Yes, Culture Does Matter
Romney’s “gaffe” revealed an important truth.

Mitt Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, July 28, 2012


Michael Tanner

This is true outside of the Middle East, as well. Is there any doubt that Europe’s welfare-state culture and the entitlement attitude that drive the high taxes and bloated governments of countries such as Greece and Spain are at least partially responsible for their problems?

Governor Romney hardly needed to go halfway around the world to demonstrate this. He could just have looked at two neighboring U.S. states, Virginia and Maryland, to see a similar dynamic. Maryland has one of the most aggressively tax-and-spend legislatures in the country. The state ranks 42nd out of 50 in terms of business environment. Its tax burden is the nation’s twelfth-highest. Virginia, ranked 26th for business climate, is far from the most pro-business state, but it is much better than Maryland. Thirty-three states have higher taxes than Virginia does.

As a result, Virginia’s unemployment rate is just 5.7 percent, while Maryland’s is 6.9 percent. Virginia just announced a state-budget surplus. Maryland continues to wrestle with a massive budget deficit. And, after Maryland passed a new “millionaires’ tax,” 31,000 residents moved out of the state, many of them to Virginia. One might consider Virginia to be Israel and Maryland to be Palestine (without the border checkpoints). That is why President Obama’s view of America’s culture, at least when it comes to economics, is so troubling. His recent remarks concerning whether business owners built their businesses on their own, even when taken in context, reflect a belief that individual initiative, intelligence, and hard work have far less to do with success than good luck. The successful are simply winners of “life’s lottery.” It is, therefore, government’s job to rectify the inequity of capricious fortune by redistributing the wealth. 

President Obama would make our culture more like the cultures of Europe. If that were to happen, we wouldn’t just be a “fundamentally transformed” nation, we would be a far less prosperous one.

Don’t call it a gaffe. Governor Romney was right. Political and economic culture really does matter.

— Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.


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