“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Why is Haiti a Perpetual Disaster?

Haiti's problems did not start with the earthquake. Shoddy costruction in an earthquake zone and hurricane prone area will and did have predictable and tragic results. Corrupt governments, a society without civil preparedness, unsustainable population growth, a population ridden with disease and parasites and minimal infrastructure will always collapse under stress. But how did all this happen?

The Underlying Tragedy

On Oct. 17, 1989, a major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 struck the Bay Area in Northern California. Sixty-three people were killed. This week, a major earthquake, also measuring a magnitude of 7.0, struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Red Cross estimates that between 45,000 and 50,000 people have died.

This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story. It’s a story about poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services. On Thursday, President Obama told the people of Haiti: “You will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten.” If he is going to remain faithful to that vow then he is going to have to use this tragedy as an occasion to rethink our approach to global poverty. He’s going to have to acknowledge a few difficult truths.

The first of those truths is that we don’t know how to use aid to reduce poverty. Over the past few decades, the world has spent trillions of dollars to generate growth in the developing world. The countries that have not received much aid, like China, have seen tremendous growth and tremendous poverty reductions. The countries that have received aid, like Haiti, have not.

In the recent anthology “What Works in Development?,” a group of economists try to sort out what we’ve learned. The picture is grim. There are no policy levers that consistently correlate to increased growth. There is nearly zero correlation between how a developing economy does one decade and how it does the next. There is no consistently proven way to reduce corruption. Even improving governing institutions doesn’t seem to produce the expected results.

The chastened tone of these essays is captured by the economist Abhijit Banerjee: “It is not clear to us that the best way to get growth is to do growth policy of any form. Perhaps making growth happen is ultimately beyond our control.”

The second hard truth is that micro-aid is vital but insufficient. Given the failures of macrodevelopment, aid organizations often focus on microprojects. More than 10,000 organizations perform missions of this sort in Haiti. By some estimates, Haiti has more nongovernmental organizations per capita than any other place on earth. They are doing the Lord’s work, especially these days, but even a blizzard of these efforts does not seem to add up to comprehensive change.

Third, it is time to put the thorny issue of culture at the center of efforts to tackle global poverty. Why is Haiti so poor? Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. But so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well. Haiti has endured ruthless dictators, corruption and foreign invasions. But so has the Dominican Republic, and the D.R. is in much better shape. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and the same basic environment, yet the border between the two societies offers one of the starkest contrasts on earth — with trees and progress on one side, and deforestation and poverty and early death on the other.

As Lawrence E. Harrison explained in his book “The Central Liberal Truth,” Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.

We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.

Fourth, it’s time to promote locally led paternalism. In this country, we first tried to tackle poverty by throwing money at it, just as we did abroad. Then we tried microcommunity efforts, just as we did abroad. But the programs that really work involve intrusive paternalism.

These programs, like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the No Excuses schools, are led by people who figure they don’t understand all the factors that have contributed to poverty, but they don’t care. They are going to replace parts of the local culture with a highly demanding, highly intensive culture of achievement — involving everything from new child-rearing practices to stricter schools to better job performance.

It’s time to take that approach abroad, too. It’s time to find self-confident local leaders who will create No Excuses countercultures in places like Haiti, surrounding people — maybe just in a neighborhood or a school — with middle-class assumptions, an achievement ethos and tough, measurable demands.

The late political scientist Samuel P. Huntington used to acknowledge that cultural change is hard, but cultures do change after major traumas. This earthquake is certainly a trauma. The only question is whether the outside world continues with the same old, same old.


And this from the New York Times in 1993

Haiti: Mission Impossible?

Published: October 10, 1993 in the NYT

On Thursday 600 American soldiers were supposed to leave for Haiti to help arrange the transition from military rule to the installation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Their departure was delayed because a nervous Pentagon wanted "clarification" of their mission.

The objections, according to a state Department spokesman, have either been answered or overruled, and troops are now on their way, due to arrive in Port-au-Prince tomorrow. That's a pity, because their mission, in its present form, will not work.

The Americans are ostensibly going to Haiti to help "train" or "professionalize" Haiti's military. As the mission now stands, they will be lightly armed, if armed at all, and will not constitute a peacekeeping force. But the people they are supposed to be helping have no wish to be trained.

They are the same thugs who denied Father Aristide the presidency he won in the country's first democratic elections, who expelled him from the country two years ago and who have terrorized Haiti ever since. Last week they brutally enforced a general strike meant to sabotage the transition to democratic rule.

They have recently murdered one of the president's leading supporters, dragging him from a church service and shooting him in the street. They have made it clear to members of his government that if they show up at the office, they may pay with their lives.

Last summer, with his country weakened by international economic sanctions, the leader of the Haitian junta, Raoul Cedras, agreed to a timetable for returning Father Aristide to power. The sanctions were lifted accordingly. But military leaders, especially the Port-au-Prince police chief, Joseph Michel Francois, have openly defied the agreement.

For most of this century Haiti has been ruled by a corrupt, wealthy elite, bolstered by a brutal military clique with long paramilitary tentacles. Since the election of Father Aristide, U.S. policy makers have consistently underestimated the resolve of this clique, and its willingness to resort to brutality.

Chastened by Somalia, Americans might be tempted simply to leave Haitians to sort out their own affairs. But unlike the Somalis, the Haitians have already elected a government; they simply lack the muscle to bring it back home. And Haiti is close; its refugees end up on our shores, or drowning in nearby seas.

Still, defenseless U.S. troops should not have been sent into this snake pit. America has better ways to show its resolve. The first is to reimpose the sanctions that were lifted last summer, and ask fellow members of the U.N. to do likewise. Then the Clinton Administration should reassess what it wants to accomplish in Haiti, and how.

As an island nation, Haiti is susceptible to naval blockade, an option that would stop short of massive military intervention but might help force the return of democracy.

General Cedras has reneged on his bargain; he and his cronies cannot be trusted with American lives.


  1. I urge you to watch this video on the condition of Haiti before the earthquake. Where do you start?

  2. You start by realizing you can't do anything.

  3. Chinese waiting 1 - 3 months to get Delivery of Cars/light trucks

    Factories running 24 hrs/day. Small and Medium sized cities over half the market.

  4. School teachers in China can now afford cars.

    Over a Billion Chinese, and they're serious as a heart attack.

  5. China's Foreign Reserves Rise to $2.4 Trillion.

    A shit-load of cash, and an "undervalued" currency. Their "loan" ratios look very sustainable to me, and their "cost of doing business" is Low.

    I never much liked Jim Rodgers (sp?) but he "Nailed" this one.

  6. Haiti, once called The Jewel of the Antilles, was the richest colony in the entire world. Economists estimate that in the 1750s Haiti provided as much as 50% of the Gross National Product of France. The French imported sugar, coffee, cocoa, tobacco, cotton, the dye indigo and other exotic products. In France they were refined, packaged and sold all over Europe. Incredible fortunes were made from this tiny colony on the island of Hispaniola.

    How could Haiti have once been the source of such wealth and today be the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere? How could this land that was once so productive today be semi-barren? How did "The Jewel of the Antilles" become the Caribbean's hell-hole?

    Why is Haiti so Poor?

    I don't, necessarily agree with All of the author's conclusions, but he gives a very informative narrative of how Haiti got the way it is. However, I'm not for sure he answers the question, "why does it Stay the way it is?"

    Regardless, it's worth the read.

  7. Whit, that is the most sensible thing written about Haiti yet.

  8. Now you see it. Now you don't.... why not post that?

  9. As the piece that rufus linked to shows, the United States has a long history, in Haiti.

    A long period of occupation, where we did not build a nation, but instead institutionalized government corruption and mismanagement.

    So, there are many things which we could, perhaps even should, do to aid Haiti, but we will not do any of the practical things that would aid those folks there.

    As exemplified by our last "mission" there and our current "mission" in Afpakistan.

    If we cannot fix the problem with our military hammer, then that particular challenge must not be important, to US.
    As proven by performance.

  10. Advocates pushing to relocate Haitian children to America...
    Ah, yes!
    Inspire another heart-rending boat brigade attack on America.
    Who but a racist could resist?

  11. From the "good read" praised by Deuce:

    French is the official language of the country. All state business is carried on in French, the schools educate mainly in French. Social prestige is related to the ability to speak French. Yet only about 10% of the people can even get along in French, with less than 5% knowing the language fluently. Creole is the language of the masses. 100% of the Haitians speak and understand Creole as their mother tongue.

    The road to social, economic and intellectual development is reserved to the speakers of French, while the masses are kept in their misery because their language is not recognized nor allowed as an official language.

    Now view that in light of these comments:

    Whit: The great bulk of the damage seems to be in Port-au-Prince which is in ruins and without infrastructure.

    Conclusion: If it was the palaces and mansions and "high places" that were brought low, there's a good chance there will be a revolution in Haiti, and the new government will be one that speaks Creole, and conducts business in Creole, and illiteracy in Haiti will fall from 90% to 0% overnight.

  12. Robertson or BHO, who is more tethered to reality?

    Should Voodoo and Islam become our state religions?

  13. There are tens of thousands of US troops underway, to ensure that does not happen, Ms T.

    Helicopters and foot soldiers galore will be there, to assist the Haitian government.

    Not the Haitian people.

    Scenes that we've all seen, before.

  14. We should not have any "State" religion, dougo.

    The government does not represent God. Not here, not anywhere.

  15. Funny how our son's elite Haitian friend's family thrives in America:

    Another kind of witchcraft in another environment, with the same result for the ruling classes.

  16. Just the Religion of the left that seeks to outlaw religion in every public place, including the Emergency Rooms.

  17. Don't want to kill babies?
    Get out of medicine!
    A State Religious decree.

  18. The Tel Aviv Cluster

    Jews are a famously accomplished group. They make up 0.2 percent of the world population, but 54 percent of the world chess champions, 27 percent of the Nobel physics laureates and 31 percent of the medicine laureates.

    Jews make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, but 21 percent of the Ivy League student bodies, 26 percent of the Kennedy Center honorees, 37 percent of the Academy Award-winning directors, 38 percent of those on a recent Business Week list of leading philanthropists, 51 percent of the Pulitzer Prize winners for nonfiction.

    In his book, “The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement,” Steven L. Pease lists some of the explanations people have given for this record of achievement. The Jewish faith encourages a belief in progress and personal accountability. It is learning-based, not rite-based.

    Most Jews gave up or were forced to give up farming in the Middle Ages; their descendants have been living off of their wits ever since. They have often migrated, with a migrant’s ambition and drive. They have congregated around global crossroads and have benefited from the creative tension endemic in such places.

  19. If they took up Voodoo, they could probly figure out how to put a remote hex on Martians, and profit from that!

  20. Indeed, doug, brought on by 60 years of US Federal interference in State legislation concerning legal medical procedures and the taking of a life.

    But then, that is only one front of the Federal offensive on the authority of the various States and the individuals therein.

  21. All that achievement, doug, only proves that those folk do not live in a hostile environments, but localities that allow for individual achievement.

    They migrated to locales that did not oppress them.
    Though in their primary expat colony, the State does oppress others, both economically and politically on a systematic basis.

  22. Sorry about that. After I posted the comment, I felt that it really didn't add anything to the conversation.

  23. "Sorry about that. After I posted the comment, I felt that it really didn't add anything to the conversation."
    And I was deprived of a chance to read it!

  24. and I thought it worthy of an entire post!

  25. Allowing Haitians to relocate from Haiti will not fix Haiti.

  26. Doug: Coakley: Devout Catholics 'Probably shouldn't work in the emergency room'...69 percent of Mass. voters are Catholic!

    Coke Zero thinks there are times when a human being needs to be "put down" like a dog and she doesn't want Catholics to have to make that decision tainted by the Gospel of Life.

  27. Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, urges voters to elect Coakley “to fill the term my husband didn’t have a chance to complete.’’

    He held the seat for 47 years. Had he been able to hold his breath for 47 seconds he could have saved Mary Jo.

  28. In fairness, he did only take 8 hours to inform rescuers of her plight.

  29. The question is, why couldn't Mary Jo hold her breath that long?
    ...was she a smoker?

  30. Kennedy's seat is a shitter in Hell.

  31. Doug: Jews make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, but 21 percent of the Ivy League student bodies, 26 percent of the Kennedy Center honorees, 37 percent of the Academy Award-winning directors, 38 percent of those on a recent Business Week list of leading philanthropists, 51 percent of the Pulitzer Prize winners for nonfiction.

    Glad to have about half the Jewish population on Team America.

  32. Flips are the Jews of the East, far as I can tell, from the Diaspora here.

  33. Allowing Haitians to relocate from Haiti will not fix Haiti.

    What Haiti needs is a benevolent dictator who can impose discipline, laws, ethics and order on a chaotic, corrupt, undisciplined people. Haiti needs a zero tolerance program which gets rid (yes, capital punishment) of the dysfunctional and criminal and provides avenues to redeem the redeemable.

  34. I had the same fantasy, Whit:
    An America that once was (say Truman's America) imposes martial law for two generations, requiring education and respect for the rule of law and decency to others.
    No less tied to reality than pretending that band-aids on what exists there now will solve the problem.

  35. If Scott Brown becomes a United States Senator, the 2012 GOP winning ticket will be Romney-Brown.

  36. Doug: Flips are the Jews of the East, far as I can tell, from the Diaspora here.

    Michelle Malkin. What's not to like?

  37. No, I am not advocating capital punishment for the mentally dysfunctional. I meant that for the dysfunctional, criminal element.

    The Chinese have a zero tolerance model. Corruption, malfeasance, criminal activity, drugs, etc., are dealt with swiftly and severely. But draconian punishments are not sufficient to shape morality and that's were Missionary work comes into play.

  38. Why are Palestinian a Perpetual Disaster? They have received more per captia than any other people on the planet and yet they still are dead last, just as the haitians

  39. Is it real or is it photoshopped?

    Here's the evidence

  40. Are the Haitians not black?

    If so, then THEY are the occupiers....

    They need to go back to Africa since they do not belong in Haiti...

  41. Haiti should not be a country, they are a city state that has no reason to be...

    They are not worthy of being a member of the UN...

    Most of the population has no being in this side of the Atlantic...

    They are colonializers..

  42. Deuce: Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, urges voters to elect Coakley “to fill the term my husband didn’t have a chance to complete.’’

    But if you're Catholic, don't bother applying to fill a position in a hospital. "No Irish Need Apply" says Coke Zero. That's going to go over great in Boston.
    Did my taxes this week. I'll never call them "cheap politicians" again.

  43. WiO: Are the Haitians not black? If so, then THEY are the occupiers....They need to go back to Africa since they do not belong in Haiti...

    I can't stand the idea of sorting people by the color of their skin. Native Americans have Asian ancestry in their distant past, do they need to go back to Siberia? White Americans need to go back to Europe? What the frakkin frak.

  44. "One thing this race seems to show is that a lot can happen for a Republican when the GOP establishment is kept away with a sharpened spear. After Tuesday, the compare & contrast between MA-Sen and NY-23 will be most beneficial for Republicans going into November, yes?"

  45. Thanks for that correction, Whit, on Malkin.

  46. Then 7/8ths of me would have to go back to Europe. That could get messy.

  47. Good God, WIO, they were brought there as slaves.

  48. "Thanks for that correction, Whit, on Malkin."
    Bet the real Michelle has a shaplier Bod.

  49. rufus said...
    Good God, WIO, they were brought there as slaves.



    How long ago was that?

    Seems to me that "slave" issue has been over worked...

    But again, maybe it's time to convict the arabs for the slave trade...

  50. Lill...
    I can't stand the idea of sorting people by the color of their skin. Native Americans have Asian ancestry in their distant past, do they need to go back to Siberia? White Americans need to go back to Europe? What the frakkin frak


    After all If Jews dont have the right to own land in 649/650th of the middle east and have no rights to live in 1/650th why should blacks be allowed out of africa? asians out of asia and of COURSE

    all arabs back to arabia...

    yet that's the ticket...

  51. The KLO has issued a statement:

    Get the fuck off our Island now. The Kiskeya Liberation Organization demands freedom from african and euro trash at once..

    The rightful owners of Kiskeya, demand full compensation for 400 years of our land being raped..

    Some background: The island of Hispaniola, of which Haiti occupies the western third, is one of many Caribbean islands inhabited at the time of European arrival by the Taíno Indians, a branch of the South American Arawaks. The Taíno name for the entire island was Kiskeya. The Taínos reportedly called the island's western part Ayiti, which means "mountainous land", and part of Ayiti they called Bohio, meaning "rich villages". In the Taíno societies of the Caribbean Islands, the largest unit of political organization was led by a cacique; hence the term 'caciquedom' (French caciquat, Spanish cacicazgo) for these Taíno polities, which are often called "chiefdoms". Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the island of Hispaniola was divided among five long-established caciquedoms: Marien, Xaragua, Maguana, Higuey, and Magua. Modern-day Haiti embraces nearly all of the territory of the first two of these.

  52. In a startling additional statement the KLO stated that the Dominican Republic could stay since they had a good supply of single malt scotch, 360 playstations and horny swedish blond tourists...

  53. Okay, I get it WiO, you're using reductio ad absurdum.
    I'm thinking King George's taxation without representation might have been cheaper.

  54. What was learned

    Overall, Ciais et al. report that the African net terrestrial carbon (C) balance increased from a net CO2 source to the atmosphere of 0.14 Pg C per year in the 1980s to a net sink of 0.15 Pg C per year in the 1990s." In addition, they say that the land use flux due to deforestation was "a source of 0.13 Pg C per year," and that "this implies that climatic trends (mainly increasing precipitation) and CO2 increase (the fertilization effect), are causing a sink of 0.28 Pg C per year which offsets the land-use source."

    In further discussing their findings, the five researchers indicate that "the trend of gross primary production is closely matching the trend in satellite observed NDVI," and they write that their simulated trend in gross primary production "is also consistent with an increased vegetation activity over [the] Sahel reported by Eklundh and Olsson (2003) and Olsson et al. (2005)," while at the continental-scale the gross primary production trend can be largely (70%) explained by the CO2 fertilization effect.

    What it means

    Primarily in response to the ongoing rise in the air's CO2 content, it would appear that the African continent is significantly "greening up," and that it has recently been doing so at a significantly enhanced rate.

    Gross Primary Productivity is Rising

  55. Guy posted to Haiti last year woke up one morning to find a corpse in his front yard.

    Thankfully there just aren't a whole lot of places where that's likely to make it into an incident report.

    Someone remarked that as of today Haiti is for all intents and purposes a US Protectorate and will remain so for years.

    Sounds about right.

  56. Martha Coakley On Curt Schilling: "Another Yankee Fan!"
    "Never, and I mean never, could anyone ever make the mistake of calling me a Yankee fan. Well, check that, if you didn’t know what the hell is going on in your own state maybe you could."

  57. "Here's a country where less than a third of the population had access to electricity before the quake, just 11 per cent of the households had piped water and a only 5 per cent of the roads could have been described as being in “good condition.” (Again, all observations are from the World Bank.) Homes and other buildings constructed with rickety foundations obviously could not withstand the quake; nor, indeed, could some of the ones built more sturdily.

    Haiti has no oil, no natural gas, no coal – so people razed the woodlands for fuel. The result was the denuding of the hills, which, in turn, led to flooding, mudslides and, of course, a serious disruption of local ecosystems. Aid agencies have tried reforestation projects, but with limited success.

    Two-thirds of the people listed as employed worked in agriculture, and only 9 per cent in industry, the classic profile of a very poor country. Worse, Haiti had one of the world's most unequal distributions of incomes, with 1 per cent of the population holding half the country's wealth. These families were among the big supporters of the 29-year dictatorship of François (Papa Doc) Duvalier and his fat, corrupt son Jean-Claude (Baby Doc), who finally went into exile in France.

    These were among the natural challenges the country faced, and now faces even more acutely. Then there are the human ones.

    In recent years, Haiti has become a major drug-transit point, with some of the drugs seeping into Haitian society. These drugs have intensified the gang violence that plagues certain neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince, as reports from the International Crisis Group and the UN have underscored. That violence brought a “stabilization force” from other countries (led by Brazil) to bring some semblance of order. U.S. government reports have listed Haiti among the four major drug-transit or drug-producing countries in the Caribbean, along with the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.

    Haiti is also a country – like some others in the Caribbean (Jamaica being a prime example) – plagued by family disintegration or no family integration at all. Fathers are often absent, teenaged women are pressed to have children and contraceptive use is the lowest in the hemisphere. It's estimated that almost half the country's girls have been sexually abused. As a study of the problem concluded, “a blind eye is often turned to such issues as incest and domestic violence.” According to the UN, HIV-AIDS has reached “epidemic levels,” the incidence being the highest outside certain African countries."

  58. Oh, yes: Coakley seems to be universally acknowledged as an atrocious candidate by those in the commentariate nominally on her side. And they are begging, pleading for MA Dems to just get off their fucking asses and vote for her anyway. Because...Well, because HCR is dead, dead, dead in the event that she loses. And if HCR is dead, Obama himself is toast.

    I don't know if this is really the case because I don't keep an HCR scorecard, but the thought of a special election in New England being singularly responsible for cratering the presidency of Hope and Change is somewhat breathtaking.

    Should that happen, of course, the Democratic Party falls with him.

  59. I don't know if defeated HCR would spell the end of Obama but high unemployement numbers at election time certainly will.

  60. Unless he is, like, F.D. Obama.

  61. What would we do without the geniuses in Obama's cabinet? Obama's Health Secretary Sebilius:

    "Many of the obese citizens in America today are overweight."

  62. Coakley seems to be universally acknowledged as an atrocious candidate by those in the commentariate nominally on her side.

    That's a buffer of propaganda to isolate Obama and the ideology of the left from the consequences of the loss in Massachusetts.

  63. Could be, whit. Could be.

    Little real interest that I have in politics beyond cultivating my various and lively disdains, I can't say as it matters very much to me, the fate of the Presidency and, with it, the Congress.

  64. The evolution of bills passing requiring a supermajority (60-40 to prevent a filibuster) is not a good thing.

  65. Having only just recently determined that I really, really do not like the GOP or Movement Conservatism - even from the standpoint of a lesser evil - I may never again attach myself to any Party or politician of any kind. I fairly marinaded in conservative policy and Republican politics for 14 years and I have a hard time fathoming ever doing anything remotely like that again.

    "Politics is a sewer," once said my dear companion and I believe it best to spend one's time mostly above ground. More hygienic at the very least.

  66. I don't know how one marinades in conservative policy for 14 years without the essence of conservatism penetrating every pore of one being.

  67. Although at one time I did marinade in MLM. Something I would not do again.