Culture And Success
Something a little more thought provoking in the interlude between conventions (because last week certainly provoked anger but few thoughts). Back a few weeks ago, Governor Romney, in Israel, made reference to the fact that Israel owed its success to “culture.” This led to much debunking by social scientists who know much more about the subject than Romney. Few are more qualified to debunk than Daren Acemoglu and James Robinson:
Mitt Romney is better off sticking to politics, or something else if that doesn’t work out in November, than social science. But it would be incorrect to think that this sort of culture view is just something that Mitt Romney and nobody else believes. Even though few would go as far as Harrison, Huntington and Landes in advocating such an extreme form of it, the culture view permeates most writings on comparative development. However, as we have explained in Why Nations Fail, and will discuss again in the next few posts, cultural differences by themselves do not help us much in explaining the deep divides in comparative development. Not only huge differences among places, such as North and South Korea, sharing the same culture emerge even over comparatively short periods of time. But also culture is often endogenous and changes rapidly in the face of changing institutions, incentives and politics. Even more important, culture has great plasticity and adapts to circumstances in subtle ways as we will discuss in the next few posts.
The issue is important because it shows the preconceptions that Governor Romney, who has no foreign policy experience, brings to the presidency. And those preconceptions are very worrisome.