Speaking in Israel about the differences between the Israeli economy and the economy of the Palestinian territories, Mitt Romney noted the huge per-capita income gap in Israel’s favor and then said, “Culture makes all the difference.” The media have branded the remark “controversial.” It is nothing of the sort.
Economist and columnist Thomas Sowell, who has done a great deal of work demonstrating the importance of culture in shaping economic outcomes, writes about this all the time. He has spent decades showing how cultural norms play a huge role in determining economic outcomes.
Explaining his comments in a later interview, Romney cited the work of David Landes, Harvard emeritus professor of history and economics, whose brilliant 1999 book “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations” demonstrated with great clarity how culture, not race or geography, accounted for so much of the huge variations in economic development among nations.
No one can deny that Israel and the Palestinian territories have enormous cultural gaps. Nor is it deniable that culture plays a huge role in determining economic outcomes. Noted economists have made that point for decades. The only thing controversial about Romney’s point is how few reporters have ever encountered it before.