Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Romney Logic

So as I am to understand it, the Israeli standard of living is much higher than the Palestinian standard of living, due to their "superior culture". Romney looks at the Palestinians, whose country is under occupation and whose trade has been interdicted by the Israeli government (to be fair, the reason that the Israelis try to make sure that the Palestinians don't have any money is the not-unreasonable fear that the Palestinians will spend it all on bombs and guns that they'll use to kill the Israelis. Which is why international diplomacy is so complicated.)

Unless you're Mitt Romney, of course. Then it's not complicated at all. The Israelis have a superior culture, so they live better.

Has anyone ever asked him if that means, by extension, that the Nazis had an even more superior culture? After all, I'm pretty sure that if you compare the standards of living of Nazi party members to German Jews in 1942, you'd find an even vaster disparity in income and standard of living. And many of those surviving Jews went on to be among the earliest Israeli settlers. I think someone should check in with Mitt and see if the syllogism holds for him.

Actually, on second thought, I think that'd be a very bad idea. He might tell us.


RichardAK said...

Developmental economics is also more complicated than you are allowing. It may seem perfectly reasonable to assert that the Israeli occupation of the territories impeded economic growth, but, in actual fact, the Palestinian territories had the highest economic growth rate in the entire world (albeit starting from a very low base) while under Israeli rule. The Palestinian economy then collapsed when the Palestinian Authority took over in the nineties. In the last several years, the Palestinian economy has largely recovered, at least in the West Bank, although that was after Israeli rule was reimposed to a significant extent in Operations Defensive Shield and Determined Path.

There actually is very strong evidence that culture plays a very strong role in determining differential rates of economic growth: Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is only the most famous example of such an argument.

In any case, it is a fair criticism to point out that Romney's example was a weak one from a social scientific point of view because the outcome was overdetermined. That doesn't mean that he was wrong in his general argument, or that cultural differences do not play an important role in determining differential growth rates in the specific case he cited.

John Seavey said...

But it also points out his major flaw as a politician, which is that he doesn't know how to be politic or polite. He was there in a role as a goodwill ambassador for America, attempting to show that he could be diplomatic in a troubled region that historically speaking, America has played the role of mediator in.

He wound up creating an international incident, insulting an ancient and historic people, and casting doubt on his ability to perform the role of mediator in an unbiased fashion. This is not a good idea even if he was right in his "general argument", especially when said general argument is so vague that it can be used to justify just about anything you'd care to name, up to and including genocide. ("We deserve to conquer them! We're the superior culture! How do we know? If we weren't, we couldn't conquer them so easily!")

Romney did not go to Israel to present a paper on social science. He went there to show that he could be a statesman. He proved, quite ably, that he cannot.

magidin said...

Well, John, you are forgetting that he was in Israel much more to court the Jewish vote at home and the Jewish money in Israel and at home than to demonstrate he could be "diplomatic in a troubled region" or to prove he could be a statesman. If anything, those were intended to be nice side-effects. (Now, the trip to Britain could be argued that way; the trip to Poland is a bit more shaded, but it also has "appeal to a particular constituency" written all over it).

But the comments betray a very particular outlook which has become very much in vogue in the US, especially in conservative circles: success is a reflection of personal quality, and not of anything else. By extension, poverty is a reflection of personal failings. That's why we should "let Detroit go bankrupt", etc. He really, truly, believes it.

What really shows his failings as a stateman were the pathetic attempts at "walking it back", claiming that since he never mentioned Palestinian culture he could not possibly have meant to denigrate it. And then, less than 24 hours later, essentially making the same points yet again, doubling down on the original remarks.

Anonymous said...

As magidin points out, this is about scoring points with Americans who don't want an unbiased mediator. That includes some American Jews, also some right-wing Christians who see Israel's control of the region as a prequel to the End Times.
A dumber remark was to laud Israel's ability to keep medical per capita costs down, since the Israelis run a universal, government-controlled system. But I doubt that'll hurt him with anyone who was going to vote for him in the first place.-Fraser

RichardAK said...

Seavey, I can't help but point out that you seem to have subtly shifted from arguing that what Romney said was wrong to arguing that what Romney said was not useful.

You also seem to be assuming that there is something good or statesmanlike about coming across as an unbiased mediator. The Arab-Israeli conflict has had a surfeit of unbiased diplomats and mediators. I would submit that the results thereby achieved have been noticeably less than hoped for. In short, you are assuming the very thing that you have to prove: that being "diplomatic" would produce good results.

Maybe it would be for the best to finally start telling the truth about the Arab-Israeli conflict: that it is driven by social and political pathologies among the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in specific, and that until those pathologies are addressed, there can be no real peace.

John Seavey said...

@RichardAK: Allow me to clarify, then. It is both wrong and not useful. :) A qualified social scientist might, as you pointed out, be able to analyze various cultural factors to create a model that would be predictive of certain socio-economic indicators. Mitt Romney has skimmed a book by one of those social scientists and reduced the concept down to, "If we're doing better economically, it must be because we have a superior culture." Which is exactly the kind of cod-racist jingoism that makes social scientists wish that they could avoid letting politicians read their papers. :) The Nazis did similar things with the social science of their day (eugenics, social Darwinism, et cetera), and used it to justify atrocities. It is dangerous stuff to be spouting.

And, further, it is also not useful. Because the Palestinians are not going away. Any President will have to deal with them. And while they may have "social and political pathologies", they also have legitimate grievances against the Israeli government, just as the Israeli government has legitimate grievances against the Palestinian government...and more than a few "social and political pathologies" of their own. There is not a "right side" or a "wrong side" in this, and Romney is clearly willing to reduce it to that because he thinks it will win him over with a group of people whose psychotic delusion that the End Times are coming and Israel will play an important part is apparently more important than real-world events. (To clarify: This is not good.)

"Unbiased" may not necessarily produce the results we hope for, but that doesn't mean it's superior to "biased". By that logic, if you can't push your car up out of the ditch, you'd get better results if you pulled. :)