The Old Deluder Satan Act: Literacy, Religion, and Prosperity

So, my brother (Keith Kallmes, graduate of the University of Minnesota in economics and history) and I have decided to start podcasting some of our ideas. The topics we hope to discuss range from ancient coinage to modern medical ethics, but with a general background of economic history. I have posted here our first episode, the Old Deluder Satan Act. This early American legislation, passed by the Massachusetts Bay Colonists, displays some of the key values that we posit as causes of New England’s principal role in the Industrial Revolution. The episode: 

We hope you enjoy this 20-minute discussion of the history of literacy, religion, and prosperity, and we are also happy to get feedback, episode suggestions, and further discussion in the comments below. Lastly, we have included links to some of the sources cited in the podcast.


The Legacy of Literacy: Continuity and Contradictions in Western Culture, by Harvey Graff

Roman literacy evidence based on inscriptions discussed by Dennis Kehoe and Benjamin Kelly

Mark Koyama’s argument

European literacy rates

The Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution: England, 1500-1912, by Gregory Clark

Abstract of Becker and Woessman’s “Was Weber Wrong?”

New England literacy rates

(Also worth a quick look: the history of English Protestantism, the Puritans, the Green Revolution, and Weber’s influence, as well as an alternative argument for the cause of increased literacy)

4 thoughts on “The Old Deluder Satan Act: Literacy, Religion, and Prosperity

    • Papalibertarian: both Keith and I agree that compulsion is bad, and do not ideologically support the ODSA. We thought about including a comment on our views, but figured it was better to focus on literacy and history. We actually find the ODSA to be more of a representation of the Massachusetts Bay Colonists’ sentiments, rather than the major cause of literacy (as Keith noted, this population was already quite literate before 1647!). The law, to us, is best seen as a confluence of Protestant sentiment and literacy that led to our differing hypothesis from Weber, and not as an example of good governance. Thank you for your interesting article, I think it gives a much fuller discussion of the ideological background and history of education laws and is extremely insightful!

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