Monday, January 18, 2010

Haiti's Un-natural Disaster

News on Haiti has focused on the horrible and devastating destruction of the recent earthquake. Deaths, injuries, collapsed buildings and ruined infrastructure have overwhelmed the country. People need help immediately--and help is being sent by both governments and charity organizations. But, and this "but" is key: once the immediate needs have been met, a hard look needs to be taken at why Haiti is so vulnerable, why is it the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere? Attention now necessarily goes to relieving the massive suffering---but unless the underlying forces which keep the bulk of Haitians destitute are understood and reversed, all the current rescue efforts will only be a temporary patch work.

The real tragedy of Haiti is not the earthquake's aftermath. That plight, as horrific as it is, is a short term problem which has the attention of the world, and will be solved. It is the long term disaster of Haiti's economic stagnation and political corruption that must be corrected before Haitians will have a chance to participate in the world's growing prosperity.

I recently read a fascinating book about Dr. Paul Farmer's heroic efforts to improve the healthcare received by Haitians. Farmer's story is inspirational for demonstrating what a single dedicated and passionate individual can accomplish--and for that example, it is a story worth reading (Mountains Beyond Mountains). And yet, although he is clearly an astute diagnostician and clinician of infectious disease, his understanding of economics is mistakenly Marxist.

Richard Ebeling has an article which begins to look at the man-made aspects of the current disaster.

At a time when many countries in the less-underdeveloped areas of the globe have been rising out of poverty over the last several decades, Haiti, however, is one of those countries that has continued to stagnate with a 50 percent rate of unemployment of the work force and with 80 percent of the population estimated to be living below the poverty line before the earthquake. At a time when more and more countries are becoming industrialized and economically more diversified, over 65 percent of the people in Haiti still depend upon low productivity farming for their meager standard of living.

The government, not just for decades but also for more than two centuries, has been notoriously corrupt, brutal and tyrannical. If there is any instance of Frédéric Bastiat's notion of "legalized plunder," under which the powers of government are applied to steal the wealth of some for the benefit of others who are politically well connected, it is Haiti throughout its sad history.

Billions of taxpayers' dollars from the United States and many other countries have all gone down a huge government rat hole that has lined the pockets of the rulers and their political cronies in Haiti.

From slave colony and pirate haven, through the despotism of rebel leaders such as Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the serfdom of Jean Pierre Boyer, international meddling by France, Germany, the US and Great Britain, dictators Trujillo and the Duvaliers, the Tonton Macoutes death-squads, and the controversial presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide---the government instability, as evident by 32 coups in 200 years, has allowed almost continual violation of personal liberty and property rights, which even at its best were never truly secure.

So send dollars to charity to help with the immediate needs---but the longer lasting help must consist of eliminating the un-natural disaster of corrupt, unstable and exploitative government. Rule of law, protection of individual rights and and economic freedom must be established in order for the Haitians to generate the wealth they need to raise themselves permanently out of poverty and protect themselves from the devastation of future natural disasters.


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