Cultural Darwinism

Mitt Romney:

Culture Does Matter

During my recent trip to Israel, I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it. In some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy.

But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture? In the case of the United States, it is a particular kind of culture that has made us the greatest economic power in the history of the earth. Many significant features come to mind: our work ethic, our appreciation for education, our willingness to take risks, our commitment to honor and oath, our family orientation, our devotion to a purpose greater than ourselves, our patriotism. But one feature of our culture that propels the American economy stands out above all others: freedom. The American economy is fueled by freedom. Free people and their free enterprises are what drive our economic vitality.

The Founding Fathers wrote that we are endowed by our Creator with the freedom to pursue happiness. In the America they designed, we would have economic freedom, just as we would have political and religious freedom. Here, we would not be limited by the circumstance of birth nor directed by the supposedly informed hand of government. We would be free to pursue happiness as we wish. Economic freedom is the only force that has consistently succeeded in lifting people out of poverty. It is the only principle that has ever created sustained prosperity. It is why our economy rose to rival those of the world’s leading powers — and has long since surpassed them all.

The linkage between freedom and economic development has a universal applicability. One only has to look at the contrast between East and West Germany, and between North and South Korea for the starkest demonstrations of the meaning of freedom and the absence of freedom.

Once upon a time there were two competing economic cultures in the United States. In the South we saw an economic culture much like Mexico’s, where most of the good land was held in large estates owned by a small group of elites. These elites did not work the land, they owned it. They led lives of leisure and privilege.

In both places the land was worked by the lower castes. In Mexico the workers were peóns, while in the South they were chattel slaves prior to the Civil War and basically peóns for many years afterwards. The differences between slavery and peónage were more technical than practical, in that neither group was free to leave.

The Southern plantations grew cash crops, like indigo, tobacco and cotton. These crops were sold to Europe (mainly England) in exchange for both luxuries and necessities.

In the North the economic culture was much different.

The New England region’s economy grew steadily over the entire colonial era, despite the lack of a staple crop that could be exported. All the province and many towns as well, tried to foster economic growth by subsidizing projects that improved the infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, inns and ferries. They gave bounties and subsidies or monopolies to sawmills, grist mills, iron mills, pulling mills (which treated cloth), salt works and glassworks. Most important, colonial legislatures set up a legal system that was conducive to business enterprise by resolving disputes, enforcing contracts, and protecting property rights. Hard work and entrepreneurship characterized the region, as the Puritans and Yankees endorsed the “Protestant Ethic”, which enjoined men to work hard as part of their divine calling.

The benefits of growth were widely distributed in New England, reaching from merchants to farmers to hired laborers. The rapidly growing population led to shortages of good farm land on which young families could establish themselves; one result was to delay marriage, and another was to move to new lands farther west. In the towns and cities, there was strong entrepreneurship, and a steady increase in the specialization of labor. Wages for men went up steadily before 1775; new occupations were opening for women, including weaving, teaching, and tailoring. The region bordered New France, and in the numerous wars the British poured money in to purchase supplies, build roads and pay colonial soldiers. The coastal ports began to specialize in fishing, international trade and shipbuilding—and after 1780 in whaling. Combined with a growing urban markets for farm products, these factors allowed the economy to flourish despite the lack of technological innovation.

The importance of “a legal system that was conducive to business enterprise by resolving disputes, enforcing contracts, and protecting property rights” cannot be understated. But it was a byproduct of an economic culture that emphasized freedom, hard work, independence, keeping one’s word and free trade.

Mexico is a large country (that used to be much larger) and was colonized over 100 years before the original US colonies were started. It won its independence from Spain not long after the American Revolution. It has plenty of natural resources and a population of over 100 million people. It hasn’t been directly involved in a major war (internal or external) in nearly 100 years. No one can claim that Mexicans don’t work hard, millions of them come here every year to perform manual labor at low wages. And yet Mexico lags far behind the United States economically.

The Civil War ended slavery but it left the economic culture of the South essentially unchanged. As a result the South lagged behind the North (and West) until fairly recently.

Nowadays the old Southern economic culture is gone. Survival of the fittest, and Yankee capitalism won out.

BTW – John W. Smart stole my original post before I could write it so I had to change it. I wish he would quit doing that.

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52 Responses to Cultural Darwinism

  1. myiq2xu says:

    In response to a comment at JWS:

    myiq2xu says:
    August 1, 2012 at 11:49 am

    We tried his plan — in the 1890′s — and it didn’t work.

    Au contraire, mon frère. If you want to focus solely on the bad stuff that happened you can paint that decade as a terrible time. But it was also a time when immigrants were flooding into the US in search of opportunity. There was industrial growth and technological innovation. Our cities were becoming electrified and telephone service was spreading. Steamships had replaced sailing ships and you could travel to Europe (or across the country) in a matter of days. The first automobiles were being produced.

    The reforms that emerged from that era were not a repudiation of capitalism – we fixed it, we didn’t replace it.

    • yttik says:

      This comment kind of sums up the difference between the Brits and Americans. The opening ceremonies had 200 ft coal smoke stacks that blew real sulfur into the crowd in celebration of the industrial revolution. They also portrayed how it gave birth to suffrage, civil rights, and labor laws, too. We would never do that in America. In America it’s popular to believe that all industry is evil and the industrial revolution was a tragedy.

      • Oswald says:

        The Industrial Revolution and capitalism brought a lot of changes and new problems. The trick is to adapt to the changes and fix the problems.

  2. yttik says:

    Good for Romney for speaking up, because it does matter!

    Kind of interesting because to believe that it doesn’t matter is actually racist. If you believe that culture, government, freedom, don’t matter than the alternative is to believe that people fail or succeed based on race, genetics. We know that isn’t true, so yes, culture matters.

  3. Where girls dont have access to education and women are oppressed, the culture not only sucks (duh), the culture is literally (and figuratively of course too) IMPOVERISHED.

    • yttik says:

      Amen to that! Oppressing women and girls is like refusing to take advantage of half your talent and resources.

      • Oswald says:

        Are you two sisters or something? The resemblance is amazing.

      • and workers. Look how the US learned that women were needed to work in the factories and other plants during WWII. Of course, efforts were made to shuttle them back into the homes and the low-paying jobs they had been in previously. But Rosie the Riveter is still an icon.

    • that just makes me think that if our country sinks into the morass even more, maybe people will start to give women more of a chance to run things. After all, since we’ve been so disempowered, they can’t blame this mess on us!!!!

    • foxyladi14 says:

      Amen!!! Murphy 🙂

    • votermom says:

      The Baha’i faith is one of the few I know of where their religion explicitly states that if a family is too poor to have all their children educated, the daughters should get priority in going to school. The reason being that as future mothers they will be the first teachers of the next generation.

      But of course Bahai’s are considered heretics in Muslim countries.

  4. Oswald says:

    Remember how the Mayor of London said everything was going smoothly? Karma:

  5. It’s just astounding to me how much people accept without question from ideologies of which they have questioned other parts. Well, where an ideology contradicts itself or is wrong in one place, mightn’t it stand to reason that it’s wrong in others? The commenter in question’s philosophy seems to be that both parties suck, but the left has it right on economics.

    Good explanation, myiq. You help me fill in the gaps in my knowledge.

  6. Oswald says:

    James Fallows:

    Culture as last, not first, explanation. In my experience, culture is the explanation you should look for after you’ve tried and exhausted others. I argued that culture was important in assessing the Philippines’ problems because in other ways — structure of government, letter-of-the-law freedoms — it resembled countries that had fared much better. But when you are comparing the performance of self-governing, always-threatened-but-militarily-dominant Israel with that of Palestinians in governmental limbo and under occupation, it is axe-grinding rather than enlightening to start with “cultural” differences. Or, as in Romney’s case, not even to get around to mentioning the structural, legal, and financial-system differences that might contribute to Palestinian poverty.

    Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

    • angienc says:

      It’s not even a case of which came first, the chicken or the egg. The structural, legal, and financial-systems of a country are the *heart* of it’s culture. That’s why it’s call Western civilization, for example. Fallows is basically asking why does Romney not mention a society’s culture but just conclude that it is the culture that matters.

    • votermom says:

      The Philippines has come a long way since Fallows wrote that article he refers to (in 1987) – unevenly, with many bumps and mis-steps. The biggest factor was leadership – specifically who held the Presidency. Mrs. Aquino was just a so-so manager, but she had integrity. Gen. Ramos was an excellent leader and the economy really grew under his reforms. Then came the movie actor Estrada who was inept AND corrupt. The country really suffered under him. Then came Macapagal-Arroyo who was smart, educated, and corrupt. Then came Aquino’s son Noynoy, who seems to be on a good trajectory.
      What can we learn from the Philippines? That corruption can cripple a whole country but reform starts from the top.
      On the other hand, Obama’s leadership is turning the USA on the path of becoming the Philippines of 1987.

  7. myiq2xu says:

    In response to a different comment at JWS:

    myiq2xu says:
    August 1, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    Romney’s level of prosperity is not based in integrity, it’s based in cheating and bullying. Nobody earns two hundred million dollars; people steal that much money from those who’ve earned it.

    If I were asked to answer the following question: What is slavery? and I should answer in one word, It is murder!, my meaning would be understood at once. No extended argument would be required . . . Why, then, to this other question: What is property? may I not likewise answer, It is robbery!, without the certainty of being misunderstood; the second proposition being no other than a transformation of the first?

    —Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, What is Property?

    Proudhon was the founder of Anarchism. You know, like those Black Bloc types that start riots at all the OWS events.

    You are showing your true roots Zal.

    It never ceases to amaze me how many people spout slogans and ideas without knowing where they came from.

    • myiq2xu says:


      zaladonis says:
      August 1, 2012 at 12:50 pm

      It really isn’t complicated.

      Capitalism is the best system human civilization has invented to utilize the strengths of human nature, thought and imagination. But thanks to dark elements of human nature, unregulated capitalism becomes a horror story.

      We are living right now in a time when the worst elements of human nature are prevalent in our society, our culture. Vanity, deceitfulness, greed, brutality, you name it, we’ve got it throughout our neighborhoods and institutions. This is destroying our nation and we won’t change course by electing more leaders who sing the virtues of greed and euphemize brutality.

      myiq2xu says:
      August 1, 2012 at 1:33 pm

      We are living right now in a time when the worst elements of human nature are prevalent in our society, our culture.

      Compared to when?

      Tell me when things were better.

      • elliesmom says:

        We’ve changed the meaning if what it means to be poor. The “poor” of 50 years ago would consider that many of today’s “poor” are “comfortable”. Which I think is a good thing. But it does beg the question of when, if he had to be poor, would Zal rather live? 2012, 1912, 1512, 1012, 12 BC?

      • Zal’s a total dipshit. He thinks everybody but him and his boyfriend and their friends are beastly barbarians, while he sits on that farm and does zip, zero, nada to help people and gets supported by his “husband”.

        Then he has the balls to call me a racist, erroneously assuming I don’t even know any black people, even though I educated myself out of majority-black ghetto and then went right back into it to drag out other people who needed a hand up. Unlike that twerp Ta-Nehisi Coates was quoting earlier, Kiese Laymon, who educated his way out of the ghetto to go teach at..wait for it…Vassar, where he is licking 20+ year old wounds to this day. Upside down world.

        • And I can still only get a handful of comments on my blog. I fucking give up. Shit is getting to me today.

        • myiq2xu says:

          I didn’t have much luck solo blogging either. Group blogs are where it’s at.

        • myiq2xu says:

          Shit is getting to me today.

          Could you be suffering from post-dental depression?

          You are pretty down-in-the-mouth lately.

        • Yeah. I’m out of vicodin and still pretty sore. Sorry for losing it at TCH. I’m just kind of tired of working my ass for not much of anything. Maybe I should give up and go teach at Vassar where I can lick my wounds in privileged peace.

        • votermom says:

          I hope you feel better soon, Lola. Dental procedures are so traumatic, imo. I always feel fragile and violated afterwards (seriously).

    • angienc says:

      You tricked me into reading a comment by Zal — you are mean, clown.

      Romney’s level of prosperity is not based in integrity, it’s based in cheating and bullying. Nobody earns two hundred million dollars; people steal that much money from those who’ve earned it.


      Anyone who still doesn’t think Zal is a troll, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

  8. myiq2xu says:

    Common cents:

    Rubio bill outlaws taxes on gold medals

    Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced legislation Wednesday that ends taxes on Olympic medals.

    The Olympic Tax Elimination Act would exempt Olympic medal recipients from having to pay taxes on the medals they win.

    When athletes win Olympic medals they also win honorariums. Gold medal winners receive $25,000, silver medal winners receive $25,000, and bronze medal winners get $10,000. Rubio’s legislation would end taxes on those honorariums.

    “Athletes representing our nation overseas in the Olympics shouldn’t have to worry about an extra tax bill waiting for them back home,” Rubio said in a statement.

    Rubio’s bill amends the Internal Revenue Code of 1996 in order to exempt recipients form having to pay taxes on their medals. The legislation applies to medals won after Dec. 31, 2011.

    “We need a fundamental overhaul of our tax code, but we shouldn’t wait any time we have a chance to aggressively fix ridiculous tax laws like this tax on Olympians’ medals and prize money,” Rubio continued. “We can all agree that these Olympians who dedicate their lives to athletic excellence should not be punished when they achieve it.”

    Rubio’s bill comes a day after the U.S. women’s gymnastics team took first place in the all-around gymnastics competition, beating Russia and Romania, which placed second and third, respectively.

  9. myiq2xu says:

    I really don’t have a position on this issue but . . . :

    • Complicated issue for sure. My Jewish heritage and my heart say Jerusalem is the capital of Israel- then, now and tomorrow. My mind says it is trickier than that.

      • votermom says:

        In my uninformed opinion, a nation gets to decide where its capital is. Not outsiders, no matter how powerful or armed.
        Otoh, other nations are free to play whatever diplomatic games they want.

      • angienc says:

        You don’t have to tell me. I refuse to call Constantinople anything but Constantinople — and pray for it’s liberation. 🙂

  10. myiq2xu says:


    I just want to inform everyone that henceforth I will do my best to ignore all the off-screen utterances of Hollywood stars. Otherwise I won’t be able to enjoys movies and television any longer.

    That is all.

    • cj says:

      I’m right there with you. I can barely stand to watch anything with Tom Hanks or Clooney anymore, and Susan Sarandon already lost me in 08. The list grows longer everyday. I find myself being super critical…the only thing I could think of while watching the latest Clooney film was, you should’ve stuck with acting bub, you need the practice.

      This is definitely not good, unless I want to watch Frasier reruns the rest of my life.

    • votermom says:

      I just think of them as nice-looking brainless mannequins. 🙂

    • Erica says:

      I’ve got to do that too, otherwise I can hardly enjoy a film anymore.

    • DandyTiger says:

      Agree. They’re mostly all idiots. And if we notice how stunningly stupid they are, we won’t have any fun watching the circus they perform in.

      The freak show is fun to watch as long as you don’t get to know the freaks.

  11. I ran across this piece- and it kind of fits in with the culture discussions- one young woman- trying to change her culture- I really hope they don’t kill her.–afghani-female-sprinter-resists-country-s-old-ideals–vows-to-show-women-new-future.html

    Saw some brouhaha over the female Muslim athletes and the hijab. ONE damn thing at a time imo. These women suffer incredible threats and denigration at home just for wanting to compete. They are already called whores and worse. If wearing the head garb means they get to come and compete again- ok then. If more and more women Muslim women are allowed to travel and compete and set examples for their fellow citizens- I say GOOD!

    • Clarification- I do not endorse forcing women to wear any of that veil crap. Sometimes we have to compromise to achieve a long term objective.

    • I totally agree with PMM. Same with forcing them to wear the veil. Just seeing these women at the Olympics is a huge accomplishment. One female Muslim athlete is competing in Judo. Can you imagine? Let’s show them huge support.

  12. Lulu says:

    I see culture overlapping class conflicts. I just brought that in to justify my link to a NYT article that shows their dismay at Obama’s tacky campaign begging. I think the snoots at the Times find all of this whiny begging declasse. Talking about and (heaven forbid!) scrounging for the bucks just isn’t done.

  13. Don’t know if ya’ll have seen this but I thought I’d share this commentary from Joe Doakes I saw (

    “You didn’t build that . . .”
    – President Obama
    July 27, 2012
    Dear Mr. Obama,

    Normally when you utter something so colossally idiotic I tend to see what everyone else does and if its all been done I’m not going to throw out my opinion on the matter. The “Obama Depression” is about to claim the last bit of my 401K and I’m trying to get this new idea off the ground so I’m a bit busy. This little letter writing gig is a voluntary effort, with all due respect to those who seem to think I’m a some famous writer grand standing their true self, or some rich guy doing this because I need to vent. I’m none of that. If I did make that claim I would be as bad as you. Because through out these reactions to that utterance I realized something.

    You, Sir, did not build you. Please allow me to explain. Every step of your life has been prepared for you. Every moment you were pampered and buffed for the next phase like some kind of imaginary character in a television program. From your mother to your girlfriends to your job history and your lack of real world skills. It’s frankly miraculous that you kept the facade up for so long. To repeat; you did not build you, someone else did that.

    Well, us common folk “Joe Doakes’s” out in the hinterland don’t have that option. We don’t have the safety net of a group of rich socialist friends that are going to protect us at every turn. We are on our own. And for every improvement we make in our lives there is someone out there, thanks to all of your class rhetoric, that thinks they have a legitimate claim on my labor or my dwindling wealth.

    You never felt blame. You never had to stare back at your wife and explain why that second mortgage isn’t getting paid. You never had to live with less so others could have more. You never had to sacrifice what you wanted so someone else could have a shot. You never built a life on merit and exposure to risk nor attempted to serve the public good in the vain of politicians like Henry Clay. You never did that.

    There’s this guy running for office. His name is Mitt Romney. He has done nothing but that. No one told him when to “zig” or “zag.” No one told him to do what when. He just did it. Mr. Romney is a “Do the right thing” machine. That’s what he does. He’s like one of those perpetual motion machines that you could buy. You can just count on it. That’s what America needs, someone it can count on to relieve it from the madness that is Washington D.C. by any means necessary. Because if you haven’t noticed you didn’t build that city.
    We did.
    Joe Doakes

  14. JohnSmart says:

    HA! No… I had nothing to write about, was kicking around MR’s statement and wrote a post…but i may steal from your head at a later date, myiq2xu!

  15. Erica says:

    Things must be pretty bad in Democratlandia. The DCCC just called me and the poor guy just could not accept it when I told him I no longer donate to formal Dem orgs, just individuals as I see fit. I mean he could not let it go–desperation to the max. Then the poor guy mentioned women’s rights and why we need to get a majority, and I was like stop right there and explain to me how the Stupak ammendment got passed with a dem majority and a supposedly dem president. At which point his best option was to hang up, because I am not giving them a penny. Today the BS is getting to me, too.

  16. DandyTiger says:

    Great post and history lesson!! Bi’ness is where it’s at man. And a society that supports entrepreneurs is going to do really well. That means there is support (infrastructure, laws, social fabric, etc.), but there is also freedom to go out and fail and try again. That last part is very cultural I think. Even some western or getting more western countries just don’t quite have that idea down. So it’s an interesting combination and tricky balance.

    You don’t get a silicon valley (or very early industrial revolutionary development or other life changing, paradigm shifts as some call it) just anywhere. Lots of things have to be aligned.

    That’s what I do. I’m taking crazy, insane risks, working crazy hard, not sleeping, not having a life, so I can make something insanely great. Why, because that’s what we do. That’s what we’re made of. So suck it Obots. And hey OWS fuckwads, get off your asses and do what I do.

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