Excerpts: Tough Love Needed for Haiti
Emergency relief won’t cure Haiti’s poverty culture. By Jonah Goldberg
It’s hardly news that poverty makes people vulnerable to the full arsenal of Mother Nature’s fury. The closer you are to living in a state of nature, the crueler nature will be — which is one reason why people who romanticize tribal or pre-capitalist life . . . tend to do so from a safe, air-conditioned distance and with easy access to flushing toilets, antibiotics, dentistry, and Chinese takeout.
The sad truth about Haiti isn’t simply that it is poor, but that it has a poverty culture. Yes, it has had awful luck. Absolutely, it has been exploited, abused, and betrayed ever since its days as a slave colony. So, if it alleviates Western guilt to say that Haiti’s poverty stems entirely from a legacy of racism and colonialism, fine. But Haiti has been independent and the poorest country in the hemisphere for a long time. Even if blame lies everywhere except among the victims themselves, it doesn’t change the fact that Haiti will never get out of grinding poverty until it abandons much of its culture.
When Haitians leave Haiti for the U.S. they get richer almost overnight. This isn’t simply because wages are higher here or welfare payments more generous. Coming to America is a cultural leap of faith, physically and psychologically. Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz note in their phenomenal new book, From Poverty to Prosperity, that low-skilled Mexican laborers become 10 to 20 times more productive simply by crossing the border into the United States. William Lewis, former director of the McKinsey Global Institute, found that illiterate, non-English-speaking Mexican agricultural laborers in the U.S. were four times more productive than the same sorts of laborers in Brazil.
Why? Because American culture not only expects hard work, but teaches the unskilled how to work hard. It’s true that Haiti has few natural resources, but neither does Japan or Switzerland. What those countries do have are what Kling and Schulz call valuable “intangible assets” — the skills, rules, laws, education, knowledge, customs, expectations, etc. that drive a prosperous society to generate prosperity. That is where the real wealth of nations is to be found — not in factories, oil deposits, and gold mines, but in our heads and in the habits of our hearts. Indeed, a recent World Bank study found that 82 percent of America’s wealth could be found in our intangible assets.
Haiti’s poverty stems from its lack of intangible capital. It shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, and yet the Dominicans have six times the GDP (and are far better stewards of their environment). . . So I say this with the best of intentions. Once the dead are buried, the wounded and sick healed, and the rubble cleared, it’s time for some tough love. Otherwise, Americans will just be back to clear the debris after the next disaster.