Harvard historian David Landes cited in Romney controversyHistorians in the News
... Citing the “dramatically stark difference in economic vitality” and G.D.P. per capita between Israel and its troublesome occupied zones, Romney said he had been studying the work of David Landes, the octogenarian Harvard historian, whose 1999 tome “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations” argued that the political and economic culture of Europe played a key role in its rapid development. “Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said at the fundraiser, which took place at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, where he and his entourage were staying. “Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”
Since Romney didn’t specify what these “few other things were,” his audience, and Palestinian politicians, were left to dwell on his references to cultural factors. (There was apparently a mention of divine providence.) “All I can say is that this man needs a lot of education,” Saeb Erekat, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told the Washington Post. “He doesn’t know the region, he doesn’t know Israelis, he doesn’t know Palestinians, and to talk about the Palestinians as an inferior culture is really a racist statement…. He should know that the Palestinians will never reach their economic potential under Israeli occupation, and if he doesn’t know this fact, this man has a lot to learn.”
Claiming his remarks had been misrepresented, the Romney campaign released a partial transcript to reporters. According to the Post, he also brought up the work of Jared Diamond, the author of “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” which stresses the role that climate, minerals, and other geographic factors play in economic development. “You look at Israel and you say you have a hard time suggesting that all of the natural resources on the land could account for all the accomplishment of the people here,” Romney said. “And likewise other nations that are next door to each other have very similar, in some cases, geographic elements.”
That is certainly true. But in applying Landes’s theory to occupied territories whose inhabitants have to pass through military checkpoints in getting from A to B, he was being insensitive—to say the least. Almost all outside observers have acknowledged that continued military occupation is one of the things stalling economic development in the Palestinian territories. In a lengthy report issued just last week, the World Bank said that “the removal of Israeli restrictions on access to markets and to natural resources continues to be a prerequisite for the expansion of the Palestinian private sector.” The Bank’s country director for the occupied territories, Mariam Shirman, described Israeli restrictions on economic activity as “the biggest impediment to investing” there.
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