Posted by: Bill | January 20, 2010

Some notes on Haiti

As we all know, Haiti has had a tough run of things. This country hasn’t really caught a break since it gained independence. There are even theories that perhaps they gained independence a bit too early when compared to some other French colonies in the area (e.g., St. Lucia). Left on their own, things didn’t go well…etc etc.

My thoughts on foreign aid should be clear from this blog. I favor policies that foster economic growth over direct aid. However, a disaster like this is an obvious exception. The Marginal Revolution blog has put up one excellent post after another since the earthquake hit. I suggest you scroll through and a read a few of them such as this one with advice on the best ways to provide aid.

As many have pointed out, there really is no such thing as the country of Haiti anymore. The fragile (and corrupt) pseudo-democratic institutions that existed are gone (literally). Tyler Cowen has a very interesting perspective on what this means for the Obama administration. Reconstruction is going to take years and it’s likely the US will take the lead at a time when the administration lacks both the dollars and the political capital to sustain such an effort. He even goes so far as to say that Obama stands a higher chance of being a one-term president.

Obama will (and should) do something about this situation.  First, I believe he sincerely wants to help but also he cannot ignore his African-American constituency, especially after former President Clinton devoted so much attention to Haiti and especially if health care reform doesn’t go through as planned.  Yet he will have a festering situation on his hands for the rest of his term.  If “looting” (a bad word in this context) increases or continues, how quickly will the American people lose sympathy with the Haitians?  How can the “reconstruction” possibly go well?  Ugly gang rule isn’t even the worst case scenario.

Obama now stands a higher chance of being a one-term President.  Foreign aid programs are especially unpopular, especially relative to their small fiscal cost.  Have you noticed how Rush Limbaugh and others are already making their rhetoric uglier than usual?  It will be a test of the American populace; at what point will people start whispering that he is “favoring the other blacks”?

Just as it’s not easy to pull out of Iraq or Afghanistan, it won’t be easy to pull out of Haiti.

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