Mitt Romney has a post up at NRO’s Corner in which he explains why he believes 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. Here, in part, is what Romney wrote:
[W]hat 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. . . .
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.
Israel is also a telling example. Like the United States, the state of Israel has a culture that is based upon individual freedom and the rule of law. It is a democracy that has embraced liberty, both political and economic. This embrace has created conditions that have enabled innovators and entrepreneurs to make the desert bloom. In the face of improbable odds, Israel today is a world leader in fields ranging from medicine to information technology.
As the case of Israel makes plain, building a free society is not a simple task. Rather, it is struggle demanding constant courage and sacrifice. Even here in the United States, which from our inception as a nation has been blessed with freedom, we faced monumental challenges in harmonizing our ideals with our institutions. We fought a bloody civil war against slavery and it took a nonviolent civil-rights movement to bring political and social equality to all Americans. In these epic struggles we changed our “culture” and vastly improved it.
I would only that the accusation by Palestinians of racism on Romney’s part gets this precisely wrong. Romney is saying that disparities in wealth stem from “the choices a society makes,” not a society’s racial makeup. One theoretically possible answer to the question Romney poses above — “what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture? — is racial superiority. But that’s not Romney’s answer.
It would be interesting to hear Obama’s response to the question: what accounts for American prosperity — both the answer he believes (probably something to do with exploitation) and the answer he would publicly articulate (probably something about everyone of all different colors and creeds pulling together).