Bill Clinton

How Not to Help Haiti


If Michael Clemens offered the best way to help Haitians, The Economist surely offers up the worst:

The pressing question is who should do it and how. Haiti's government is in no position to take charge, yet the country needs a strong government to put it to rights. Paul Collier, a development economist who worked on the plan, reckons that the answer is to set up a temporary development authority with wide powers to act.

Given the local vacuum of power, this is the best idea around. The authority should be set up under the auspices of the UN or of an ad hoc group (the United States, Canada, the European Union and Brazil, for example). It should be led by a suitable outsider (Bill Clinton, who is the UN's special envoy for Haiti, would be ideal, perhaps to be followed by Brazil's Lula after he steps down as president in a year's time) and a prominent Haitian, such as the prime minister.

Whatever Haiti's problems (and they are considerable), appointing a benevolent foreign overlord is a good recipe for keeping it dependent on international assistance for years to come. Even an overlord as benevolent as Bill Clinton will never have the understanding of Haitian society that locals would bring to the job, nor would he be even remotely accountable to the people he was attempting to assist.  A wiser path would be to keep the international footprint as small as possible—especially once the initial emergency relief stage is over—and help Haitians themselves step up to rebuild the country.

For more on the perils of foreign aid, read Senior Editor Michael Moynihan's interview with economist Dambisa Moyo from the August/September 2009 issue of Reason.

NEXT: The Harvard Psychedelic Club

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  1. “The authority should be set up under the auspices of the UN”


  2. Who the hell is Ben Sanders?


      1. Just out of curiosity, is this one of your products?

        1. Oops, wrong word linked. Link still right, though.

        2. No, I think this is.

  3. I for one welcome our benevolent foreign overlord!

  4. The UN is the only entity that can handle a disaster area worse than FEMA handled Hurricane Katrina.

    Oh Michael Clemens, why do you hate Haitians so much?

  5. How about the US and the EU remove all tariffs on imports from Haiti. Should be a non-brainer really.

    1. +5! I’m not even gonna read the rest of the comments, this is the winner. Direct aid for short term relief; free trade to spur long-term development. Well done, Jerry

  6. Nice to see The Economist has paid attention to the folks on their Africa desk when they write all the stories about how foreign aid and development has made Africa the envy of the world.

  7. I’d trust Haliburton before I’d trust a politician. At least Haliburton has actual expertise in constructing things.

    All Bill Clinton can do is push paper. While it’s true there are always political ramifications in building infrastructure, someone like Clinton would be best as being a mediator between opposing groups of Haitians, which is a hell of a lot more benevolent than installing an “authority”.

    1. That’s not fair. Clinton knows how to drop bombs too.

    2. Push paper?

      If I’m in a country full of desperate women, I can a LOT more than just push paper. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.

      1. I can donate my blue dress!

  8. We need only look at the Afghan and Iraqi governments to see how well this would turn out.

    1. Iraq and Afghanistan would not have been a problem if Bill Clinton were running things. Don’t ya know, that if only the right people were in charge everything would be peachy?

  9. Wait, some guy wrote an article in a famous publication arguing that Bill Clinton should be made king of a native island?

    OMG, as the kids say.

    1. Bill Clinton should be made king of a native island?

      ..and people go ape-shit over sending our toxic waste to other countries.


  10. Why don’t we lend them our federal government for the next couple of years? We’re not doing anything useful with it.

    1. It’s too bad DC isn’t on a fault line.

    2. Or lend them Marion Berry and his staff for a while.

  11. I wonder if the libs would back this idea?

    Honestly, what’s wrong with having a foreign government come in and take over for a bit until things settle down? And if the answer is “nothing”, how is that any different than the SCOTUS ruling about corporate speech and even foreign corporate speech?

    1. I’d like to completely agree with this article, but what’s the reality of helping Haitians rebuild the island themselves? The aid/help gets funneled into gangsters’ and govt. thugs’ bank accounts, which creates another emergency/famine/crisis, which demands more aid, which gets stolen by corruption…forever. Is there any reason at all to think it will not go that way?

    2. Honestly, what’s wrong with having a foreign government come in and take over for a bit until things settle down?

      How many historical examples would you like? Want to start with asking the Irish, Welsh, and Scots how English occupation worked out?


  12. It seems like Haitians don’t have an understanding of Haitian society, seeing as how the place has been a disaster for 200 years.

    1. I, personally, can’t wait to see how New UN Haiti turns out.

    2. Isn’t that what they used to say about Mexico…its biggest problem is it’s full of Mexicans?

      Mexico solved their problem, now it looks like Haiti is set to do the same.

      1. Solved=Exported?

  13. Am I misremembering shit, or wasn’t Clinton and a bunch of his cronies balls deep in corruption in the Haitian telecom industry?

    So, yeah, he’d be a great choice…

  14. Best way to help Haiti?

    “We’re leaving now. Call us when you have something to sell.”

    1. How ’bout it? Every suggestion I hear about “How to help Haiti” seems to assume it’s the US’s responsibility to cough up something, be it money, visas, advisors, etc.

      Good Lord! Why? The country has been a pain in our ass for as long as I can remember. Benign neglect would be the most I would volunteer. Carpet bombing the god-forsaken hell-hole out of existence would be a close second.

  15. It would just be a neo colonialism with the UN as cover. I honestly can’t see it not being better than what they have. Question Ben, if the locals have such a great understanding of Hatian society and are so up for the job, why does the place suck so bad?

  16. Send in France. They did a swell job benevolently overlording Haiti last time. Jean-Paul Belmondo is an outsider, and I think he’s still alive. If he isn’t, they can make him a zombie there. Fait.

    1. Where is Jean Bart when you need him?

  17. Send in Zombie Reagan.

  18. Paul Collier, a development economist who worked on the plan, reckons that the answer is to set up a temporary development authority with wide powers to act.

    I wish I could be an economist, so that I could go around recommending that puppet regimes be created to help people.

  19. Let’s have a look at this quote, which was IN your article: “It should be led by a suitable outsider… and a prominent Haitian, such as the Prime Minister.”

    It’s hardly an unelected dictatorship if the country’s elected head of state is in charge of it, is it? I think the Economist’s idea is to have one person responsible for integrating all the individual aid efforts. Kind of sounds like EVERY ORGANIZATION IN THE WORLD.

    Jesus, what a non-story…

    1. The fact that P?tain was the official head of occupied France did not make it any less of a puppet state.

    2. A prime minister is a head of government, not a head of state. And usually a prime minister is not partnered with a foreigner.

  20. Guido: Your subscription to the government has lapsed

    Haiti: Yeah, it was corrupt so I decided not to renew after the earthquake

    Guido: You do know the benefits of government, don’t you?

    Haiti: Actually we weren’t getting any benefits. We figure this anarchy can’t be any worse that what we had.

    Guido: Me and the boys at the UN don’t think so. We think it is only right that you have a government. So we’re signing you up for a new subscription.

    Haiti: But it was all the government corruption that made the earthquake so much worse!

    Guido: This will be a be a better government. It’s run by us. And it’s only temporary.

    Haiti: Can’t we just organize ourselves voluntarily?

    Guido: We don’t like that option. So we’re sending our guy Bill over next week. You’ll like him, he’s fun at parties.

    Haiti: Parties? Who cares about parties? Look, we don’t want any government, so go away.

    Guido: You gotta have government. You made a contract.

    Haiti: Contract? What contract?

    Guido: This contract here. See, “social contract”.

    Haiti: But that’s not even signed! We didn’t agree to that!

    Guido: Listen now, don’t go get all uppity. I’m a patient man, but I gots limits. It would be a shame if you had another earthquake. Things get broken in earthquakes.

  21. Next bright idea: hire the Haitian officials as shadow cabinet officials to Obama to help us learn how to socialize and integrate.

    1. Do you even know what shadow cabinet means?

      1. Sounds racist, doesn’t it?

  22. Why not move every man, woman, and child in Haiti to Detroit? Lord knows Detroit’s got the room.

    1. Detroit? For chrissakes, the poor bastards have just been through an earthquake. You must hate them as much as Pat Robertson’s God.

      1. Damn you have a beautiful mind.

    2. Do you want to turn them all into terrorists or something? Might as well move them to Buffalo!

      1. …or Illinois

  23. Whatever Haiti’s problems (and they are considerable), appointing a benevolent foreign overlord is a good recipe for keeping it dependent on international assistance for years to come

    When their country was razed, the benevolent foreign overlord thing worked for Japan.

    (But as said above, hasn’t been so good more recently)

    1. Are you suggesting that we nuke Haiti?

      1. I think that was part of the “kinder, gentler foreign policy” of Bush the first.

        1. He wanted to nuke Haiti? Gosh, I’m really ignorant about the world of realpolitik.

  24. The economist should read up on their history. It’s been done before:…..n_of_Haiti Didn’t turn out all that great the first time, did it?

    It’s articles like this that give people like Naomi Klien and Hugo Chavez all the ammunition they need.

  25. Yep, in the anarchy after an earthquake in the most-Godforesaken place in the western hemisphere, what they need most is a good government. A new government. Imposed on them. Cause their own government is so bad. And it’s our the UN’s somebody’s job to do that.

    That is a GREAT idea! Thanks, Economist!

  26. Format much? Nope…:(

  27. How TO help Haiti:

    Oh, but we can’t have this… an aid organization based in flyover country, manned by hillbillies from southwest Missouri, and NOT the United Nations or the United States government?

    Why, the very idea.

    1. Some day, all private aid organizations will be part of the collective. Resistance is futile.

  28. Because the UN is known for efficient, honest government.

    Seriously, you want to propose a benevolent foreign overlord for Haiti, there are two British governors of Hong Kong still alive. They might not have experience with a developing economy, but they do have a good record when it comes to colonial administration.

    1. Hong Kong’s economy did very, very well under the British policy of benign neglect. All the Brits needed to do was keep the peace, and let the Chinese take care of business.


  29. “Because the UN is known for efficient, honest government.”

    Thanks. I needed a hearty laugh.

  30. Force Dick Cheney to do it. Put a collar on him that will explode if he tries to sneak into the Dominican Republic. He has the country on its feet within 6 months or we send in the hunters from Running Man.
    At the very least it will give Jesse Ventura a new franchise.

  31. Even an overlord as benevolent as Bill Clinton

    Haiti has suffered enough.


  32. D.R.M.’s comment referencing Hong Kong is interesting and instructive. Hong Kong was about as big a shithole as Haiti, but Cowperthwaite’s colonial governorship managed to help it get solid.

    So, move in a benevolent do-little to enforce rule of law and let the Haitians figure it out. Send enough soldiers to keep order. Send no direct aid, but drop all trade barriers. Do this for 20 years, then leave and never return, whether it works or not.

    It wouldn’t be cost-free, but has at least as good a chance as working as anything else, and definitely cheaper. It gets around the problem that Haitians started with a citizenry and a nation and zero culture of government. It’d take a generation to even get used to the idea that bribery and corruption is not the natural state of stable governments.

  33. Brazil should have no place in the reconstruction of Haiti. We have enough problems at home and, as a consequence, barely any time to play rich kids with the countries that have a moral debt with this poor nation. In other words, we have our own Haiti.

  34. Brasil is not near the problem that Haiti has. Brasil is a fledgling world power that is coming up in the economic world. Of course they have a place in the reconstruction.

  35. wow, I come to know about a new update.
    obviously you done a good job sharing these, i in fact am in need of such info a site.
    Anyways wanna tell you something about Haiti…
    As i’m concern about my Haiti. After an Heavy natural disaster It’s become back dated. And bearing unmeasurable sufferings. Still now it’s facing crisis from all sides, created from the Earth Quake as well as by nature. But It’s time to change the day, So request all of you to come forward to make tha days ahead distinctly.
    I think at this moment HAITI really needs help to be rebuild.Outgoing Haitian President Ren? Pr?val has set the presidential elections for Nov. 28, 2010.
    According to ma justification,
    In Election 2010 Haiti president Baker should be under consideration as a deserving personality,
    who can supply the best support and leadership
    Thank you.

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