On Haiti

The Roving Bandit does a good job of aggregating advice you should read before donating:

Texas in Africa

Blood and Milk

Givewell

Tales from the Hood

Aid Watch

For those more concerned with the medium-to-long term, Paul Currion writes about the tendency for the international community to only act during overt crises:

Nobody can deny that Haiti needs assistance right now to save lives, but it also needed assistance yesterday when the infant mortality rate was the 37th lowest in the world. When it comes to natural disasters, we – our governments, our media, ourselves – are victims of the same biases that cause impulse buying at the supermarket. Thousands of people dying from buildings falling on them instantly mobilises a huge amount of resources, but thousands of children dying from easily preventable diseases is just background noise. This is the uncomfortable reality of the aid world, but it’s not one that our media or governments really wants to hear.

Tyler Cowen wonders if Haiti really exists anymore:

From the reports I have seen, my tentative conclusion is that the country as a whole is currently below the subsistence level and will remain so for the foreseeable future.  Hundreds of thousands of people have died, the U.N. Mission has collapsed, the government is not working (was it ever?), and hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of people are living in the streets without reliable food or water supplies.  The hospitals and schools have collapsed.  The airport is shut down.  The port is very badly damaged.  The Haitian Penitentiary has collapsed and the inmates — tough guys most of them – are running free for the foreseeable future.  There is no viable police force or army.

In what sense does Haiti still have a government?  How bad will it have to get before the U.N. or U.S. moves in and simply governs the place?

Amanda Taub talked about giving Haitians temporary work status:

I have one further suggestion: contact the White House and tell them that you support granting Haitians Temporary Protected Status (TPS) immediately.

Once a country has been given TPS, its nationals who are in the United States can apply for work authorization (a very useful thing to have if, say, one needs to send money home to family members in need of medical care or a house that has not been reduced to rubble), can’t be deported or put into immigration detention (also quite handy if you’re trying to work and send money home), and can apply for travel authorization, which allows them to visit their home country and return to the US, even if they wouldn’t otherwise have a visa that would allow them back into the country (incredibly important if you have loved ones who have been badly hurt and need to visit them, or if you need to go home to attend funerals).

Several bloggers beat me to the logical next step – first Chris Blattman:

Alternatively, as Michael Clemens suggests, simply let their people come.

And in more detail, the Roving Bandit:

How hard would it be for the US to take in Haiti?

The population of Haiti is almost 10 million people. (Legal) Immigration to the US is about 1 million per year.

How about a 10 year plan to (temporarily) double inflows and make an entire country of poor people’s citizens rich?


I think there’s a development case to be made for letting Haitians just leave Haiti, and the current humanitarian situation can only make that case stronger. What are the chances that Haiti is ever going to grow or develop? Let’s let them find a better place elsewhere.

7 thoughts on “On Haiti

  1. Ranil Dissanayake

    January 15, 2010 at 11:17am

    Woah, I would seriously question this statement “What are the chances that Haiti is ever going to grow or develop?”

    I understand the rush for migration-based cures for development, but it seems that plenty of economists have just completely forgotten that the nation-state remains a major source of identity and a profoundly important social and political construct.

    We might not be nationalists (particularly in the developed, peaceful world, since nationalism increases in times of well-defined crisis), but we shouldn’t forget that most poor people have homes that they love. Their first best scenario is making their home, where they have cultural, social and geographical roots a better place to live. If we write off the possibility of this happening altogether we’d better have pretty bloody good evidence.

    I appreciate the motives behind this discussion are pure, but I’d be pissed off as a Haitian (or a Sri Lankan, or a Tanzanian) if someone told me ‘nope – give up. you’ll never develop. Best leave home’. Most migrants want to return to the place they were born and have roots one day.

    And in response to Tyler Cowen – given what Haiti did to the last people who tried to govern them and own their souls, I’m pretty sure neither the US nor the UN would last very long if they tried to tell the descendents of the *ONLY SUCCESSFUL SLAVE REVOLT IN WORLD HISTORY* that they were getting governed by someone else again.

  2. Matt

    January 15, 2010 at 11:30am

    Ranil, of course identity matters. The scout who cleans my building is Nepalese. She came from a very poor background – a rice farmer, and undoubtedly is earning a better living here, but still wants to return some day. But she had the opportunity to come here, Haitians *don’t have that opportunity*.

    I wasn’t suggesting that we ship Haitians out against their will, but at least give them the option. Many would leave. Maybe they’d choose to come back later. I’m not suggesting that we write off Haiti, but we should certainly give the Haitians the option of writing off Haiti.

    I don’t think Tyler Cowen was suggesting that the US or the UN take over as governors of Haiti, but was just commenting on the fact that, given that the current government is almost non-existent, that one or the other will become de facto runners of the country (even if some semblance of a Haitian government scrapes itself together) while it recovers from the earthquake.

    I think he’s thinking less of “there will be US soldiers on the streets and an American governor” and more of “everything behind the scenes is probably going to be funded/run by non-Haitians.”

  3. Ranil Dissanayake

    January 15, 2010 at 11:43am

    that’s a fair point. I agree with allowing migration and the choice. I’m not a fan of couching it in the terms some pro migration commentators are using though, which is amounts to ‘woah, this place is stuffed. They’re going to need a bigger boat’, and counting how long it would take to drain a country completely of its people.

    also fair on the Tyler Cowen thing. Red mist descended. Haiti has one of the most interesting histories in the world. I’m just about to read CLR James’ The Black Jacobeans, which has been on my shelf for ages, which is about the slave revolt. things might not be great now, but we should never forget how had most currently poor countries fought for their own governments and right to self-determination and never ever take that for granted (not accusing you of doing so, btw).

  4. Ranil Dissanayake

    January 15, 2010 at 11:44am

    “how hard” rather than “how had”.

  5. Matt

    January 15, 2010 at 11:52am

    I think you can go back and edit your comments (through the dashboard).

    I understand your reservations though. On migration, it’s analogous to the debate on failing schools – some suggest we should just let children go to whatever school they want – opponents argue that the failing schools will then hit rock bottom, stranding those without the means to leave.

    Speaking of the red mist, I wonder how long it is before Paul Romer suggests we build a charter city in Haiti? :)

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