Economics Over Easy
For $50,000 per head, guests at the King David Hotel on Monday morning received a menu which included croissants, coffee, various cheeses, eggs, salad and shakshuka. On the side, attendees at this fundraising breakfast were treated to a joint economics and social studies lecture from Mitt Romney on the “dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality” between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. “Culture makes all the difference” Romney said, citing David Landes’ findings in The Wealth and Poverty of Nations as his inspiration for such a conclusion.
Landes’ work, oft-cited by Romney, argues that beginning with the United Kingdom, nations which have become wealthy and prosperous have done so because their national cultures were and are amongst other things capitalistic, meritocratic, technocratic and science-orientated. By extension, countries that have experienced stunted development have failed to integrate these qualities into their own cultures. It is Landes’ assertion, for example, that Islam has discouraged diversity, initiative, and education in the countries where it is the predominant religion under authoritarian, oil-rich regimes.
Within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic, Romney’s emphasis on Landes’ shambling and sweeping conclusions regarding national culture could not be less helpful or enlightening. Rather, the present disparity – where the GDP per capita in Israel is $31,400 compared to $2,900 in the West Bank – is directly attributable to the ongoing politico-military conflict and the influential role of governments and institutions, of the political culture.