[This post by Mr Steven Frisch is an expansion of the comment thread for ‘Haiti and Compassion’. Steve is the president of the Sierra Business Council and frequently offers a more progressive perspective to RR posts. Here he kindly accepted my invitation to post his more comprehensive thoughts on post-disaster US policy toward Haiti. gjr]
I absolutely do not think we want Haiti to become a ward of the US.
I think the US needs to be significantly less interested in creating client states in the future and more interested in helping to build economies and governance structures that secure freedom - by that I mean economic freedom, stable governments and military security. If we can use our political capital and economic power to help build stable governments we might not have to pay the price of remaining the world’s only hegemonic power.
Ultimately we are neither our brother’s keeper nor should we think of ourselves as their betters. They must control their own destiny and decisions. We should help, then back away.
Ensuring that Haiti does not become a ward of the US is going to be tricky since it is 90 miles from our shores and there are about 600,000 Haitians in the US.
In the short term, during the crisis, I would not care too much about money. First, food, water, shelter and medical care as part of the global relief effort.
Next, we should just go in there and help rebuild. It should be an international effort, but we should just bite the bullet and set the example by guaranteeing funding in the low billions to rebuild Haiti's infrastructure and use that pledge to leverage the several billion more from the rest of the world, and do it quick. By rebuild I mean really re-build. Total infrastructure investment: roads, schools, bridges, water systems, sewage treatment, power plants, electrical grids, hospitals, churches, etc. I would have Clinton/Bush lead a private fundraising effort to backfill the guarantee.
Concurrent with the infrastructure investment, we need to start helping re-building the Haitian economy. In the short term, we should be using Haitian labor for the re-building effort and training Haitians in the skills necessary. In the long run reconstruction will not be a sustainable economy. Eventually the building will be done and something needs to take its place. I am not vain enough to believe I know what that is, that effort needs to be based on the local assets--and the starting point is horrendous: 80% poverty, 50% literacy, average wage $2 per day, 250,000 children in 'slavery' as unpaid household servants. Some smart international development minds need to work on this aspect, but the starting point is probably building on the existing agricultural economy, increasing the literacy rate, and working on the great natural resource crime that is driving the exposure of Haitians to the elements--the destruction of their landscape and forests.
Haiti used to be 98% forested. It is now less than 2% forested. Those forests anchored the landscape, mitigated floods that came in the wake of hurricanes, provided shelter in high winds, treated water and held the soil in place to support agriculture. Haiti's forests were cut for charcoal, the only source of energy on the island. To fix the landscape the energy problem needs to fixed, which is why I included power plants in the infrastructure list.
Finally, there needs to be a concerted effort to re-build civil governance. Haiti's civic infrastructure is a shambles. It is one of the most corrupt governments on earth.
This leads to a fascinating question for us, you (Rebane) and me, as ideological opposites in many ways.
I believe that there is a clear link between liberty, property, the rule of law, and civil society. Societies where the wealth of the nation is shared, and everyone has a stake in the economy, tend to gradually insist on the rule of law and civil stability to protect their wealth. Societies where people can aspire to reach greater wealth and security through the fruits of their labor tend to support individual liberty and the rule of law. I think we only differ over the extent that economies need to be monitored and controlled to ensure that wealth is shared, the rule of law is maintained, and civil society can use the wealth to meet the needs of the people. You believe the free market leads to shared wealth, I believe that a combination of free markets and monitored and controlled economies create shared wealth.
I would make the case that in the short term we need to insist that any investment made in rebuilding needs to be carefully monitored and protected from the corruption of the government. In the long run, if we can hire Haitians to rebuild their own country, and they get paid a fair wage to do so, and if we help them create and economy where the wealth is shared, and we provide security from the return of military dictatorship, a civil government that respects individual rights, property, and the rule of law will follow.
Then we back the hell away and let them go. They will owe us nothing.