Culture Does Matter
By Mitt Romney
July 31, 2012 National Review
During my recent trip to Israel, I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it. In some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy.
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.
The Founding Fathers wrote that we are endowed by our Creator with the freedom to pursue happiness. In the America they designed, we would have economic freedom, just as we would have political and religious freedom. Here, we would not be limited by the circumstance of birth nor directed by the supposedly informed hand of government. We would be free to pursue happiness as we wish. Economic freedom is the only force that has consistently succeeded in lifting people out of poverty. It is the only principle that has ever created sustained prosperity. It is why our economy rose to rival those of the world’s leading powers — and has long since surpassed them all.
The linkage between freedom and economic development has a universal applicability. One only has to look at the contrast between East and West Germany, and between North and South Korea for the starkest demonstrations of the meaning of freedom and the absence of freedom.
Excerpt, and more than enough of a chunk to suppose a venue for further discussion: an introductory anthropology class. Hand this out and call it “fuel” for the final oral exam.
Romney’s sentimental clap trap-and his analysis is ludicrous from the perspective of how anthropology sorts out economic causality at the scale of societies–is obviously falsifiable even in its own silly terms.
Does he not get the fact that his homage here is fit to the context of his exemplar society stuck in the fourth year of an economic downturn, and stuck right now with both the worst increase in poverty, and, a widening gulf between the 99.9% and the super rich? Has Willard realized, currently, in the year of a presidential election, there is a bold attempt being made by a handful of billionaires to purchase a favorable election outcome?
But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture?
This is like stating: but what exactly accounts for home runs if not swinging the bat? So, Romney is begging the question. One question begged is, what accounts for prosperity in specific instances, and, also, what accounts for the lack of prosperity in other instances.
American economy is fueled by freedom. I suppose Romney here is meaning to state that a factor or feature termed “freedom” is the principle ingredient of the American economy.
The idea is so under-determined in Romney’s editorial that I would need to know much more, such as what does he mean by freedom and what does he mean by fuel, and, I have little doubt that this would lead to needing to know what he means by economy.
But it would hardly matter because there really isn’t any way to rehabilitate his argument so that it matches up with the actualities that address the fundamental question, in a society, what features of the society are understood to account in some specifiable degree for the likelihood of a citizen of the society being prosperous, or not prosperous?
A person who inherits $100,000,000 earns an account, just as the person who loses their livelihood and home due to cancer, earns an account. The prosperous person in China, the world’s fastest growing economy, earns an account, and, the fifty-five year old unemployed engineer in the U.S. earns an account.
(The “macro” is constituted by the aggregate of micro outcomes. Generalities at the scale of society or nation are required to be applicable to all micro outcomes, (say) at the level of the household. Features and factors given by the macro context would be part of the structure of micro economic outcomes, and, crucially, are knowable particulars given in the structure of micro economic histories and outcomes.)
Willard Romney’s approach to helping us get to know who he is, is his willingness to pose two contradictory “take-aways” simultaneously: on one hand we are supposed to come to know that he is very smart and has tremendous capabilities, and, on the other hand, he speaks of or publishes his really “stupid-on-arrival” understandings about important subjects. For me, the latter undermines the former; granted, I’m biased too.