Arnold Kling  

David Brooks on Haiti

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Read the whole thing. An excerpt:

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.

My thoughts:

1. The official language is French. When most of your potential trading partners (people from whom you could adapt ideas) speak English or Spanish, that is not a good thing. When most of your population speaks Creole rather than the official language, that is an even worse thing.

2. As ruthless dictators go, Duvalier may have been a great deal worse than those in the Dominican Republic.

3. I have enormous respect for Paul Farmer as a courageous, caring person, but I doubt that he has the answer to economic development. I am not saying that I have the answer, but I would feel more optimistic about a country that was getting its economic advice from somebody who has thought about economic and political systems. Someone like Douglass North or William Easterly--or even Jeff Sachs.

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COMMENTS (9 to date)
E. Barandiaran writes:

The relevant question is why Haiti and some other countries (as well as some areas of many countries) do not benefit from the high income levels and growth rates of the developed world. Parts of the developed world have benefited from the main source of wealth, that is, from the technology developed in the US and a few other countries during the past 250 years (the ultimate source, however, is the social order that emerged in parts of Europe during the Middle Ages--Note: my definition of social order is closer to Hayek's than to that advanced recently by North, Wallis, & Weingast).

Technology explains the development of the "center" of the developed world while the availability of natural resources explains the development of the "periphery" of the developed world. Indeed, these resources have not been a "curse" for these "peripheral" developed countries--although often they have been a source of great conflict (for example, Angola) and decline (for example, my Argentina).

Today poverty is largely confined to countries and areas that do not have natural resources of value to the developed world or where no social order have emerged. Some old areas (for example, some Pacific islands that were populated more ten thousand years ago) have never had those natural resources. Other areas populated in the past 500 years (for example, Sao Tome and Principe in Africa) have a limited resource base but more important are close (and getting closer) to developed areas so many of their young people have often chosen to migrate to the latter (increasingly these poor areas are becoming populated by people that for some reason have preferred not to migrate). This migration has prevented the emergence of a social order--you may say that the young people that could have been the source of a social order preferred to vote with their feet. There is nothing in history to suggest that all populated areas of the world must be developed; on the contrary, the history of human migrations suggest the opposite, that is, there will always be poor areas (even in the large cities of the developed world).

I have not studied the case of Haiti. From what I know, it seems that for a long time Haiti has not had natural resources of interest to the developed world and it has always been too close to the developed world.

Craig Bardo writes:

Why is this so hard? Is it so hard to understand that a fixed governing document that respects private property rights and limits the ability of the government to interfere in private transactions, i.e. Hong Kong pre-China reclamation or perhaps more aptly, Botswana are models for a struggling society like Haiti?

Dick Salemink, Netherlands writes:

I think the answer is IQ.
Haiti is like an African country and African countries are generally found on the bottom of the list in this link (scroll down):

Wilmot of Rochester writes:

I don't see what the language barrier has to do with anything.

It's not like there's a great drought of French speaking business personnel. And I'd say that quebec french can be a hell of a lot harder to really understand than kreyol - which is actually a pretty simple language, especially if you have background in regular French, I picked it up fairly quickly.

Considering that Quebec's trading partners are primarily with the US and the UK, I don't think the French has much to do with it.

Also consider Brazil. They don't seem to suffer due to the Portuguese.

I just wonder why you would think the language has any more hampering influence on Haiti than it does on other regions who speak a language different from their surrounding partners.

Zdeno writes:

Contrary to Wilmot's invocation of la belle province as evidence against the language-barrier argument, it is certainly the case that Quebec is the most economically backwards region of Canada, especially given her endowments of both natural resources and an uncanny political ability to extract largesse from les autres Canadiens. Then again, this is not a complete explanation because while Quebec is slightly economically retarded, it is certainly not Haiti. Also the dreaded "colonial legacy" doesn't seem to be much of an impediment to, say, Hong Kong.

I think a few minutes on Wikipedia are enough to see that it isn't really that complicated of an issue. Haiti has been one of the worst-governed countries in the world over the past two hundred years. Duh.

Ben Rast writes:

Poverty is what being close to nature really looks like.

j writes:

So you think Haiti is poor because, among other factors, the official language is French.

If so, I dont know how we in Israel have been able to develop a cutting edge economy, speaking as we do Hebrew. Also the Hungarian economy doesnt seem to suffer from the totally uncomprehensible kanguage they speak. And the Finns? Koreans manage with Korean and the Japanese prosper speaking Japanese and without street names.

I am glad you didnt propose that they are poor because ten generations ago they had been slaves. You used to be more courageous.

s Forrest writes:

David Brooks musings about Haiti are uninformed. This is more often than not characteristic of his columns. For a simple and direct answer to his questions, I suggest he read Paul Farmer's analysis in the London Review of Books, "Who Removed Aristide." Farmer's concise history of Haiti's plight and the countries involved in it might surprise Brooks, who really needs to do his homework.

S. Forrest
San Francisco

Colorado writes:

On the Marginal Revolution blog I recommended Paul Farmer as someone who could help rebuild Haiti. Not because of his economic training, as far as I know he has little or none, but because he is an outsider that has years of experience battling with the Haitian and US governments to keep his medical projects going. He knows the territory. He would obviously need the help of economists or similar experts. I would much rather see outsiders running the reconstruction than government officials.

At first I thought the language problem was legitimate, but the above posters are correct. There will undoubtedly be a large influx of Haitian immigrants in the next few months. They will similarly have a language problem living here. My bet, they solve it within a year and do just fine.

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