh Barbour has commented once; Hugh, I hope you would be willing to contribute also, if you’re still watching this blog’s progress. If any of you are interested, please email me at steven.davison@verizon.net. If you don’t feel like tackling a new platform and technology but want to contribute, I invite you to send me Word documents and I’ll publish them. I promise to keep track of contributors and their offerings and to report periodically, so as to honor and record copyright and attribution.

I’ve done most of my own research on our history up to about 1900 and that is as far as I’ve taken my writing, so it’s on the twentieth century that I’m weakest. Thus, some Friends will actually have first-hand experience of some of the history I most want to develop. For instance, was anybody there in Guilford at the Friends World Conference in 1967 when Young Friends introduced the idea of Right Sharing of World Resources? I’d love to cover that in detail. Any experts on A. J. Muste? Kenneth Boulding? Does anybody have copies of some of the pamphlets published by London Yearly Meeting’s Committee on Industry and the Social Order in the 1930s?

In my next post, I plan to publish the schematic outline I’ve developed for organizing the original book, so you can see how I’ve been thinking and identify where your own contributions might come in.

It’s going to take me some time to finish loading my own work into the wiki. There’s a lot, and I have to figure out how to organize it. Also, I have to master the style sheet and probably then publish a guide to style for contributors. Using the Wikispaces style tools will allow us to keep an updated and accurate table of contents, and without that, I’m afraid the project will soon fall into chaos.

So please contact me if you would like to participate and please spread the word. I think this might be the first such project for Friends and it will surely be a bit bumpy, but exciting, as well.

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§ 8 Responses to Quakers and Capitalism – announcing a wiki

  • […] history. By… Dec 8th, 2010 by Martin Kelley. // nRelate.domain = "www.quakerranter.org"; //Steven Davison starts a wiki on Friends and economics /**/ Share this:EmailFacebookPosted in: misc. ← Unlikely Messengers Shrinky Dinks from […]

  • Hi Steven,
    thanks for doing this wiki. You might enjoy catching up with QIF:


    Come to the summer institute!

    • Thank you, Elaine, for reminding me of the Institute’s good work. I would love to come to the summer institute—we’ll see if I have the time and the money this year. Meanwhile, when I get clear of some pressing work, I plan to reach out more with the wiki, not just to QIF.


  • Rod Zwirner says:

    Thank you for your work in this area as well your”that of God” ministry. Your creative mind and work are very important to many.
    I wanted to check to make sure you sense the overlap with QuakerInstitute for the Furture(QIF)and its Circles of Discernment. Their work intersects at many points with QEW. I would be very glad to share your wiki announcement to Qewdiscussions in order to widen its reach.

    As you know from two years ago in Atlanta, QEW is a “big tent” and unity is not easy. Your work speaks to the tensions which in part are due to semi-conscious acceptance of “that of God”, Inner Light”, etc.

    The buzz over Chocolate Wars.. speaks to the timeliness of your efforts on Friendly Capitalism.
    Rod Zwirner

    • Rod, thanks for the reminder about QIF. I attended the original organizational meeting of Quaker economists in 2003 but have allowed myself to fall a bit out of touch with QIF. Please do let any and all know about the wiki.

      I wasn’t aware of the buzz over Chocolate Wars either. Can you point me toward some sources?

      Thanks. Steven

  • Tom Smith says:

    I wonder of some consideration of Herbert Hoover’s contributions might be in order. It is my understanding that he actually proposed some regulations on Wall Street and the Banks but that the Governor of New York blocked some of those moves. If accurate this might show some “Friends” involvement in “controlling” rampant capitalism.

    • Tom, thanks for the comment. I have been trying to get up to speed on Hoover, and finding that rather difficult. He certainly is one of the most important ‘political economists’ Friends have produced, and is widely misunderstood and underappreciated. I am particularly keen to know how active a Friend he was during his career and how, if at all, his Quakerism shaped his political economics. From what I can tell, he was Orthodox (though I’ve not yet even been able to confirm this), and I have wondered especially how evangelical his uncle’s family was, and his meeting in Oregon. His responses to the Depression’s early days corresponds to policies followed by evangelical economists before him, but I don’t want to jump to any conclusions. Can you point me to some good sources? The biography I have read hardly mentioned his religion once it got past his childhood.


      • forrest curo says:

        He was also apparently “orthodox” in his economics, which in the circumstances led to addressing the situation less radically than needed. Whether something more effective would have been politically possible is, of course, mooter than whether a coin falls heads, tails, or edgies at the bottom of a dark well…

        I am, of course, quite interested. But I consider our history less urgent than what our current leading ought to be. The history may illuminate that– but largely by showing that we are not, and have never been, either infallible or as objective as we’ve imagined ourselves.

        Quaker merchant influence as a cause and exacerbation of the Irish famine, for example… [The reference I saw was somewhere in an overpriced booklet on population, etc by Jared Diamond?–together with whom? I’ll pass it on if I find it again.]

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