On Neo-Darwinism and Presidential Politics

Rich people, I would guess, like to own things, but they demonstrate a remarkable tendency not to own themselves or own up to their own behavior. Mitt Romney’s sojourn to Europe and Israel only brings this point home to me. According to the Washington Post:

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney angered Palestinian leaders on Monday when he suggested here that the Israeli economy has outpaced that of the Palestinian territories in part because of advantages of “culture.” 

Romney pointed to a 2-to-1 disparity in per capita income between Israel and the Palestinian territories as proof of Israel’s culturally based “economic vitality.” In fact the disparity is more on the order of 30-to-1 according to a World Bank report, the same report that points to Israeli occupation and armed conflict (not culture) as the main impediments to economic growth in the territories.

A couple of character flaws in the Republican candidate appear to be in evidence here. First, Romney seems unable or unwilling to assess the severity of economic disparity correctly, either abroad or domestically. Romney would like to claim that the rich are richer because, unlike poor people, they work harder, they have stronger work ethics, and a stronger sense of personal and familial moral values. Such claims are laughable, of course. Some rich people work very hard and some do not. Some poor people work very hard and some do not. Any further claims to the relative cultural values of work with respect to wealth or poverty can only fall into caricature. I’m no social psychologist or anything, but I believe the correct term for such behavior is “stereotyping.” And I’m no political pundit or anything, but I would say that using stereotypes as a means of making economic and international policy is not a good idea when a candidate is running against the first Black president of the United States.

Romney’s interpretive failure is disconcerting to say the least. If income disparity is only 2-to-1, or even 4-to-1, then perhaps, perhaps, one could imagine overcoming that disparity by working just a bit harder. A 30-to-1 disparity suggests a structural problem in world order, however, which mere platitudes to personal improvement and morality cannot address. And if you can understand that last statement, I will just point out that the disparity between Romney’s 2011 income and the average household income in the US for 2011 is something like 816-to-1. Roughly.

Romney’s appeal to culture to explain economic success or failure, however, belies a much greater problem among members of his class. It could not be that one becomes rich by mere chance, the fact that one was born into wealth or happened to fall into circumstances that promoted wealth. The rich in the United States feel they must always claim that they were “self-made.” But ultimately the wealthy do not merely appeal to a personal propensity to work long hours to explain “success.” Rather, there are external, extra-personal forces at play. It seems that the rich, by their very nature, are genetically more predisposed to work harder and become self-made than the poor. This genetic predisposition is expressed as a cultural predisposition to do the same. Wall Street bankers are horribly wealthy because Wall Street breeds a culture of success… based on fraud and insider trading and too big to fail. Never mind the definitive split between nature and nurture, nature and culture. This is Social Darwinism at its worst, which reads socio-economics as biological and evolutionary, wealth-culture as the phenotypical expression of genotypical fact.

Of course, although Romney and the rest of his class love to seek cultural explanations to justify themselves, they never bother to consult actual cultural scholars to jump to their conclusions. Why, that would be akin to asking scientists about real science! Or economists about real economics! But come to think of it, who would choose to forego a huge salary in order to pursue knowledge and joy? They must be delusional malcontents! They must be jealous!!

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