On Haïti


Bay kou bliye pote mak sonje
He who strikes the blow forgets, he who bears the bruises remembers.
— Haitian Proverb


The libertarian economist Tyler Cowen who blogs at Marginal Revolution asks why is Haiti so poor and posits a few hypotheses:

1. Haiti cut its colonial ties too early, rebelling against the French in the early 19th century and achieving complete independence. Guadaloupe and Martinique are still riding the gravy train and French aid is a huge chunk of their gdps.

2. Haiti was a French colony in the first place and French colonies do less well.

3. Sugar cane gave Haiti some early characteristics of "the resource curse," dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.

4. Haiti was doing OK until the Duvaliers destroyed civil society, thus putting the country on a path toward destruction. It is a more or less random one-time event which wrecked the place.

5. Hegel was correct that the "voodoo religion," with its intransitive power relations among the gods, was prone to producing political intransitivity as well. (Isn't that a startling insight for a guy who didn't travel the broader world much?)

6. For reasons peculiar to the history of the slave trade, Haitian slaves came from many different parts of Africa and thus Haitian internal culture has long had lower levels of cohesion and cooperation. (The former point about the mix is true, but the cultural point is speculation.)

7. Haiti has higher than average levels of polygamy (but is this cause or effect?)

8. In the early to mid twentieth century, Haiti was poorly situated to attract Chines e and other immigrants, unlike say Jamaica or Trinidad. It is interesting that many of the wealthiest families in Haiti are Lebanese, such as the Naders.


Leaving aside the absurd suggestion that Haiti is somehow to blame for casting off slavery too early, some of these hypotheses are plausible if incomplete explanations for the enduring poverty of Haiti. Still and not surprisingly Dr. Cowen leaves out one of the more recent ones - the failure of free markets - and a more traditional one - an enduring racism that has pervaded the world's relationship with the world's first black republic. Dr. Cowen can blame voodoo culture but voodoo economics is the greater problem.

There's more...


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