Mitt Romney told an audience at a Jerusalem fundraiser Sunday that culture alone explains the gulf between the Israeli and Palestinian economies.
On Monday, Romney denied he had singled out culture as the root cause of Palestinian economic struggles. But by Tuesday, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee had penned a National Review op-ed, again confirming that he believes cultural values -– freedom, the rule of law and a strenuous work ethic -– account for global economic disparities.
Between Romney’s explanations of his Sunday speech and critiques describing his comments as both facile and racist, another feature of Romney’s economic analysis has escaped much attention. Romney also cited differences in the U.S. and Mexican economies as proof that some cultures facilitate vibrant economies, while others impede it. The U.S.-Mexico comparison is at least as simplistic and inaccurate as Romney’s Israeli-Palestinian analysis, according to economists and political analysts.
Almost nothing about the U.S.-Mexico relationship is economically comparable to the situation between Israel and areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, said Diana Villers Negroponte, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings institution who specializes in Central America and Mexico.
“The size and sophistication of our economies makes them quite distinctive from the Israeli-Palestinian situation," said Negroponte. "In fact, what the U.S. and Mexico have is very much a 21st Century-type of relationship.“
More than 80 percent of Mexican-made products are exported to the U.S. The North American auto industry is deeply dependent on Mexican parts manufacturers and similar ties are growing in the electronics and chemicals industries, Negroponte said.
Mexican economic progress has been constrained by the drug war and the wide, nearly monopolistic control that a small group of oligarchical businessmen and state agencies have over key industries such as energy, telecommunications and construction materials, Negroponte said.
But while the U.S. economy faltered in 2007 and then mounted a tepid recovery, Mexico has been midst of a massive transition from rural, agrarian communities into an urban society. In Mexico, the imprecise markers of middle-class status -– owning rather than renting one’s home, possessing a car, spending on entertainment -– are growing. In the U.S., more objective measures such as median income are falling.
"The Mexico that Romney seemed to describe no longer exists," Negroponte said. "It hasn't for 20 years."
The Romney campaign declined to answer specific questions about Romney’s U.S.-Mexico comparison, referring The Huffington Post to Romney's Tuesday op-ed.
Mexican trade with the U.S. supports 6 million U.S. jobs, said Kristian Ramos, policy director of the left-leaning think tank NDN's 21st Century Border Initiative.
Mexico ranks third among U.S. trading partners in terms of spending, and pumped $80 billion into Texas last year, Ramos said. Some analysts anticipate that Mexican economic growth will outpace that of the U.S. this year.
“The question I would ask Bettina Inclán is if Mitt Romney thinks there is something culturally wrong with Mexico that doesn’t allow its economy to grow,” said Ramos. Inclán is the Republican National Committee director of Hispanic outreach. She did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Romney's comments call into question two critical selling points for his campaign, said Ramos: Business acumen and character.
“These comments raise questions about how knowledgeable he really is about the trade relationship and what’s going on in Mexico,” said Ramos. “And if the issue isn’t a lack of information, if it’s not ignorance, then that raises another set of questions. Is this guy really willing to say whatever he thinks he needs to say, no matter how offensive or inaccurate, in order to get elected?"
Describing Mexico as an antiquated or inferior country may appeal to Tea Party and deeply conservative voters, Ramos said.