Middle East

Romney Takes My Advice (Without Even Reading My Column)

|

In my column today, I suggest that Mitt Romney, when he addressed supporters in Jerusalem on Monday, should have emphasized the importance of freedom rather than "culture" to explain differences in economic development between similarly situated countries. Last night National Review Online published an essay by Romney (or one of his people) that more or less does that, by subsuming the institutions of a free society under the heading of culture:

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.

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.

I do not see much to disagree with there. But the comparisons between the two Germanies and the two Koreas, like the comparison between Hong KOng and China, are powerful precisely because people in both places share the same ethnic and cultural background, making it clear that political institutions play a crucial role in determining whether a society is poor or prosperous. In the terms used by David Landes, the historian whose work Romney cited on Monday, "culture" includes some of the other factors mentioned in Romney's NRO piece, such as "our work ethic," "our appreciation for education," "our willingness to take risks," and "our commitment to honor and oath," while the political and legal arrangements that make prosperity possible are labeled "institutions." Romney's recent comments about economic development echo his 2011 book No Apology, where he also conflates culture with institutions.

Granted, there is some overlap between these categories; for instance, gender equality, a factor that Landes emphasizes (especially in connection with Muslim countries in the Middle East), has political as well as cultural aspects. Furthermore, culture can shape politics, and vice versa. In his 1998 book The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, Landes cites Russia as an example of the latter:

Seventy-five years of anti-market, antiprofit schooling and insider privilege have planted and frozen anti-entrepreneurial attitudes. Even after the regime has fallen— people fear the uncertainties of the market and yearn for the safe tedium of state employment. Or for equality in poverty.

More generally, living under an oppressive, arbitrary government promotes a kind of learned helplessness that may have lingering economic effects after the dictatorship has fallen.

[Thanks to Threedonia for the tip.]

Advertisement

NEXT: France Passes New Budget

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Too bad they’re meaningless words to him. A series of sentences his handlers wrote with the belief that they might fool others. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    1. Yeah, I was just thinking about that while reading Romney’s essay. If he believed that, I’d be happy voting for him.

      1. In a sense, it even worse than just being meaningless – he is part of something actively destroying the ideals of the free market. If he gets into office, he will do nothing about the corrupt crony ‘capitalists’, and then give those who would attack the free market that much more ammunition.

        1. “If he gets into office, he will do nothing about the corrupt crony ‘capitalists’, and then give those who would attack the free market that much more ammunition.”

          There you have it. The clairvoyant commentators of Reason magazine. Don’t listen to anything he says because…my (L) brand tin foil hat enables an internal polygraph machine that makes me the arbiter of truth. “Reason”…really

          1. Uh, sure. I mean just keep putting your hand in the fire, this time I’m sure it won’t hurt.

            1. What does making baseless prognostications about someone have to do with “putting your hand in the fire”? Is it that difficult to reason without prejudice against a label? I suppose next we’ll be discussing how all Muslims are terrorists.

              1. You are an idiot if you think Romney will have anything like a free-market based economic policy. GW Bush made the same speech Romney just did.

                1. “GW Bush made the same speech Romney just did”

                  George Washington made the same speech. So GW Bush was an incarnation of George Washington? Ever tried to discuss something in a way that didn’t require predictions based on simple intuition and straw men?

                  1. Have you had your head up your ass for the past 20 years? The Republicans talk about free market economics, and then give handouts to their pals, tariffs to ‘protect’ their buddies’ interest, etc. etc.

                    Romney has a long history of doing whatever he thinks will help him get power. The second a poll shows that 51% of Americans think another massive stimulus or bailout is necessary, he will happily go along.

                    1. “Romney has a long history of doing whatever he thinks will help him get power.”

                      Have you published this history in one easily accessible location or is this a generalization?

                      “The second a poll shows that 51% of Americans think another massive stimulus or bailout is necessary, he will happily go along.”

                      Of course, how could I ever question someone’s assumptions in the face of such overwhelming evidence. The world needs another Nostradamus. Tell me, oh wise one, who will win the Super Bowl next year.

                    2. “The Republicans talk about free market economics, and then give handouts to their pals, tariffs to ‘protect’ their buddies’ interest, etc. etc.”

                      Damn that Ron Paul! He’s been there longer than 20 years too!

                  2. Ever try to add value to a discussion?

                    1. @ CuntinYourPark, BTW. Fuck nested comments.

  2. But Jacob, the cultural comparison *is* applicable here. When one culture is focused on destroying another as a part of their own culture, it clearly has an impact on prosperity; destroying capital rather than creating it.

  3. it’s like culture and freedom are in no way connected. Wouldn’t the level of freedom in a place be reflective of the culture?

    Arab leaders do not believe in freedom, not as we define it. That is a reflection of their culture. There are plenty of things to find fault with Romney over, but whether or not he used the right term re: Palestinians is not one of them.

  4. Must be lying because he has an (R) beside his name. Why? Because being an (L) requires that anybody with a (D) or (R) is lying and we don’t play those team games. No, not us.

    1. And the evidence of Republican libertarianism is where? They rolled back the state at the beginning of the millennium? Deregulated? Made markets freer? Expanded civil liberties?

      The Democrats want to drive off the cliff at 80 mph; the Republicans at 45. That’s about the only difference.

      1. “And the evidence of Republican libertarianism is where?”

        Ron Paul is a Republican.

        1. The exception that proves the rule, of course. The Pauls, Flake, maybe a few others, being generous. Out of thousands of federal, state, and local politicians.

          The Republicans are rhetorically better than the Democrats. They occasionally are fiscally better and kinder to business. But, as a matter of practice, the difference isn’t enough, and they are in no way “libertarian” in execution. I’m in the RLC and have seen firsthand how marginalized libertarian ideas are in the party.

          1. “I’m in the RLC and have seen firsthand how marginalized libertarian ideas are in the party.”

            I’m sure they are. I guess you now understand the GOP isn’t a monolith. There are libertarians, social conservatives, and even a few progressives. Unfortunately, it’s how politics works all over the world. There is no libertarian utopia. There is no progressive utopia. Jesus isn’t coming back to form the perfect libertarian government.

            1. I’m not looking for libertopia. Just the United States described in the Constitution.

          2. The exception DOES NOT ‘prove’ the rule. The correct saying is ‘the exception TESTS the rule. If the exception cannot be excluded from the parameters of the rule, then the rule is wrong.

            Statists want to drive us off the cliff. Non and anti-statists do not. The only one of the two major political parties in this country that contains any non or anti-statists in positions of power is the GOP.

            1. So what? They’re a marginal force in the GOP.

            2. The correct saying is ‘the exception TESTS the rule.

              Actually, the “exception proves the rule” is correct, once you understand that prove is used in the old sense of “proofing” or testing to (near) destruction, or at least to well past intended use. Those old “proof marks” on firearms usually meant they had been fired with some multiple of the usual load.

              Unfortunately, people have forgotten that meaning, and now use it to dismiss exceptions that invalidate or at least limit their rules. In modern terminology, “test” is probably a better term.

              1. You guys are killing me. “The exception that proves the rule” is an idiom stating the canon of construction Expressio unius est exclusio alterius.

                In simple English, if a sign says “No Left Turns 7-9 AM and 4-6 PM”, (the exception) that means you can turn left the other 20 hours of the day (the rule). Therefore, the expression of the exception proves the rule by implication.

                Sheesh.

          3. “The exception that proves the rule, of course. The Pauls, Flake, maybe a few others, being generous. Out of thousands of federal, state, and local politicians.”

            You didn’t ask if the GOP was a libertarian party you asked this:

            “And the evidence of Republican libertarianism is where?”

            I gave the evidence. It’s a lot more than I could have come up with 30 years ago. I understand wanting libertarian purity in a party. I also understand that at this point in history, it’s not winning or going to win very many elections. I also think people like the Pauls aren’t dumbasses and are Republicans for a reason.

            1. The libertarians do not control, nor do they much influence, the Republican party. In theory, that could change. But it isn’t going to change now, certainly not by electing Romney. I prefer him to Obama and will be relieved to have Obama out of power. That’s it.

              Still voting for Johnson, who actually is a libertarian in most senses of the word.

              1. “The libertarians do not control, nor do they much influence, the Republican party.”

                I agree about control. I disagree about influence. Who would ever imagine Jerry freakin’ Falwell calling for ending the drug war? I suppose some people think things like that are insignificant. I don’t. So-cons didn’t want Romney either. They don’t control the GOP any more than libertarians. Romney is the least ideological compromise of the candidates who ran. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe in “freedom” or “free markets”. I think it’s baseless character assassination to simply wave the hand and say he must be lying when he makes a statement that any libertarian should be happy with. There are plenty of real disagreements.

                “Still voting for Johnson, who actually is a libertarian in most senses of the word.”

                Was he a libertarian in most senses of the word when he had an (R) beside his name 7 months ago?

                1. More so than most, yes. He’s not like Barr, where there was a jarring moment of confusion when he was announced as an LP candidate.

                  I remain all for trying to increase libertarian influence in the GOP and in the U.S. in general, but I think the people at the top are far more concerned about being in power and having big government from which they can dispense largess than in actually fixing things. Too bad, too, because I think a more free market economy would give us all more money to do other things with.

          4. They occasionally are fiscally better and kinder to business.

            Even this isn’t really a plus. They shouldn’t be pro- or anti- business, it should be pro-market. Right now the Dems and Repubs are arguing over which team the government ought to be quarterbacking, when the government is supposed to be the referee.

        2. Look how the GOP has been treating Ron Paul.

      2. And the evidence of Libertarian libertarianism is where? You can make assumptions about people based on their political label, sure. That doesn’t make it logical or accurate.

        1. I know where it isn’t.

      3. We went off the cliff at the end of 2006.

        1. Perhaps. We haven’t hit the ground, yet, either way.

  5. Doesn’t this whole statement ignore that there’s an external force that prevents trade and commerce from flowing both internally and externally?

    1. You mean Hamas? I think that’s included in the criticism of the culture.

      1. I didn’t realize that the IDF outsourced their road and port blockades to Hamas. You learn something new. I also find it curious that Hamas lives in the settlements that prevent vehicles for goods to go from point a to point b in a direct route. Does Hamas also bulldoze houses that don’t have the right permits even if the land under it owned and the house is safe?

        1. Hamas does a fine job preventing trade and commerce all on its own. Much like Cuba, you could lift the blockade, and the ordinary folk wouldn’t be much, if any, better off. Corrupt totalitarian kleptocracies can keep their countries poor without outside help.

          And, of course, it induces the Israelis to blockade the Palis, so there’s that. But, people who want to blame the Israelis for trying to stop the flow of arms used to kill Israelis will never change their minds, so whatever.

          1. If person A commits a crime, that doesn’t make it right to punish person B, just because he happens to be the same ethnic group.

  6. Romney’s speech would be more accurate if the first sentence in the quote was in the past tense. We are nowhere near the most economically free nation any longer, and we’re dropping fast.

    1. we’re like an old musician still trying to live up to the hype.

    2. “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.”

      I don’t think it’s necessarily inaccurate. The economy isn’t being propelled very much. A result of not being as economically free.

  7. What’s better than that column is Romney’s speech in Warsaw. I’m not a huge fan of Romney by any means and he has never seemed to me to be more than your typical pandering pol, but anytime you have someone with this kind of pulpit make a speech that so eloquently supports free markets and liberty I’ll take it.

    I recognize that many here are automatically disparaging Mittens because of the fact that what they say and what they do are two different things, I get that. But Obama isn’t even trying to pander to people about liberty and free markets. He’s actively campaigning against them.

    The Warsaw speech is a thing of beauty in my opinion, no matter who wrote it or said it.

    Link here-

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/…..tml?page=1

  8. Israel is also a telling example. Like the United States, the state of Israel has a culture that is based upon individual freedom [unless you’re palestinian] and the rule of law [unless you’re palestinian]. It is a democracy that has embraced liberty [for non-palestinians], both political and economic. This embrace has created conditions that have enabled innovators and entrepreneurs to make the desert bloom [if a palestinian makes the desert bloom, Jewish settlers should feel free to chase them off and take the land]. In the face of improbable odds, Israel today is a world leader in fields ranging from medicine to information technology [to land theft].

    1. Much like Reverse American Exceptionalism, there is a strain of “this entire conflict is Israel’s fault” in the paleo-right and paleo-libertarian wings.

      1. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. If person A commits a crime against person B, that doesn’t justify person C commiting a crime against person D, just because A and C are one ethnic group and B and D are another. While Israel has a right to defend itself from attack, many of its actions toward the Palestinians have nothing to do with that, and are just using terrorism as an excuse to justify their own crimes. The problem is the strain of thought that the solution to a conflict is to determine which side is at fault and from then on, the other side can commit any attrocity they like with impunity.

  9. I think there’s some cognitive dissonance going on when the same people that argue Obama’s use of drones to prosecute a war against Al-Qaeda is immoral and wrong are simultaneously arguing that Hamas and the infitada mean the Palestinians deserve whatever punishment the IDF dishes out.

    1. Heck, even if we set aside the IDF, what about settlement expansion? This does nothing to make Israel more secure, it’s just taking advantage of the inability of Palestinians to resist to steal land from them and then using terrorism by a completely separate group of Palestinians to justify the theft.

      Israel’s own courts have ruled that the seizures are illegal, although the current PM refuses to enforce any of those rulings (but Israel firmly believes in the rule of law!).

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.