Bryan Caplan  

The Quick Fix: For the Love of God, Give Every Haitian a Green Card

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Rising food prices don't mean a lot in the U.S., but in places like Haiti, they're a disaster:

Saint Louis Meriska’s children ate two spoonfuls of rice apiece as their only meal recently and then went without any food the following day. His eyes downcast, his own stomach empty, the unemployed father said forlornly, “They look at me and say, ‘Papa, I’m hungry,’ and I have to look away. It’s humiliating and it makes you angry.”

[...]

In Haiti, where three-quarters of the population earns less than $2 a day and one in five children is chronically malnourished, the one business booming amid all the gloom is the selling of patties made of mud, oil and sugar, typically consumed only by the most destitute. “It makes your stomach quiet down."

Still, the NYT repeats the popular mantra that there's no "quick fix":

But experts say there are few quick fixes to a crisis tied to so many factors, from strong demand for food from emerging economies like China’s to rising oil prices to the diversion of food resources to make biofuels.
Well, I've got a quick fix. Give every Haitian a green card. Invite the world's most precious resource - human labor - to leave a dirt-based economy and get an entry-level job in the modern economy. It's called doing well while doing good. And unlike everything else the world has ever done for Haiti, it works.

HT: Tyler


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TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/819
The author at Trade Diversion in a related article titled An "easy" solution to the food crisis writes:
    In Haiti, where three-quarters of the population earns less than $2 a day and one in five children is chronically malnourished, the one business booming amid all the gloom is the selling of patties made of mud, oil and sugar, typically consumed only by... [Tracked on April 20, 2008 6:31 PM]
COMMENTS (16 to date)
TLB writes:

I discuss this post here. Were you intending to offer a parody of the open borders position, or was that unintentional?

kebko writes:

Strong demand from China is fast catching global warming as the catch-all reason for everything that happens.

Since when does fairly regular, predictably increasing demand cause catastrophic market disruptions?

It's applied to current & future high oil prices, too. Supposed experts claim that oil will remain very expensive for years because demand from China & India will continue to grow rapidly. Well, if we already know it's going to grow rapidly, if supply & demand is the problem, you'd think somebody might go develop some supply.

So, I guess we're to believe that this is all just a market problem, and it just didn't occur to anybody until it was too late that China might need more food this year.

Jason Br. writes:

Has any private citizen invited any of them? Where exactly will they go after leaving the shore?

How many of them do you think could earn the minimum wage? If they were paid less than minimum wage, could they afford modern housing? Realize that non-modern housing is essentially outlawed in this country (by building and health codes), and thus that those who can't afford modern housing will be homeless.

I know, I know - repeal the minimum wage and legalize shanties. But now with AT LEAST three major issues to deal with, the "fix" is no longer "quick".

tom writes:

I don't see how you square your flip "Let 'em all in' approach with your criticism of Thaler and Sunstein. What do you really think would happen if we did what you recommend in this America?

SheetWise writes:

Nobody is going to risk a dime in investment there, so where's the permanent fix? The best thing we could do for them is to convert a few cruise ships into sweatshops that pay $20 a day. Wouldn't that be cruel? We could anchor them just outside the territorial waters, and offer work to anyone who was willing to row out. After a while, we subtly hint that they could have all of this onshore if they simply get rid of, and quit supporting, the thugs that are running their country. Maybe we even sell guns in the ships store. We would then have support from all of the rich. After the revolution, we simply cruise off to the next political hell hole.

A. Bosworth writes:

THEY'RE EATING DIRT! Certainly we could find a little room for them here. I am a private citizen and would be more than happy to invite some/one/any of them here.

I certainly don't want anyone forced into a life of indentured servitude in a sweat shop, but I do believe (and have found in my experience) that the United States of America is a land of opportunity.

It seems to me that the public discourse in the country relating to open borders is extremely quick to forget our own heritage. Very, very few in this country are not here as a direct result of some poor person seeking a better life through gumption and hard work. Why must we limit that experience to our heritage? I believe that those Haitians (and many Mexican, Filipinos, Cubans, Ghanaians, etc.) are no less deserving of a reasonable chance to work to provide for their families as my Scottish coal-mining ancestors were.

Kudos to Bryan for make a sane suggestions amidst the insane hand wringing.

Bob Knaus writes:

Bryan's proposal would certainly take some burden off of the Bahamas, where I spend about 9 months a year aboard my sailboat.

The Bahamas is a sparsely populated country compared to Haiti, 320K versus 6M. However the 320K figure from the last Bahamian census does not include Haitians, as it is the policy of the census here to only count citizens.

By several credible estimates, Haitians comprise an additional 20% of the population. Certainly, I hear Creole on every island I visit, and the Haitians are a cornerstone of the local economy. Without them, construction and tourism would grind to a halt.

The most famous Bahamian that Americans have heard of would be Sidney Poitier, from Cat Island. He hardly ever visits his native land. Notice the non-Anglo last name? That's right, he's descended from Haitian stock. The immigration has been going on for decades.

In the northern Bahamas, human smuggling (=Hatians) has replaced drug smuggling as the most profitable illicit activity. For many Haitians, the Bahamas are merely a stepping stone to their ultimate goal of a life in the US.

MattS writes:

Perhaps Canada, who subsidizes immigrants, has the most humanitarian government in the world. I would prefer something targeted specifically at poor people, but a general subsidy does help (unless I'm wrong and Canada's subsidy is targeted. Canadians?).

Pedant writes:

the world's most precious resource
Then how come it's so poor? In comparison, Saudi Arabia is quite rich because it has a different resource: oil.

BGC writes:

I think BC was suggesting that if the perspective is exclusively one of helping Haitians as human beings - then mass migration of the population of Haiti to the US would be the simplest and most effective conceivable policy.

And I think he is almost certainly correct. Haiti could be regarded as a pretty typical African state, and by far the wealthiest large group of 'Africans' in the world are currently those who are citizens of the USA.

But this is not necessarily a win-win situation - since Haiti is a very low IQ nation, and this is likely a causal factor in the nations chronic economic problems ( http://www.vdare.com/misc/051207_rushton_fallacy.htm ) - and it is almost-certainly economically *sub-optimal* for the USA to choose low-IQ immigration in preference to high-IQ immigration.

While low-IQ immigration is economically sub-optimal, it might nonetheless be beneficial; but I think this has not been proven. I think it is possible, maybe likely, that there is a threshold effect; and very low-IQ people may well have a negative *economic* effect in complex modernizing societies.

So, BC's mass migration from Haiti to the US is probably *not* a win-win scenario; but instead a scenario where the almost certain benefits of alleviating human suffering for Haitians would be obtained only at a significant economic cost to the USA - certainly a cost in forgone opportunities relative to the benefits of high-IQ immigration to the USA, probably an absolute economic cost to the US in terms of increasing the numbers of long term economic dependents.

That seems a more realistic prediction.

Grant writes:

I've always wondered why libertarians didn't attack the welfare state (and democratic populism) on grounds like these. Redistributive policies hurts the poor primarily by disallowing the open immigration policies we had before the inception of the welfare state. I would venture to guess that nothing our government has ever done has helped as many poor people in as great a fashion as the immigration, both legal and illegal, into the United States.

As other posters indicated, you'd have to repeal a number of other laws for this to work well, although I think anything would be better than Haiti's current existence. One thing that wasn't mentioned is legalizing discrimination. This may seem like a harsh thing to do, but consider how unpopular open immigration would be if more prejudiced Americans couldn't discriminate against them.

The whole notion of immigrants invading "our" country is a fallacy, IMO created by forced integration. Remove the laws that forcibly collectivize and homogenize America, and I think you'd see people more tolerant of those "dirty foreigners". But unless thats done, I see complaints about foreigners invading "our" country as being very rational.

I don't think you can prevent discrimination with democracy. You can just move it from the level of individuals and organizations to nations and borders.

Craig writes:

I don't think that's such a good idea. Altruistic, perhaps, but not good. These poor souls are not even equipped to perform the most basic work. Visit Liberty City in Miami sometime and see how life in the U.S. for most Haitians really amounts to foodstamps, WIC checks, Medicaid and welfare.

As I said, bringing them here might be an act of great kindness. But economic expansion probably won't figure into it. Better perhaps to figure out how to get Haiti's economy beyond the hunter-gatherer stage.

mensarefugee writes:

Bring them over? So I can work longer hours to feed and clothe them at the expense of my own children, leisure and future?

No,Sir.

happyjuggler0 writes:

Maybe we should offer to make Haiti a US state. With US laws, US police, US prisons for rioters and other lawbreakers, the second amendment, and US public schools (don't laugh), Haiti would rapidly become an east coast Hawaii.

People would leave their troubles (for a week or so) to come to Haiti, as opposed to leaving their troubles by leaving Haiti which is what we have today.

Mason writes:

Follow the link to an even simpler, although not as effect alternative.

-Don't massacre pigs

scottynx writes:

Haiti had a murder rate of 11.5 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2005, almost double the US rate. Bryan Caplan could have mentioned that as a partial tally of the costs (in citizens lives and limbs) that his generous proposal would impose on the current inhabitants of the United States.

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