August 1, 2012

"Culture Does Matter," writes Mitt Romney.

In National Review, pushing back efforts to make it seem racist to say that nations prosper when their culture has certain qualities that Israel has and the Palestinians lack.
But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture? In the case of the United States, it is a particular kind of culture that has made us the greatest economic power in the history of the earth. Many significant features come to mind: our work ethic, our appreciation for education, our willingness to take risks, our commitment to honor and oath, our family orientation, our devotion to a purpose greater than ourselves, our patriotism. But one feature of our culture that propels the American economy stands out above all others: freedom. The American economy is fueled by freedom. Free people and their free enterprises are what drive our economic vitality.
But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture? is a clever question that provides leverage for arguing — not that he argues it — that if you don't think it's culture, you must think it's some inborn biological factor. That is: If you don't agree that it's culture, you could be a racist.

(And yes, I realize that inference will be resisted with the argument that the economically unsuccessful places are oppressed by other countries, Israel is oppressing the Palestinians, etc. etc.)

ADDED: This is related, from Stephen Moore's tribute to Milton Friedman (who was born 100 years ago yesterday):
Once in the early 1960s, Friedman wrote the then-U.S. ambassador to New Delhi, John Kenneth Galbraith, that he would be lecturing in India. By all means come, the witty but often wrong Galbraith replied: "I can think of nowhere your free-market ideas can do less harm than in India." As fate would have it, India did begin to embrace Friedmanism in the 1990s, and the economy began to soar. China finally caught on too.

56 comments:

rhhardin said...

The black culture imposed by the MSM is a nice example.

It has to let blacks know how to act.

Otherwise they'd turn into Americans.

rhhardin said...

Recent econtalk.org podcast page on it Acemoglu on Why Nations Fail.

It exactly supports Romney.

rhhardin said...

Another econtalk.org podcast page, relating it to the cultural organization of the economy, Weingast on Power.

Again supporting Romney.

Romney's the first politician to bring it up, though.

About time.

wyo sis said...

It's a commentary on how far we are from our founding principles that this is even an issue. Individual liberty is and has been the central issue in successful cultures throughout history.

Virgil Hilts said...

Cultural values are an essential but not sufficient prerequisite. North Korea versus South Korea. East Germany versus West Germany. Take away freedom and culture becomes irrelevant. IMHO

Paddy O said...

Culture is a pretty wide net. It involves a lot of elements, most of which have little or nothing to do with prosperity. That's what makes discussions of culture vulnerable to charges of racism or xenophobia.

Is rock inherently more prosperity engendering than mariachi? Do drum circles depress economic potentiality more than drum machines?

Generalizing culture as some kind of monolithic whole is itself misleading.

Instead, what are the particular elements of a culture that leads to prosperity. Wyo sis points to liberty--which is definitely one. The willingness to let people do what they want leads to exploration and innovation.

Another big one--maybe the biggest I think--is the attitude a culture has towards corruption. Corruption exists everywhere, to be sure, but some cultures prosecute it and others wink at it and encourage it.

Someone here said the other day that all you need to know about the Palestinians is that Arafat was a billionaire. That's it entirely. Same goes for Spanish culture versus English culture. Where corruption is part of the culture, prosperity is always going to be cut off.

Roger J. said...

While not directly relevant, the dialogues between Kenneth Galbraith and William F Buckley on firing line were always a pleasure to watch.

Alex said...

This will not end well for Romney. "culture" is a dog whistle racist code word designed to appeal to frustrated white males angry that a Black Muslim is President.

Racist pure racist.

edutcher said...

When I was a kid, you'd see documentaries of how the Israelis were making the desert bloom.

The Arabs were still driving camels across it.

And, in many places, still are.

The Will Of Allah, doncha know.

bearing said...

"And yes, I realize that inference will be resisted with the argument that the economically unsuccessful places are oppressed by other countries, Israel is oppressing the Palestinians, etc. etc."

Great. What accounts for prosperity, then, is culture and freedom. I can deal with that.

AJ Lynch said...

Owning and operating a profitable pizza parlor seems like the basic litmus test that measures the entrepreneurial bent of an ethnic group.I have seen pizza parlors run by Irish, Polish, Jewish, Hispanic and Italian natch. Are there any successful pizza parlors run by Palestinians?

Michael K said...

" Same goes for Spanish culture versus English culture. Where corruption is part of the culture, prosperity is always going to be cut off."

This has also been attributed (With some justification in my opinion) to the Catholic religion versus the Protestant religion in that the first emphasizes the afterlife and the latter emphasizes the present life. Some of this is Calvinism, in which prosperity can be an indicator of morality.

Spain was bankrupted by Philip II's determination to reimpose Catholicism on the Protestant states of Europe. England benefited from the limits placed on the King by Parliament after King John and the Magna Carta.

All this adds up to "culture" of course.

Michael K said...

" Are there any successful pizza parlors run by Palestinians?"

Yes, but not in the middle east. And they are probably Christians.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Lack of tolerance for corruption matters more than any of the things Romney named. Take that away and you get Palestine-- or Detroit.

Bender said...

But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture?

That idea seems to be rather consistent with "you didn't build that, you had help."

The kind of help that others provide does matter.

If it takes a village, but it is a village of village idiots, or a village full of people who have never supported themselves and their entire existence has consisted of harboring grievances against some perceived evil bad guys (e.g. The Jews), such that your people have spent a large amount of time, not trying to build that nation of yours that you claim that you want so much, but you spend that time trying to kill those bad guys (Jews), and you even celebrate as heroes terrorists who kill those bad guys (Jews), then that is a not a culture that will facilitate the positive growth of society and economy.

If your culture is essentially a death cult, then it does not help grow societies and economies, rather, it seeks to destroy them.

Bryan C said...

"This will not end well for Romney. "culture" is a dog whistle racist code word designed to appeal to frustrated white males angry that a Black Muslim is President."

Alex, you descend ever further into paranoia. Please explain which "race" Romney's remarks are intended to whistle about. Are Palestinians a separate race now? Are all people of roughly the same skin color assigned to your preferred culture?

It's also odd that you mention Black Muslims. Black Muslims have been among the most vocal critics of what they see as flaws in contemporary urban black culture.

edutcher said...

This, of course, is a "gaffe" in the eyes of the Establishment Media.

Like being right about the Olympics.

Michael K said...

Same goes for Spanish culture versus English culture. Where corruption is part of the culture, prosperity is always going to be cut off.

This has also been attributed (With some justification in my opinion) to the Catholic religion versus the Protestant religion in that the first emphasizes the afterlife and the latter emphasizes the present life. Some of this is Calvinism, in which prosperity can be an indicator of morality.


Baloney.

The Protestants can be every bit as corrupt as anyone else. And often are.

Those who remember Jimmy Carter and his circle will recall they viewed their success, money included, as a reward from God for being good little Fundamentalists.

The Godfather said...

Yes, countries with the right kind of culture are likely to be more successful than countries with the wrong kind of culture. But the other side of the culture coin is that it may be difficult for public policy to affect culture in a positive way. Look at the factors Romney cites: work ethic, appreciation for education, willingness to take risks, commitment to honor an oath, family orientation, devotion to a purpose greater than ourselves, patriotism. Government has only a limited ability to change most of these in a country whose culture does NOT have these characteristics. If a government were to take power in the Palestinian ares that wanted to promote a more productive culture and encourage the factors that lead to prosperity, I don't know how it could do so. Certainly it would take one or more generations.

Bender said...

Spain was bankrupted by Philip II's determination to reimpose Catholicism on the Protestant states of Europe

Of course, the rest of Europe had not been fighting against a Muslim occupation of their country for hundreds of years, as Spain had been, before they finally accomplished the Reconquista in 1492. There were more than a little national security concerns with respect to Spanish policy in those times.

Of course, that other world-changing event of 1492, the discovery of the New World, might have been astounding enough to influence various "protesters" and claimed reformers to create their own new world churches.

Ken said...

The West's prosperity is due to culture.

leslyn said...

Galbraith replied: "I can think of nowhere your free-market ideas can do less harm than in India." As fate would have it, India did begin to embrace Friedmanism in the 1990s, and the economy began to soar.

The key term there is free market.

Where the market is manipulated so that "free" trade is virtually eliminated, no amount of "culture" will overcome it. The fruit, so to speak, will wither on the vine.

The same was true in Berlin during the blockade. They could not prosper; they could only survive, and that with outside help.

I've said it here before: it would be interesting to compare the "culture" of the Palestinians, their economy, agriculture, and trade, before the 1950s and today.

Ken said...

In particular, embracing Bourgeois values and honoring businessman is the reason for the West's prosperity.

Obama and his ilk are doing their level best to upend that, so deserve a reminder of the timeless words:

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.
This is known as "bad luck."


- Robert Heinlein

leslyn said...

Alex,

You're a lovely provocateur, but calling Pres. Obama a "Black Muslim" is a bit much.

People might think you're serious. You're never serious.

leslyn said...

wyo sis said,

Individual liberty is and has been the central issue in successful cultures throughout history.

Well, one could argue that individual liberty as we know it is absent in certain successful economies today.

But what do you include in individual liberty? The freedom to travel? Our Supreme Court does.

Ken said...

leslyn,

Well, one could argue that individual liberty as we know it is absent in certain successful economies today.

So make the argument. Don't be coy. Put up or shut up.

William said...

Ponder the Germans. They have finally achieved dominance in Europe. They have been working towards this goal for over a hundred years with spotty success. They had tried such time honored tactics as building bigger dreadnoughts than the British, conquering France, and killing Jews, and, for the most part, they were worse off than when they started.....What tactics finally worked? They disbanded their army, surrendered their eastern provinces to Poland, and elected a frumpy, non-threatening hausfrau to lead them. Germany did so much better when they became wimps.

traditionalguy said...

The word culture actually means what and how the members of a group worship as power over them.

Judeo-Christian culture is built upon a platform of Written Scripture Words that reveal to men how they are seen by God.

That is why they can respect one another and not go on tribal killing jags when another has some share of the separated powers.

The old kings of Kenya and the Caesars of European Rome never hesitated to enslave conquests they made and kill off any resistance to their conquests and enslavements.

So Romney spoke to at the very heart of the Romney v Obama choice. We need to keep our culture and tell Obama and the world's slave taking Empires that Obama wants to emulate to shove it.

William said...

Moral: elect the wimp and not the simp.

leslyn said...

Bender said,

it is a village of village idiots, or a village full of people who have never supported themselves and their entire existence has consisted of harboring grievances against some perceived evil bad guys (e.g. The Jews) Emphasis added.

Bender, this is revisionist economics and history .

leslyn said...

@Ken: China. Saudi Arabia. The other Arab Gulf states. India (still very much under a caste system). Etc. Obvious. You can make up your own list.

Cedarford said...

Virgil Hilts said...
Cultural values are an essential but not sufficient prerequisite. North Korea versus South Korea. East Germany versus West Germany. Take away freedom and culture becomes irrelevant. IMHO

=================
"Freedom for Freedom Lovers!!" is highly overrated as the possible prime mover of the success of certain cultures over other cultures.

In general, the "Freedom Lovers" - those nomads, barbarians, latter day rotted Muslim cultures and indolent but freedom loving people in Africa and S Pacific Isles and Latin half-day long siestas have fared poorly against:

1. Less free cultures that have expectations of hard work, duty, and strong even Victorian restrictions on personal freedoms.

2. Organized, aggressive cultures that trade freedom for zealotry of belief, certain goals of acquisition.

3. Cultures that emphasize that no freedom is truly free, but must be accompanied by responsibilities - tend to prevail over cultures that shirk responsibilities to themselves and others. Only by parasitism can such feckless people remain viable to pursue their "Freedom!!" to have masses of babies out of wedlock, be free to do sports instead of homework. To let wealth concentrate in the hands of a few, then demand a cut of that.

karrde said...

In one of his books, Thomas Sowell brings up a series of anecdotes.

In most of North and South America during the 19th/20th Centuries, immigrants tended not to go into politics in the first generation. Unless the immigrants were from Ireland. There were many first-generation Irish immigrants who succeeded in politics. Was this caused by culture, genetics, or something else?

During the Westward expansion of American in the early 1800s, many poor farmers of Scots or Irish descent were in the first wave of settlers. They got first choice of land. A later wave of farmers of German descent came, and were typically more successful farmers. Despite not having the first choice of land. Was this a result of cultural differences?

Also in both North and South America, the founders of many wineries were Italian immigrants. The founders of many beer-producers were German immigrants. Culture, or genetics?

Over the years between 1880 and 1940, Chinese immigrants in California (and other parts of the U.S.) faced their own version of Jim Crow. They suffered from restrictions on gaining citizenship, restrictions on inter-racial marriages, were restricted from many kinds of jobs, and suffered other forms of discrimination.

Descendants of Chinese immigrants in the U.S. are currently the wealthiest ethnic group in America.

Is it culture? Or is it some other factor?

This is not an exhaustive list of the anecdotes and data that Sowell gathered. Many of them can be found in The Economics and Politics of Race: An International Perspective.

TMink said...

Alex wrote: "This will not end well for Romney."

Would you care to wager on that pronouncement?

Trey

Ken said...

leslyn,

@Ken: China. Saudi Arabia. The other Arab Gulf states. India

China's success is that it liberalized its economy in the 1970's.

To say that Saudi Arabia is a successful economy is to not understand that most Saudis are dirt poor, but the ruling class is rich. And the ruling class is rich because of its monopoly on oil, not because of a functioning economy.

Which other Arab Gulf states do you consider successful.

India's success, like China's, is due to liberalization of its economy.

That these successful places aren't as free as the US does NOT mean "that individual liberty as we know it is absent". Individual liberty is not binary. It is a sliding scale. What is evident is that individuals in China and India have far more individual liberty now than they did when they were dirt poor.

Bender said...

Please feel free to disabuse me -- with actual facts and examples -- of my conclusions drawn from the historical facts of the last 67 years demonstrating few if any attempts in Palestine at building industry or a viable economy or otherwise seeking to become a self-sustaining nation, rather than spending their entire time blaming the Jews for all of their problems and maintaining a perpetual state of war against Israel.

Cedarford said...

Ken said...
leslyn,

"Well, one could argue that individual liberty as we know it is absent in certain successful economies today."

So make the argument. Don't be coy. Put up or shut up.

==============
In the 20th century, a strong argument can be made that less free "command economies" backed with strong social norms against certain individual "Freedoms!!" are quite successful.

Before WWII, both the Germans and Soviets led the world in economic growth rates.
Japan's success as a culture, it's rise to being an economic superpower was driven by an expectation that all would work hard, not abide corruption or parasitism, and live in expected harmony. Individual liberty is restricted...the old Japanese saying "The nail that sticks up from the rest must be pounded back in place."
Singapore, Korea...same attitude.


China's rise is all about the communists relaxing on economic freedoms while still enforcing stern Party oversight of the masses and deterring "too much freedom" as not good for China overall..
The biggest reason, though, is US capitalists had short-sighted vision in going for short-term quarterly profits...Not realizing that exploiting CHinese labor costing one-fifteenth that of US labor and handing over to CHina all private technology out government didn't stop....all so they could see the rich profit from China labor having full access to the US Market under Free Trade would eventually fail.
It is now failing as we watch - you cannot continue to lose US jobs that initially supported the vast US Market by substituting Chinese IOUs and debt to give entitlement money to jobless Americans to prop up the Market.

(China is in a mess as well - because they cannot grow at 12% a year and continue taking US jobs - without giving the wastrel Americans credit to buy Chinastuff and budget their Government Employee Hero workers..)

EMD said...

Leslyn is still searching for the angels.

Alex said...

leslyn...

You're a lovely provocateur, but calling Pres. Obama a "Black Muslim" is a bit much.

People might think you're serious. You're never serious.


I exist to serve.

Marshal said...

"In the 20th century, a strong argument can be made that less free "command economies" backed with strong social norms against certain individual "Freedoms!!" are quite successful."

These efforts only work in the catch-up environment where their relative success is neither surprising nor replicable to the cutting edge environment. It's easy to catch up by copying the most successful methods found to date. The command economy weaknesses are (a) they have difficulty discovering new methods, and (b) they have trouble adapting if the most successful method changes.

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MayBee said...

Obama has tried to use culture to sell the "Muslim World" on the idea they have a history of accomplishment and success to build on.
He wanted his NASA director to bolster the "Muslim World's" opinion of itself by reinforcing their historical and cultural accomplishments.

Obama's speeches, when he made them, to address the ME were full of things the Islamic culture had brought to the world and could do again. If he thought culture had nothing to do with success, he wouldn't have spent so much time on that stuff.

If you agree with Obama, but think what Romney said is a gaffe, you have to realize you think some cultures are full of children who can not hear criticism and must only hear praise.

n.n said...

The "Palestians" were depressed and oppressed when they occupied the land for over 1000 years. It's time to permit the descendents of the conquered to recover their land. Not for sentimental reasons, but because the previous occupiers lost their claim in failed wars.

That said, with a progressive embrace of behaviors which constitute and engender evolutionary dysfunction, the "Palestinian" culture, while technically inferior, will overcome the superior culture through evolutionary success.

Dreams of instant gratification do indeed have consequences, if only perceptible after one or two generations. Presumably, immigration -- both legal and illegal -- is intended to maintain the illusion of viability. I would assume it serves the same function in America. Still, there is reason to question cause and effect. The Western culture was not until recently so remarkably dysfunctional. The Mormons have been largely excluded from this corruption.

traditionalguy said...

The American culture that Romney speaks of is the old Scots-Irish culture that refused to serve a leader who conquered them. But would loyally serve a leader they chose themselves for his/her courage and leadership skills.

And all who will accept that form of a culture are always welcomed into it as equals. It is reform protestant to the core but choses its own Church ministers, hence it is the separation of Church and State, and it is equal protection of the laws voted in by assembled elders.

That is not African-American rule by a tribal king. That is not Hispanic/Catholic rule by a sacred chain of authority back to Rome. That is not Mongolian rule by Khans and warriors, that is not Arab rule by Sheiks and clerics with swords to kill unbelievers and steall their stuff.

Romney has a good vision of the traditional Scots-Irish American culture.

Will Richardson said...

The pernicious effects of Colonialism and Oppression are well illustrated by the recent economic histories of South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya.

ricpic said...

Guilt is a large part of what has made America economically dynamic. And that is also the case to a significant extent in Europe and in Israel. One of the first things that strikes you in the middle east is all the men sitting around in cafes all day, guiltlessly, while their women run around doing the drudge work and keeping the world from falling apart. Doesn't matter that western men may be jealous. They couldn't do it if their lives depended on it, not without huge guilt. I'd say that the presence of guilt in a culture, or its lack, is more determinant of economic dynamism, or its lack, than any other factor.

wyo sis said...

My definition of a successful culture is one that allows people to make the most of their individual abilities and keep their own property. This combination of free will and reward for individual effort produces happier and more prosperous people. Historically cultures that are most aligned with John Locke's ideals are cultures that succeed.

Chase said...

seriously leslyn,

You put China as an example of a successful and prosperous country?
We are all happy for the trade benefits we get from China.

But, in a country of 1.3 BILLION, less than 60 million - 4% - has a close to middle class or better existence. And it will not increase to the remaing poverty population (96%) that lives on less than $1000 a year for another 200 years if the government does not increase personal, democratic freedoms.

So, in other words leslyn, you don't have any idea what you're talking about.

buwaya said...

I know something of this. I used to work on contract to the Asian Development Bank. Development Economics has pretty much hit an impasse. No culturally-neutral set of policies, internal or external conditions, or anything else anyone seems to have come up with work to answer the question of why one country or subset of people within a country do better socially and economically than another.

So we have to open that black box of "culture". Few want to go there, seeing as that box is trapped. But there is nowhere else to go. Except for the "race" box, which is even more dangerous.

holdfast said...

Of course it is culture, or at least the dominant, national culture. That's why people from all over the world, many from completely screwed-up nations, are able to thrive in America. That said, Palestinians are, on the whole, actually quite entrepreneurial and creative, especially compared to other middle eastern groups. A lot of them actually have a pretty good work ethic, but their political culture would rather kill Jews than make Palestinians rich.

buwaya said...

I know something of this. I used to work on contract to the Asian Development Bank. Development Economics has pretty much hit an impasse. No culturally-neutral set of policies, internal or external conditions, or anything else anyone seems to have come up with work to answer the question of why one country or subset of people within a country do better socially and economically than another.

So we have to open that black box of "culture". Few want to go there, seeing as that box is trapped. But there is nowhere else to go. Except for the "race" box, which is even more dangerous.

furious_a said...

The pernicious effects of Colonialism and Oppression are well illustrated by the recent economic histories of South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya.

Not to mention Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea. Robert Mugabe's misrule is making Ian Smith look like Frederick Douglass, frankly.

Are there any successful pizza parlors run by Palestinians?

Yes, quite a few (not to mention delis and convenience stores) in San Francisco. Away from the blood-feud and warlord baggage back home.

furious_a said...

Culture does matter.

“Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” -- Golda Meir, 1957.

Palladian said...

Culture does matter, especially if you're making cheese.

cubanbob said...

holdfast said...
Of course it is culture, or at least the dominant, national culture. That's why people from all over the world, many from completely screwed-up nations, are able to thrive in America. That said, Palestinians are, on the whole, actually quite entrepreneurial and creative, especially compared to other middle eastern groups. A lot of them actually have a pretty good work ethic, but their political culture would rather kill Jews than make Palestinians rich.

8/1/12 2:43 PM

Quite right. They are pretty resourceful whether they are Christian or Muslim as long as they are not in Gaza or the West Bank. Especially in the West or in Latin America. Less so in the Middle East but more than the average Middle Eastern Arab which one of the reasons they aren't treated especially well in Arab countries. It's the Jihad on the brain that makes them poor in the West Bank and Gaza. Before the intifada they were actually having a higher standard of living under Israeli occupation than most Arabs in their respective countries. It's definitely a cultural issue that is their problem.

leslyn said...

Ken and Chase:

It is a sliding scale

Now you've made the issue of "successful" cultures (still haven't defined what that means; I'm going with economics) a moving target.

re: China--I didn't know you cared about poor people. Regardless, there or in Saudi Arabia, the economic engine is chugging away. A very good argument can be made for the success of Saudi Arabia, since they have their chores done by immigrants.

I left out Russia because, despite its oligarchs, it pretty much has no economy. Yet and still.

Lyle said...

Who is oppressing Mexico?