Natural Disasters

Mutual Aid: A Factor in Haiti

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The more first-hand accounts we get from quake-damaged Haiti, the more evidence we have that the violence and theft described in initial reports have not been the norm. To judge from Damian Cave's dispatch in yesterday's New York Times, the earthquake's survivors have instead displayed an extraordinary amount of solidarity and generosity with very limited resources and under very trying circumstances. For example:

In several neighborhoods of Carrefour, a poor area closer to the epicenter, small soup kitchens have sprung up with discounted meals, subsidized by Haitians with a little extra money. At 59 Impasse Eddy on Monday, three women behind a blue house stirred a pot of beans and rice, flavored with coconut, spices and lime juice.

They started cooking for their neighbors the day after the earthquake. On many mornings, they serve 100 people before 10 a.m.

"Everyone pays a small amount, 15 gourd," or a little less than 50 cents, said Guerline Dorleen, 30, sitting on a small chair near the bubbling pot. "Before, this kind of meal would cost 50."

Smiling and proud, the women said they did not have the luxury of waiting for aid groups to reach them in their hilly neighborhood. The trouble was, they were running out of food. They used their last bit of rice and beans on Monday.

Elsewhere in Reason: I knocked the media for rumor-mongering and worse in Haiti last week, and I've written about the spontaneous grassroots cooperation that follows disasters both recently and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Also, the author of that Times piece did an excellent feature for us about Cuba back in 2003.

[Hat tip: Bryan Alexander.]

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  1. In several neighborhoods of Carrefour, a poor area closer to the epicenter, small soup kitchens have sprung up with discounted meals, subsidized by Haitians with a little extra money.

    That’s impossible, they could not have done that without a government – the Statists told me so…

    1. OM,”The trouble was, they were running out of food. They used their last bit of rice and beans on Monday.” It is not impossible to start but perhaps to continue without government help. Why can it not be both?

      1. MS,

        One of the main arguments from State worshippers to justify the State is that without it, people would not have the institutions and structures to create these organizations, because either people are too stupid or too irrational. So, under such argument, what is happening in Haiti and what happened during Katrina would be impossible – people spontaneously pooling their resources to fulfill a need.

        Besides this, there is no need for government to restock such kitchens – the incentive is there to trade, no need for government (can be favors for food, or other supplies for food, you name it.)

        1. OM, “Everyone pays a small amount, 15 gourd,” or a little less than 50 cents,…”Before, this kind of meal would cost 50.” I don’t see how they can replenish supplies when they are charging a minimum and not covering their initial costs. “favors for food, or other supplies for food” What is there to trade in a situation were people have nothing? What favor can you trade when merchants need cash to pay their own suppliers? These women are admirable but they need outside help and why not their government?

          1. I don’t see how they can replenish supplies when they are charging a minimum and not covering their initial costs.

            You cannot presume to know their costs. If they are basically giving away their food for less than the replenishing costs, then economic reality will hit them.

            What is there to trade in a situation were people have nothing?

            Only a dead person has nothing. There is always something to trade.

            What favor can you trade when merchants need cash to pay their own suppliers?

            Whatever merchants may need that can be traded for food, not cash. If a merchant can have a service done without cash outlays, that is cash in his pocket, even if payment is done throgugh barter. It is basic economics: The merchant will trade that which has a lesser marginal value than that which he values the most. If the merchant values cash more than his food, then he will trade his food, not his cash. If a favor can be traded for food, he will be able to keep his more valuable cash in order to buy more food.

            These women are admirable but they need outside help and why not their government?

            Their government is gone, first. Second, a government is populated by individuals who are not more clever than the people they presume to “help” or, rather, order around and plunder. A government bureaucrat has NO incentive to help a certain group of people except where a political advantage can be achieved. Such system is bound to be extremely wasteful and inefficient.

            It is more likely a government will steal from merchants and give to these kitchens in order to score points, than it trading hinest goods or honest favors for the food. The incentive for merchants to resupply would immediately fall to zero and the government (and the kitchens they purported to “help”) will have nothing.

            1. “You cannot presume to know their costs. If they are basically giving away their food for less than the replenishing costs, then economic reality will hit them.” The economic reality of running out of supply has already hit them. Further, making my point that this needs to be a joint private-public effort.

              “Only a dead person has nothing. There is always something to trade” They own nothing, “do me a favor” does not buy supplies in impoverished countries. You are dead wrong with the exception of selling their bodies for sex or organs.

              “Their government is gone,” Wrong. They have police on the street and some functioning bureaucracy.

              “… a government is populated by individuals who are not more clever than the people they presume to “help” or, rather, order around and plunder. A government bureaucrat has NO incentive to help a certain group of people except where a political advantage can be achieved. Such system is bound to be extremely wasteful and inefficient….” Not every government is full of greedy and treacherous thieves. The chances that you would have members of your community in the government is great on an island the size of Haiti.


  2. “Everyone pays a small amount, 15 gourd,” or a little less than 50 cents…

    take that gourd standard! final proof that fiat $ is better than commodities!

    1. How DARE those evil folks charge. Why, with that, there might be that most evil killer of all – capitalism & a modest profit involved. And where is their health license? And business license? And we have to make sure they’re unionized as well. Shame on them for helping themselves. Why, they might put 500 government slobs out of work.

  3. Utah millionaire mounts own Haiti aid operation
    Jan 22, 7:34 PM (ET)
    By ISTRA PACHECO

    JIMANI, Dominican Republic (AP) – When Utah millionaire Jeremy Johnson saw news reports of Haiti’s suffering, it wasn’t enough to just pick up the phone and donate money.

    He mounted his own relief mission.

    Johnson began organizing the effort with friends and business partners in St. George, Utah, immediately after the Jan. 12 earthquake. Within three days he was ferrying food, doctors and medicine into Haiti from the Dominican Republic, using two personal jets and helicopters.

    He set up camp on a dusty soccer field in Jimani, a town just across the border from Haiti. Inside a tent, a table is covered by a large map of Hispianola, the island that is home to the two countries. Giant boxes of diapers, powdered milk, oatmeal, water and sleeping bags are everywhere.

    At 34, the Internet entrepreneur has amassed a fortune large enough to fund the bulk of his aid effort, which included buying two more helicopters in the Dominican Republic after realizing he needed more distribution power.

    “I am a person who has been blessed,” Johnson told The Associated Press this week after arriving at the camp following a long day of visiting isolated communities on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. “To sit back and relax and send a little money or whatever, it just made me feel ungrateful.”

    http://apnews.excite.com/article/20100123/D9DD48381.html

    1. Reason should look into this.

    2. …And he owes all that wealth to our government. So really it’s the government that gets credit for all that, not Johnson, the capitalist swine. See? Our government is doing a great job!

    3. Bet he isn’t a libertarian.

  4. Ah!

    So one way to smuggle a quasi-libertarian subtext into the Times is by blinding the guards with fetishistically specific (“behind a blue house?” “small chair?” WTF?) visions of darkies smilingly preparing food.

    That’s a more unsubtle play on Whitey’s “diversity = restaurants” reflex than I’d have made, but I suppose it’s easier to go there when you’re a fucking racist.

    Kudos, Mr. Cave.

  5. a pot of beans and rice, flavored with coconut, spices and lime juice

    Just like the fucking Times to not print the recipe.

    1. Sounds yummy!

  6. A very dear friend forwarded this yesterday. The man interviewed, Michael Gay, is one of his close relatives. Though this clip is unrelated to mutual aid, I think fellow reason readers (reasonistas?) might enjoy an all too scarce entrepreneurial angle to the Haiti crisis.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/s…..=122937646

    Also, marvel at the interviewer’s brazenly callous non-sequitur near the beginning.

  7. three women behind a blue house stirred a pot of beans and rice, flavored with coconut, spices and lime juice.

    My immediate reaction to this was, “Right now, somebody is asking himself, ‘Has the health inspector approved their operation?'”

  8. CUBAN NEWS AGENCY EXCERPT – WE SEND DOCTORS NOT SOLDIERS

    “In the area of healthcare and others the Haitian people has received the cooperation of Cuba, even though this is a small and blockaded country. Approximately 400 doctors and healthcare workers are helping the Haitian people free of charge. Our doctors are working every day at 227 of the 237 communes of that country. On the other hand, no less than 400 young Haitians have been graduated as medical doctors in our country. They will now work alongside the reinforcement that traveled there yesterday to save lives in that critical situation. Thus, up to one thousand doctors and healthcare personnel can be mobilized without any special effort; and most are already there willing to cooperate with any other State that wishes to save Haitian lives and rehabilitate the injured.”

  9. One must wonder why the Haitians have their spirits up despite this disaster, while Americans who are materially well-off even before the disaster suffer from depression, and sometimes kill themselves.

    Could it be that people in Haiti have something to live for? Or even to die for?

  10. I’ve never been more proud to be an American than on 9/11. The sight of that mass of people quietly helping each other and walking home was amazing. The actions of the officials (police & firemen) and of private citizens was the same as here – a huge majority of people in crisis look around to see how and who they can help. That is the norm, not the exception.

  11. Maybe if the major news organizations are loud enough in their predictions of violence and looting – and the “anarchy” found and reported by CNN on a calm and over-crowded beach – then violence will develop. That will give them interesting stories to report, instead of the common and well-documented calm helpfulness that is the actual fact.

    Their baseless reports are a good reason to keep all the major news organizaitons away from a disaster. Their hysterical reporting has prevented some of the badly-needed relief organizations from bringing in their services and supplies.

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