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.