Since 2005, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has referred to writings by former Harvard professor David Landes to bolster his views tying culture to nations’ wealth. But critics have said the presumptive Republican nominee has oversimplified the reasons behind the economic success of countries.
While in Israel this week, and again in a National Review Online piece, Romney mentioned culture as the primary way to compare the economic development of nations. The following are passages from these and other speeches and writings in which Romney has made similar remarks.
Feb 21, 2005
Presidents Day Dinner
“There are some people who don’t think that values and culture matter very much, that people should just live and let live and it doesn’t have much influence or effect. I recently read a book by Howard, excuse me, David Landes of Harvard. The title was “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.” When I saw that it was endorsed by John Kenneth Galbraith, I braced myself. But it turned out to be quite factual and scholarly. And it ended about 500 pages of analysis with this conclusion: if we learn anything from the history of economic development it is that culture makes all the difference. The cultural underpinnings of America are pretty clear: Americans work. We work hard. We’re independent minded, self reliant. We’re ready to help those that are truly in need. Americans are religious, from our declaration of independence to our currency itself, we recognize our creator. The fundamental building block of American society is the family. Through the family we prepare the next generation. America cannot continue to lead the family of nations around the world if we suffer the collapse of the family here at home.”
Feb 23, 2006
Lexington County Republican Party
“The more I live and the more I’ve studied, the more importance I attach to the culture of different civilizations and societies in understanding how they are successful or not so successful. There’s a terrific book that was written by a guy named David Landes called “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.” It’s a book the compares different countries and civilizations over the history of the planet, and seeks to understand why some are successful and some are not. And after about 500 pages of pretty dry reading, he ends with this statement: he says if anything at all can be learned from the history of economic development, it is this: Culture makes all the difference. And as you look at the United States of America, you ask yourself, what are the elements that form our culture, that’s allowed us to become the most powerful nation on the earth. And I have my own views in that regard. I think one of them is that we love liberty, we love freedom, that we love opportunity, and the opportunity we have to fulfill our dreams. That we as a people are a people of faith. Most people in America believe in God; many who don’t nevertheless have a purpose driven life; they have something more important than just themselves to life for - their family, their community, their party, their country. Americans also work hard. We like education, we pursue education aggressively - all these things at one place or another in this country are under attack, are under question. But they’re fundamental elements of our society. Americans also respect the value of human life. Americans also recognize the importance of the family. Our culture is based on strong family units.”
January 14, 2008
“I’m actually inspired, instead, by -- well, some of the writings that I’ve read about a professor named David Landes. He wrote a book called “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.” You see, I spent my life in the private sector, in the business world. And I traveled around the world before I got into the Olympics, actually during the Olympics, too, I traveled a good deal. But I got to see different countries and see some people doing well and some nations strong and others not doing so well. And I wondered why it was there was such a big difference between some nations and others even though the people were all the same people. We all have about the same I.Q. as populations around the world. Why is it that some nations are so successful and some aren’t? One book was written by a guy named Jared Diamond called “Guns, Germs and Steel.” It says the difference between nations is what kind of land they get. If you get good land that has iron ore in it, you can make swords out of the iron ore and kill your neighbor and become a strong nation: that was the idea. And I read the book and said, “There’s something more to it than that.” And that’s why when I read this book by David Landes called “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” I was impressed that there was something more than that. In this book, he says -- after tracing the coming and going of different civilizations and the turning points in history, he said, “If you can learn anything from the history of the economic development of the world, it’s this: Culture makes all the difference,” he said. Culture -- what you believe as people, what you value, what drives you, what motivates you -- makes all the difference, in the history of your nation. And I’m convinced that what makes America the most powerful nation on earth is what we believe as Americans, our culture...There’s a culture here which is distinctly American. We love opportunity, Americans do. It’s part of our values. People came here from all over the world, seeking freedom and opportunity. We don’t want a government that’ll just hand out to us. We want opportunity so we can create our own future.”
Jan 19, 2008
University of North Florida
“It’s the culture of this land, you see as American people we probably have a very similar IQ, average, to the people of other nations. But what we believe is quite distinctive and has made us a remarkable nation. Americans believe in hard work. We’re willing to work hard. Americans value education. Americans also love opportunity.”
Feb. 7, 2008
Remarks at CPAC
“Over the years my business took me to a lot of different countries, and I’ve been struck by the enormous differences in the wealth and the well-being of people from different nations. I’ve read a number of scholarly explanations for the disparities, and I’ve found the most convincing was written by a fellow named David Landes. He’s a professor emeritus at Harvard University. I presume he’s a liberal. I guess that’s redundant. And his work traces the coming and going of great civilizations throughout history. And after hundreds of pages of analysis, he concludes with this, and I quote: “If we learn anything from the history of economic development it is that culture makes all the difference.” Culture makes all the difference. What is it about America’s culture that’s led us to become the most powerful nation in the history of the world? Well, we believe in hard work and education. We love opportunity. Almost all of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants who came here for opportunity. Opportunity’s in our DNA. Americans love God, and those who don’t have faith typically believe in something greater than themself, a purpose-driven life, if you will. And we sacrifice as Americans everything we have, even our lives, for our families, for our freedoms and for our country. These values and beliefs of free American people are the source of the nation’s strength, and they always will be.”
Book, "No Apology"
“The multiculturalism movement must be unmasked for the fraud that it is. There are superior cultures, and ours is one of them. As David Landes observed, ‘Culture makes all the difference.’”
“The differences between the places I visited were startling. I had seen the countries and their citizens on television, of course, but being there and experiencing life there - driving, shopping, eating, holding meetings, telephoning, conversing, and simply observing the daily events of people’s lives — offered new perspectives and raised questions I wouldn’t otherwise have considered. I wondered how such vast differences could exist between countries that were literally next door to each other. How could Americans be so rich and Mexicans so poor? How could Israelis have created a highly developed, technology-based economy while their Palestinian neighbors have not yet even begun to move to an industrial economy? As I traveled to Africa, Asia, the Middle East, South American, and to both halves of Europe that had previously been divided by the Iron Curtain, I discovered that the prosperity gap is really a canyon. Why is that?
In his best-selling book ‘Guns, Germs, and Steel,’ Jared Diamond notes that long ago, the availability of minerals like iron ore meant that some nations could fashion weapons and conquer their neighbors while others without those minerals could not. The complex geography of germs and disease could cripple the economy of one nation while opening new possibilities for another. A nation’s rivers, mountains, and deserts dramatically shaped the transportation network essential for trade and economic development. For scholars like Diamond and many others, the relative differences between nations and people are largely the result of these kinds of inherent natural features. To a degree, there is truth in that perspective, but it simply doesn’t fully account for the great differences between nations and civilizations.
Harvard professor David Landes’s ‘Wealth and Poverty of Nations’ adds crucial insight as to why some nations prosper and others do not. His examination concludes that ‘culture makes all the difference,’ not only when it comes to understanding why great civilizations failed in the past, as described earlier, but also in explaining why differences between nations exist today. What people believe, value, strive for, and sacrifice for profoundly shape the nature of their society and affect its prosperity and security. So while America’s abundant natural resources certainly facilitated its ascent, it is America’s culture that enabled the nation to become and remain the most powerful and beneficent country in the history of humankind.
Many aspects of America’s culture are today in question, in decline, or even under attack. Before the essentials of American culture are replaced or weakened, we should explicitly acknowledge the values that got us where we are, ask whether they are important to our national strength, and if so, take urgent measures to strengthen and in some cases to restore them.”
March 5, 2010
National Press Club
In the travels I did as a business person, I learned just how important the culture of a nation can be. I was always struck by the big differences between different countries, the fact that you could have two nations right next door to each other, with very similar physical characteristics, in some cases, but nations that had achieved very different levels of, let’s say, education and economic prosperity. I thought of having been to Israel the first time and remarking at the extraordinary technology that the Israelis had built in their society. And yet in the Palestinian areas, there was not that same level of technology and innovation. I looked at America versus Mexico. How could there be such a gap between two nations so close to each other? How can Argentina and Chile today even have such dramatically different prospects for their future, despite their proximity? And so I did some reading to get an assessment of that. And I read a book by Jared Diamond. He’s written a lot of good books. I liked “Collapse.” Did you see that -- that was a good one. But the one I was thinking of was a book called “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” And he points out that different parts of the world had, for instance, different natural characteristics, like iron ore in the ground. And if a nation had iron ore in the ground in its earlier days, it could mine that iron ore, turn it into swords, and conquer their neighbor. And, as a result, they became the more powerful and compelling society relative to their neighbor. He looked at germs, for instance, and found that in some places there were such disadvantages associated with having disease that kept the people from being able to grow and thrive. And so he explains through, if you will, the physical and geological -- geographical characteristics of a land some portion of what distinguished one people from another. But the book didn’t satisfy me because I don’t think it explains all of the difference that you see in different nations. Then, I read a book by a professor named David Landes, a professor emeritus from Harvard University. He wrote a book called “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.” And in it he chronicles the various nations and civilizations that have grown and that have declined over the earth’s history. And after about 500 pages of scholarly analysis, he concludes with roughly these words. He said if you can learn anything from the history of the economic development of the world, it is that culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference, what people believe, what they will sacrifice for. And I thought about America’s culture, which, I believe, has made all the difference: this culture of pioneering and innovativeness that I spoke of; the respect we have for one another; our willingness to serve our nation, the patriotism that we feel, a very extraordinary part of America’s culture; the family orientation of our society, our willingness to have children and to sacrifice for future generations. I believe that faith in God is a part of our culture. Many people don’t believe in God, of course. But even those that don’t believe in something bigger than themselves and more important than themselves, and they will sacrifice for it. Education is part of our culture. We value education, and seek it. Hard work is part of the American culture. Together, these things, I believe, have helped form what we are. And so, at a time like this, given the challenges that we face around the world, I recognize that this is a time for us to be strengthening those elements of our culture, our education, our hard work, our independence, our love of country, our willingness to sacrifice, the pioneering and innovative spirit. It’s a time to be strengthening and restoring those things, rather than be criticizing them and making them more difficult to thrive and grow.
March 19, 2012
“My business used to take me to different parts of the world and -- and I was often struck by enormous differences between different nations that in many cases were living right next door to each other. I -- I was interested in the differences in their prosperity and how it was that nations so close to each other in terms of geography, could be so different in terms of prosperity. I mean look at Mexico and the United States, Israel and Egypt, Chile and Ecuador. And -- and I read a number of books that purported to explain the differences. One of them by Jared Diamond called “Guns, Germs and Steel”, argued that the difference was due largely to the minerals in the ground and the -- the physical characteristics, natural resources associated with different countries. But that didn’t explain it all, just a part. And then I happened to read a book by Professor David Landes called, “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.” And in that he -- he traces the history of all the great civilizations on the earth. Those that have come and gone. And after about 500 pages of scholarly analysis he concludes with -- with this observation. He says, “If we learn anything from the economic -- the history of economic development it is this, culture makes all the difference.” Culture makes all the difference. Culture. What is it about America’s culture that’s made us the greatest economic power in the history of the earth? And of course there are a lot of things that come to mind. Our work ethic. Our appreciation for -- for education. The -- the willingness of Americans to take risk. Our commitment to honor contract oath, our family devotion. Our -- our commitment to purpose greater than ourselves. Our patriotism.”
May 12, 2012
Liberty University Commencement Address
You enter a world with civilizations and economies that are far from equal. Harvard historian David Landes devoted his lifelong study to understanding why some civilizations rise, and why others falter. His conclusion: Culture makes all the difference. Not natural resources, not geography, but what people believe and value. Central to America’s rise to global leadership is our Judeo-Christian tradition, with its vision of the goodness and possibilities of every life. The American culture promotes personal responsibility, the dignity of work, the value of education, the merit of service, devotion to a purpose greater than self, and, at the foundation, the pre-eminence of the family.
July 30, 2012
“I was thinking this morning as I prepared to come into this room of a discussion I had across the country in the United States about my perceptions about differences between countries. And as you come here and you see the GDP per capita for instance in Israel which is about 21,000 dollars and you compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority which is more like 10,000 dollars per capita you notice a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States. I noted that part of my interest when I used to be in the world of business is I would travel to different countries was to understand why there were such enormous disparities in the economic success of various countries. I read a number of books on the topic. One, that is widely acclaimed, is by someone named Jared Diamond called ‘Guns, Germs and Steel,’ which basically says the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there. There is iron ore on the land and so forth. And 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. And likewise other nations that are next door to each other have very similar, in some cases, geographic elements. But then there was a book written by a former Harvard professor named ‘The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.’ And in this book Dr. Landes describes differences that have existed-particularly among the great civilizations that grew and why they grew and why they became great and those that declined and why they declined. And after about 500 pages of this lifelong analysis-this had been his study for his entire life-and he’s in his early 70s at this point, he says this, he says, if you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it’s this: culture makes all the difference. 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. One, I recognize the hand of providence in selecting this place. I’m told in a Sunday school class I attended- I think my son Tagg was teaching the class. He’s not here. I look around to see. Of course he’s not here. He was in London. He taught a class in which he was describing the concern on the part of some of the Jews that left Egypt to come to the promised land, that in the promised land was down the River Nile, that would provide the essential water they had enjoyed in Egypt. They came here recognizing that they must be relied upon, themselves and the arm of God to provide rain from the sky. And this therefore represented a sign of faith and a show of faith to come here. That this is a people that has long recognized the purpose in this place and in their lives that is greater than themselves and their own particular interests, but a purpose of accomplishment and caring and building and serving. There’s also something very unusual about the people of this place. And Dan Senor-- And Dan, I saw him this morning, I don’t know where he is, he’s probably out twisting someone’s arm-There’s Dan Senor, co-author of ‘Start-up Nation,’ described-- If you haven’t read the book, you really should-- Described why it is Israel is the leading nation for start-ups in the world. And why businesses one after the other tend to start up in this place. And he goes through some of the cultural elements that have led Israel to become a nation that has begun so many businesses and so many enterprises and that is becomes so successful.”
July 31, 2012
Op-ed, National Review Online
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.
Israel is also a telling example. Like the United States, the state of Israel has a culture that is based upon individual freedom and the rule of law. It is a democracy that has embraced liberty, both political and economic. This embrace has created conditions that have enabled innovators and entrepreneurs to make the desert bloom. In the face of improbable odds, Israel today is a world leader in fields ranging from medicine to information technology.
As the case of Israel makes plain, building a free society is not a simple task. Rather, it is struggle demanding constant courage and sacrifice. Even here in the United States, which from our inception as a nation has been blessed with freedom, we faced monumental challenges in harmonizing our ideals with our institutions. We fought a bloody civil war against slavery and it took a nonviolent civil-rights movement to bring political and social equality to all Americans. In these epic struggles we changed our “culture” and vastly improved it.
I have just returned from a trip abroad. I visited three lands - Israel, Poland, and Great Britain - which are defined by their respective struggles for freedom. I met with some of the greatest heroes of those struggles. I am always glad to return to American soil. On this occasion, I am only strengthened in my conviction that the pursuit of happiness is not an American right alone. Israelis, Palestinians, Poles, Russians, Iranians, Americans, all human beings deserve to enjoy the blessings of a culture of freedom and opportunity.