While in Israel, Romney pointed to differences in culture between the Palestinians and Israelis as an explanation of why Israel’s GDP per capita is so much higher than Palestine’s. A Palestinian official said Romney was racist (of course) and that the difference in GDP was due to the “Israeli occupation.”
I spent some time working in the West Bank, and I have to say I was impressed by how hard working the people there were. And if you look at GDP per capita across the Middle East, the Palestinians do fall near the bottom of the barrel, so the Israel/Palestine conflict likely does have something to do with it. (I also think the billions in aid they receive is slowing economic growth, but that’s another post).
However, even amongst the “healthy” middle eastern economies, Israel is near the top of the GDP list… And Israel’s not an oil economy. Now I’m not lumping all Middle Eastern cultures in the same basket – there are differences, even between the Palestinians on the West Bank and those in Gaza (note: every Palestinian I’ve met hotly denies this, whereas every foreigner I’ve met who’s been to both spots agrees).
But of course culture affects economic performance! It affects performance, period; it affects the way we work, the way we perceive the value of productivity, and the way we perceive success.
It’s funny, because a cultural trait of Americans is to believe everyone’s the same. It’s part of our egalitarian nature, and rooted in the Declaration of the Independence’s statement that all men are created equal. So we tend to deny there are cultural differences… because that’s our culture.
Anyway, Romney’s remarks were overly simplistic, but certainly not racist.