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Author Charges Romney Wrongly Interpreted His Book in ‘Culture’ Remark

By    |   Thursday, 02 August 2012 10:04 AM

The author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book that Mitt Romney cited during his remarks about the role of culture in a country’s success said Romney wrongly interpreted his work and oversimplified the issue.

In a New York Times op-ed column titled “Romney Hasn’t Done His Homework,” author Jared Diamond wrote, “Mitt Romney’s latest controversial remark, about the role of culture in explaining why some countries are rich and powerful while others are poor and weak, has attracted much comment. I was especially interested in his remark because he misrepresented my views and, in contrasting them with another scholar’s arguments, oversimplified the issue.”

Romney's campaign stop in Israel left behind furious Palestinians charging that the Republican presidential candidate hasn't fully grasped the complexities of one of the world's most intractable conflicts. Palestinians said Romney seemed to suggest their culture is inferior to Israel's when he addressed the stark economic differences between Israel — a high-tech powerhouse with the per capita income of a developed nation — and the poorer Palestinians. Romney told an audience of affluent Jewish that some economic historians have theorized that "culture makes all the difference."

"You notice a stark difference in economic vitality" between Israel and the Palestinians, Romney said, proceeding to badly flub the economic output numbers on both sides. "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," he said, citing an innovative business climate and the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances.

Diamond, a professor of geography at UCLA, said in the op-ed, “It is not true that my book ‘Guns, Germs and Steel,’ as Mr. Romney described it in a speech in Jerusalem, ‘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.’”

“That is so different from what my book actually says that I have to doubt whether Mr. Romney read it,” Diamond continued. “My focus was mostly on biological features, like plant and animal species, and among physical characteristics, the ones I mentioned were continents’ sizes and shapes and relative isolation. I said nothing about iron ore, which is so widespread that its distribution has had little effect on the different successes of different peoples. (As I learned this week, Mr. Romney also mischaracterized my book in his memoir, ‘No Apology: Believe in America.’)”

Diamond went on to say that scholars would find “Romney’s statement that ‘culture makes all the difference’ dangerously out of date.”

“Mitt Romney may become our next president,” Diamond concluded, “Will he continue to espouse one-factor explanations for multicausal problems, and fail to understand history and the modern world? If so, he will preside over a declining nation squandering its advantages of location and history.”

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