Haiti's Poverty: New York Times Op/Ed Misses Crucial Element


It's not the horse's fault there are few trees in Haiti

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, a fact which an op/ed in today's New York Times notes is an inevitable catchphrase in any article about the hapless country occupying the western third of Hispaniola. The op/ed, Haiti Can Be Rich Again, by Laurent Dubois and Deborah Jensen, both researchers at Duke University's Haiti Humanities Laboratory, outlines some of the sad history of the second country in the Western Hemisphere to gain independence from European colonial powers. The op/ed describes how earlier forms of subsistence farming adequately sustained Haitians before the U.S. Marines abetted in the 20th century the imposition of top/down centralized government control over the economy. What do do now after the recent devastation visited on the country by an earthquake and a hurricane? 

The authors suggest: 

Municipal governments should construct properly equipped marketplaces for the women who sell rural produce. The Haitian state should develop trade policies aimed at protecting the agricultural sector, and take the lead in fixing roads and ports, confronting deforestation and improving systems of water management. Foreign organizations working in the country can help simply by making it a policy to buy food and other goods from local producers.

The return on the investment in the rural economy would be self-reliance, the alleviation of dangerous overcrowding in cities and, most important, a path toward ending Haiti's now chronic problems of malnutrition and food insecurity. As Haitians look to rebuild in 2012, the best blueprints will come from their own proud and vibrant history.

So far so vague. For example, what do they mean by "confronting deforestation and improving systems of water management"? Nowhere in the op/ed do the researchers mention the words "property rights." Haiti is deforested not because it's poor, but it's deforested (and poor) because Haitians do not have secure property rights. The same problem applies to mismanaged water supplies. Helping Haitians to establish secure property rights to land would go a long way toward addressing the problems mentioned in the op/ed. 

Consider that a Haitian migrant who manages to float across the Caribbean to the U.S. is nearly 75 times more productive than one who stays home. Why is that?

The answer is not the obvious one: The U.S. has more machinery or tools or natural resources. Instead, according to research by the World Bank, it is because the average American has access to over $628,000 in intangible wealth, while the stay-at-home Haitian's intangible wealth is just $8,000. Intangible wealth consists of, among other things, secure property rights, honest courts, the rule of law, and a citizenry who can read and write. 

While implementing the op/ed's well-meaning proposals would marginally improve Haiti's problems, the researchers miss the most important reasons why Haitians remain poor. 

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  1. Intangible wealth consists of, among other things, secure property rights, honest courts, the rule of law, and a citizens who can read and write.

    So now our government is taking our intangible wealth, too?

    1. All your base are belong to them.

      1. For Great Justice!

  2. Pat Robertson, whose investments in Charles Taylor’s goldmines makes him an expert on infernal bargains tells me that it’s because the Haitians made a deal with the devil to end slavery…

    So how much intangible wealth is destroyed by a deal with the devil?

  3. I proposed a Haiti solution just last week:

    Pro Libertate|1.5.12 @ 10:55AM|#

    * * *

    After taking a Disney cruise to the Bahamas a few weeks ago, I have an idea for solving Haiti’s problems once and for all. Give the country–sovereignty, citizens, land, everything–to Disney. The idea being that Disney will make huge swaths of Haiti into, collectively, a giant Disney resort and theme park.

    Disney offers the world order, at family-friendly pricing!

    1. Only if we give the domincan repulic to mcdonalds.

    2. This is the kind of bold, forward thinking the world needs…as long as the gift shop doesn’t run out of “Bort” license plates.

      1. “Smiles, everyone! We want our guests to feel welcome!”

        1. Roarke was one twisted mofo, with all his ironic justice and shit.

          “I paid $100,000 for a 3-some with the Landers sisters and all I get is a lesson in feminist patriarchal theory, while tied up in the bed?”

          1. Hahahaha!

          2. Here’s a little secret: Roarke was Khan.

            1. Or was Khan, Roarke?

              He did offer the island order, after all, and who else but a genetic superman would keep a midget around for his twisted enjoyment?

              1. Poverty is funny.

                1. We wear rose-colored moncles.

                  1. What’s funny is watching statism fail for many, many decades and advocating more of the same.

                    1. They just need to do it harder.

                    2. What’s funny is watching statism fail for many, many decades and advocating more of the same.

                      Utter failure is superior as long as you’re earnest about doing good while failing.

                    3. What do you say about China’s recent economic success?

  4. The tragedy of the commons is real.

  5. Nowhere in the op/ed do the researchers mention the words “property rights.”

    Obviously in these severe times communal property is the answer.

  6. that op/ed was schizo. so how will their grand plans be less deaf to feedback as our military was?

    here, we thought of some great ideas back at Raleigh-Durham and think they should be forced on you!

    1. how will their grand plans be less deaf to feedback as our military was

      Because their Grand Plans will be implemented by Top. Men.

      1. Why do you hate grand plans?

  7. If I’ve learned anything from The White Man’s Burden, it’s that forcing our version of property rights and rule of law on these folks would be just as radically inorganic as what the NGOs and supranationals are doing.

    They have to figure this shit out for themselves.

  8. I don’t know why libertarians are complaining about this guy.

    From trolling on this blog for over six years, I’ve come to the conclusion that Libertarians are OK with giving up civil liberties for lower taxes. And, this is why libertarians generally vote republican.

    If there is a choice between

    PERSON A who would offer more personal freedom (no homo laws, loose drug/weapon laws, etc.) but want taxes for safety nets.


    PERSON B: a person that would eliminate all taxes for safety nets and doesn’t believe in personal freedom

    PERSON B wins every time with the CATO Inst. crowd.

    1. Only because Person A doesn’t exist.

      1. Can we have some examples of PERSON A?

    2. Actually, there are multiple CATO statements supporting a sort of Person A hypothetical over a Person B hypothetical. I seem to recall some of their scholars commenting that they’d prefer higher welfare spending and less nanny-statism (often justified to “conservatives” based on taxes, etc) than even effective (if it exists) nanny-statism and lower taxes.

      Is reason last in the troll draft?

    3. After six years, you think we are part of the CATO crowd?

  9. The op/ed, Haiti Can Be Rich Again, by Laurent Dubois and Deborah Jensen, both researchers at Duke University’s Haiti Humanities Laboratory

    Let me guess: what Haiti really needs is the benevolent guidance of an army of enlightened NGO bureaucrats parasites. And more “aid”.

    1. Seriously, I bet my Disney idea is better than whatever nonsense they’re proposing.

      1. I would agree with you.

  10. Haiti would be better off with strong property rights but it’ll never be a self-sustaining country until it gets rid of what’s really been holding it back for the past few hundred years.

    Haiti would be a Caribbean paradise if someone just got rid of the Haitians.

    1. As Disney employees/citizens, Haitians will overcome their seemingly inherent weaknesses, and their land will become the tourist destination of choice in the Caribbean.

      1. but Disney will be unable to fire the Haitians. This will severely reduce quality of service.

        1. Why not? Disney will be sovereign in Haiti, kind of like they are in Disney World.

  11. What do do now

    Yep, the question isn’t what is going to be done, but how shitty it will be.

  12. I think most Dominicans would argue that Haiti remains poor mainly because its full of Haitians.

  13. So who’s the butt of Haitian jokes about poor people/nations?

    Since they’re Haitians, does that mean they just don’t HAVE jokes like that? Or do they substitute some mythical creature LOWER than a Haitian on the grinding poverty/life sucks scale, or what?

    1. Almanian|1.9.12 @ 2:34PM|#

      So who’s the butt of Haitian jokes about poor people/nations?


      Its the slogan of the Haitian Tourism Board!

      Come to Haiti! -> Its Not As Dry As Somalia!

  14. Haitians sneak across the border to work in the DR.

    They are the bottom of the western hemisphere pole.

  15. “New York Times Editorial Argues: “More Government Is Solution to Everything”, – Film at 11″

    In the two years since the earthquake that devastated it, Haiti has experienced political conflict and its first ever cholera epidemic; hundreds of thousands of the displaced are still living in makeshift tents strewn like dusty flags by the sides of highways. It is easy to forget that, for most of the 19th century, Haiti was a site of agricultural innovation, productivity and economic success.

    My memory of Haitian history is a tad fuzzy…

    …but I seem to recall that for “most” of the 19th century, Haiti was ruled by a series of control-freak dictators who sequentially made the country worse and worse and worse.


    Yup. That was pretty much it.

    This in particular was one of the sources of “innovation” in agriculture =

    “During his presidency, Boyer tried to halt the downward trend of the economy ? which had begun with the successful revolt of black slaves against their French masters in the 1790s ? by passing the Code Rural. Its provisions sought to tie the peasant labourers to plantation land by denying them the right to leave the land, enter the towns, or start farms or shops of their own and by creating a rural constabulary to enforce the code.”[39][40]

    So = deprive citizens of freedom or property! Hey = it’s better than being *Slaves!* (ta bum tss)


    What other innovations emerged?

    How about forcing your citizens to *pay their former slavemasters cash-back for their lost Slave-Trade revenue*?

    Unsurprisingly, this ruler of Haiti was kicked out after 20-odd years…
    …and the horrible joke is = *he was the most successful one*

    To call Haiti at any point in its existence, “a success” would be accurate if you think the aim of a society is to create Hell on Earth.

    1. The trouble with Haiti is that the precedent has been very well established that for any ruler to accomplish anything there, s/he must act ruthlessly against the enemies s/he will instantly make, for they will act similarly against hir.

    2. Cf. Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammet.

  16. ..sums it up, nicely.

  17. Haiti Humanities Laboratory

    I suppose you could consider Haiti a human laboratory of a sort.

    But seriously, what is wrong with you people? I nearly popped my monocle when I read this travesty of an institutional title – all you so inured to the insanity of academia that it just passed un-noticed?

    1. No self-respecting libertarian wants organs from Haitians. My human lab farms mostly Swedes.

    2. “all you” s/b “are you all”

      The hell with preview, I want edit.

    3. juris imprudent|1.9.12 @ 4:37PM|#

      Haiti Humanities Laboratory…

      Well…. to be fair, they *have* been pioneering the development of Zombies for 200 years…. Its kind of the one thing they’re actually good at!

  18. “the researchers miss the most important reasons why Haitians remain poor”

    As do you.

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