Thursday, January 14, 2010

What we have here, is a failure to governate.

So, Haiti's in crisis, which means that a bunch of folks are paying attention to the important question of the hour: "Why is Haiti so poor?"

A re-phrasing, I think, is in order.  Poor is the default.  It's what happens when nothing else happens.  Infants aren't born able to feed themselves, and nations aren't born with plumbing, roads, and a functional stock exchange.  The question that matters is: "Why isn't Haiti rich?"

There are a few primary things that a country needs to be wealthy:  Rule of law, property rights, and education.  Democracy isn't strictly necessary, but it can help by removing the tendency of government to infringe upon rule of law and property rights.

Haiti has had a series of kleptocratic, terrorising, corrupt, semi-US-backed regimes.  So there goes your rule of law and your property rights.  Elites speak French following the colonial tradition, but the masses (most of them descendants from slavery) speak creole.  Illiteracy is by far the norm.  There goes you education.

Those factors alone are enough to keep a country from being rich.  Deforestation?  Definitely a problem.  Setting a minimum wage in a country with rampant unemployment?  Lunacy.  Resource curse?  Check.  Overpopulation?  Not helping.  Indeed, but these are all secondary concerns.

If the masses can be secure in the faith that the physical capital they produce will be theirs, and if they can be enabled in any efforts to increase their human capital, the rest will work itself out.  If not, then... not.

Can this be brought to pass without foreign intervention to an extent that might only be described as neo-colonialism?  That's difficult to say.  Surely Obama and his paternalistic constituency will have their theory...  What's yours?

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