Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Haiti Crisis

The tragedy and trauma that is going on in Haiti right now is on a scale few of us in our comfortable homes can imagine. David Brooks, in an excellent NY Times editorial Friday, points out that the enormity of the devastation reveals much about the developed world's ineffective efforts to meet the real needs of impoverished peoples around the globe during the past century.
Brooks' essay, The Underlying Tragedy, begins by comparing and contrasting the results of this earthquake to the 7.0 shaker that struck San Francisco during the 1989 World Series. Less than 100 were killed there and in this one they estimate fifty thousand, and counting. The difference in outcomes between these near identical quakes reveals some difficult truths about the disparity between various parts of the world.

"The first of those truths is that we don’t know how to use aid to reduce poverty. Over the past few decades, the world has spent trillions of dollars to generate growth in the developing world. The countries that have not received much aid, like China, have seen tremendous growth and tremendous poverty reductions. The countries that have received aid, like Haiti, have not.

In the recent anthology “What Works in Development?,” a group of economists try to sort out what we’ve learned. The picture is grim. There are no policy levers that consistently correlate to increased growth. There is nearly zero correlation between how a developing economy does one decade and how it does the next. There is no consistently proven way to reduce corruption. Even improving governing institutions doesn’t seem to produce the expected results."


Here's a second hard truth, according to Brooks... "micro-aid is vital but insufficient. Given the failures of macrodevelopment, aid organizations often focus on microprojects. More than 10,000 organizations perform missions of this sort in Haiti. By some estimates, Haiti has more non-governmental organizations per capita than any other place on earth. They are doing the Lord’s work, especially these days, but even a blizzard of these efforts does not seem to add up to comprehensive change."

American doctors, mission organizations and food organizations have been sending help to Haiti for decades. In my Wednesday commentary, I cited a young Iraqi war veteran who devoted some time at a Catholic mission there. Brooks, however, raises a good point. The compassionate sacrifices of ten thousand organizations has not changed Haiti's future from hopeless to hopeful. Why is this?

His third hard truth brings additional light. "As Lawrence E. Harrison explained in his book 'The Central Liberal Truth,' Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.

"We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them."


Much more can be said on this point alone, but I'll save that for another space in time. You can read the rest of Brooks' commentary here.

3 comments:

LEWagner said...

>>>>>>>>>His third hard truth brings additional light. "As Lawrence E. Harrison explained in his book 'The Central Liberal Truth,' Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.
"We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them."

The extent of the suffering in Haiti is pretty much the fault of their own culture. Not the right religion, don't have the right work ethic, don't raise their children according to Dobson, etc., etc.
Solution? Put some people in charge who know how to crack the whip, and "replace parts of the local culture with a highly demanding, highly intensive culture of achievement — involving everything from new child-rearing practices to stricter schools to better job performance."
David Brooks = Pat Robertson = arrogant cultural supremacist = you too, evidently.
Disgusting.

ENNYMAN said...

Brooks can hardly be considered remotely similar to Pat Robertson or a Dobson. I do not agree with everything he has written but there's more than arrogant supremacist rhetoric happening here. There's a collision of world views here. The two earthquakes resulted in dissimilar consequences for reasons that can be understood if explored.

Brooks cites some of the issues. It seemed like a good article and thoughtfully presented, so I shared it.

As far as the solution suggested, well, I dunno. What we've been doing doesn't seem to be working. Do you have any suggestions that don't involve re-writing history?

ENNYMAN said...

I agree, the solution Brooks recommends is weak at best and overly narrow. I do not know a solution... The primary difference between Haiti's results and San Francisco's is the one country is impoverished and the other is wealthy. Wealthy nations can build "safer" buildings. That America might have played a role in this poverty is a sad factor... but I am still at a loss on how to turn it a around, how to change things for the future. I mean, permanently, how to make a broken economy into a healthy one, or at least moving in the direction of healthy, strong wholeness.
e.