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More Social Darwinism for the 21st Century

[ 40 ] July 30, 2012 |

I guess Bryan Caplan isn’t the only member of the plutocracy channeling Gilded Age Social Darwinism. See Mitt Romney speaking about the differences between Israelis and Palestinians today. Noting the economic difference between Israel and Palestine, Romney stated:

“If you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it’s this: culture makes all the difference.”

His campaign responded to irritation about these comments that he also meant it as a difference between U.S. and Mexico.

Oh well then! Of course for a Gilded Age II plutocrat, culture is why people are rich and poor. It has nothing to do with colonization, racism, structural issues, rich nation investment in poor nations intended to exploit cheap labor. And between Israel and Palestine, the occupation and oppression has absolutely nothing to do with economic disparities. Certainly the fact that the Gaza Strip’s main lifeline to the outside world is smuggling tunnels to Egypt is strictly coincidental.

No, what really matters is that Jews are culturally superior to Palestinians. Of course, only the right kind of Jews. Not the ones in the U.S. that support Obama or the ones in Israel who oppose the oppression of Palestine. The Jews that exist primarily in American evangelical imagination, those are the good ones.

And as for Mexico, I mean, haven’t you all seen Speedy Gonzalez cartoons? How much more evidence does Romney have to present in order to make the case that American culture is better?

Comments (40)

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  1. david mizner says:

    Mittshugenah managed to be racist in two directions, portraying Palestinians as deserving of poverty and Jews as being adept at making money.

    To get to the right of Obama on foreign policy, Romney has no choice but to go to neocon crazy-land, and he has just the advisers for the job.

    • Stag Party Palin says:

      As commenter Burnsie said over at Tbogg:

      “The guy was only trying to make an antisemitic remark, and he ends up pissing off the Palestinians? This sure is a tough business.”

  2. retr2327 says:

    “If you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it’s this: culture makes all the difference.”

    So if Israel’s per person GDP is about 31,000, and Dubai’s is about 48,000, we should draw what conclusions? Autocratic Islam is better than democratic Judaism?

  3. herr doktor bimler says:

    The rate of poverty among Native Americans proves that they can’t be trusted with resources, so herding them onto the reservations worked out well for everyone.

  4. Joshua says:

    I know campaign-watchers tend to basically turn the “other guy” into history’s greatest monster, but this Mitt Romney guy… I really don’t like him very much. He says some pretty nasty stuff.

    He seems as mean-spirited as Dubya, but without the goofball veneer.

  5. Across all kinds of different contexts, Mitt Romney consistently sees richer people and concludes that they’re better people than poorer people.

  6. herr doktor bimler says:

    There is a useful documentary, using the low average income within the Warsaw ghetto to prove that Jewish suffering was the result of their cultural inferiority.

  7. dmsilev says:

    According to this convenient list, Mitt Romney apparently also believes that Maryland and Massachusetts have an inherently superior culture to Alabama and Mississippi.

  8. Malaclypse says:

    “If you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it’s this: culture makes all the difference.”

    Mittens: now officially stupider than (actual) libertarians.

  9. tt says:

    Of course for a Gilded Age II plutocrat, culture is why people are rich and poor. It has nothing to do with colonization, racism, structural issues, rich nation investment in poor nations intended to exploit cheap labor.

    All of those seem at least partially cultural to me. How is racism not culture?

    • Vance Maverick says:

      I think Eric was correctly parsing the dog-whistle meaning of the word “culture” — that is, intrinsic factors which are the loser’s own fault.

    • justaguy says:

      There are two uses of the word cultural. In the way that anthropologists use culture, sure racism, colonialism and the structural inequalities of capitalism are inherently cultural. That is to say that, for example, there is no magical thing called the market creating economic inequality – its the result of institutionalized practices, beliefs, etc.. that then get rationalized by this cultural space we call the market.

      But I don’t think that’s what Romney actually meant. He’s using the more conventional meaning of culture – the beliefs of a group, which can be contrasted with supposedly non-cultural things like markets, nation states, etc..

      • tt says:

        Your refer to the first meaning of culture as “institutionalized practices, beliefs, etc.” and the second as “the beliefs of a group.” I’m not getting the distinction. Markets, nation states etc. are part of culture in David Landes’ book, which Romney is paraphrasing from.

        The particular case is ridiculous, obviously. Palestineans aren’t just poorer than Israelis, but much poorer than their culturally-similar Arab neighbors, for obvious reasons beyond their control. But the general question of why Jews get to occupy Arabs and not the other way around? A cultural explanation seems entirely compatible with racism and colonialism and structural issues.

        • Malaclypse says:

          But the general question of why Jews get to occupy Arabs and not the other way around? A cultural explanation seems entirely compatible with racism and colonialism and structural issues.

          Perhaps, but would it not be more productive to look at the Balfour Declaration and the shifting alliances of World War 1?

        • justaguy says:

          The distinction I am trying to make (perhaps unwisely, before my first cup of coffee in the morning) is between two views of culture:

          The conventional view, which sees culture as beliefs specific to particular groups of people. This view contrasts cultural things, such as religion, ethical values, customs, etc. with acultural things, such as science, markets, nation states, bureaucracies, roads, cars, etc.

          The anthropological view, which holds that everything is cultural, including capitalism, colonialism, science, bureaucracy, markets, cars, etc.

          So, its the difference between culture as a subset of beliefs you carry around in your head, and culture as everything humans make and do. If you go by the “everything is cultural” definition, sure Romney’s comments are common sense. If you go with the conventional, “culture is a subset of beliefs specific to particular groups of people” definition, Romney’s statement is offensive – because it abstracts the economic performance of a group of people from its wider historical and social context. Palestinians are poor, not because of their social context, but because of who they are as people.

          I’m pretty sure that Romney meant to make the latter point – that Palestinians are less economically successful than Israelis because of the beliefs which Palestinians have about the world.

          • rea says:

            Unless Romney was just talking in a circle–Israelis are more economically successful than Palestinians because they are richer–then he had to be pointing to something about their respective belief systems.

  10. Jon H says:

    It’s even better. He said that neighboring regions often have different standards of living (or something to that effect) because of differences in culture. And gave Mexico and the US as an example, among others.

  11. Wapiti says:

    So does this economic history apply at a lower level? So King County, WA (Seattle) has a per capita GDP of about $30k, and Pierce County (Tacoma) has a per capita GDP of $21k. That difference is just culture?

  12. David Kaib says:

    Many things can be cleared up by distinguishing explanations from rationalizations.

  13. somethingblue says:

    Shorter Mittens: Palestinians are the blacks of the Middle East.

  14. mds says:

    Eh, the neocon warmongers all have mega-boners now, the American theocratic psychopaths are shrieking with joy over Mitt’s “true friendship to Israel” and contempt for Muslims (even the Palestinian Christian ones), Sheldon Adelson handed over another huge check, and only Jeffrey Goldberg, liberals, some hardcore Ron Paul supporters, and Palestinians are outraged. Mission fucking accomplished, I’d say.

  15. dp says:

    Jews are just the right height.

    • rea says:

      In Michigan, the trees are all just the right height, because they are all second growth started when Michigan was logged off at the beginning of the 20th Century. We could construct a narrative about Jews, but it would be a bit horrifying. . .

  16. 4jkb4ia says:

    The NYT ran the story about the Palestinian startups trying to learn from the Israeli startups on page A6 and it was very easy to miss it. But it is a colossal stroke of bad luck that Mitt made those comments the very day that that story ran. (The story implied that the Palestinian startups do have hardships because of the occupation but that the companies still have potential.)

    There isn’t one Israeli culture that would provide the same attitudes towards making money. Secular/religious and Ashkenazic/Sephardic would be two obvious examples. Mitt may also want to explain why culture explains why a very small group of people are benefiting from Israel’s relatively new wealth. There were protests about it last summer, and everything. The assumed Israeli standard of living has vaguely caught up to that in the United States in the last 15 years at best.

  17. 4jkb4ia says:

    Rabbi Elyashiv didn’t exist only in evangelicals’ imaginations, but if that is their concept of the “good Jews”, they are not the same people who are making Israel rich. Those people need to know something about how to earn a living. This is not to insult Rabbi Elyashiv who was in an entirely different sphere of learning than I have had occasion to see regularly..

  18. 4jkb4ia says:

    I wish I was not posting this where no one will see it, but that’s true everywhere by now. The source of information I looked at most recently about why Israel is rich is “Start-Up Nation”, of which Dan Senor is a coauthor. Mitt should be asked if he shares Dan Senor’s views [or if Dan Senor is only there to help him look appealing to American Jews]. The two authors do talk about specific features of Israeli culture. What made an impression on me is that they cite that the army helps shape people and let them get to know each other, especially the elite intelligence units, and that Israelis will never accept anything as gospel truth or take an order because it’s an order.

  19. Halloween Jack says:

    Mexico was good enough for Mitt’s family when they wanted a place to get away with polygamy. How quickly they forget, eh, ése?

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