Discuss: Romney, Israel and economic culture
Palestinian leaders accused Mitt Romney of being a racist today when he told a group of wealthy American Israelis that the economic success of Israel versus the Palestinian areas results from a cultural difference.
For the proposition about economic success and culture, Romney quoted “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” a 1999 book by Harvard Prof. David Landes. I have that book, and long ago I pulled out a quotation that includes the phrase Romney used, "culture makes all the difference." A more complete quotation, from the final pages of the book, is here:
“Just because markets give signals does not mean that people respond timely or well. Some people do this better than others, and culture can make all the difference.”
Landes was not writing about Israel and Palestine. He was writing the final pages of a history of economic development going back at least to the 1600s. He was making a general statement, but it certainly has been applied to Israel, for example by George Gilder in "The Israel Test" (2009).
Gilder accepts the political arguments Israel makes for the occupation, the settlements and essentially the taking of Palestinian land, and I don’t accept those arguments. I think the Palestinians are right when they complain of Israeli oppression and say it has hindered them economically. But Gilder’s description of Israel's educated, innovative, venture-driven and high-tech economy puts it above every Arab state, not just the nascent Palestinian one. Which suggests to me that Mitt Romney had a valid point, even if, diplomatically, it was not the best thing to say.
What do readers think?
Achenblog by Joel Achenbach
Postman On Politics