“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wasting Money Through Aid To Haiti

Bret Stephens wrote a terrific editorial in yesterday's Wall Street Journal discussing the futility of dumping so much aid on Haiti in the wake of last week's earthquake. Several of his sentiments were echoed in a discussion I had on Sunday morning over coffee with a friend.

Why, I asked, is it that Haiti has failed to form a civilized society that can quell thugs and gangs, protect its citizens, and be trusted to advance its own welfare? Even in the context of digging out from a devastating natural disaster?

Is it something endemic to the Haitian population? Something they learned about corruption and lack of civilized government from the French? I mean, what gives?

In the past week, I've read or heard several pieces, including Stephens,' warning that most aid to Haiti will merely wind up in the hands of street gangs within hours of its distribution.

Stephens wrote poignantly of the manner in which UN aid has destroyed the economies of several African countries. I recall one piece detailing how the distribution of free mosquito netting by the UN wiped out a small but booming, promising entrepeneurial local industry which had provided the same product, for a price.

Stephens enumerated several aspects of aid's lethality. They included corruption and graft among transporation laborers in the receiving countries, skimming of aid by corrupt government officials, further theft from the populace by gangs and, lastly, the longer term effects of driving out investment which cannot compete with freely-provided goods by the UN.

Stephens counsels leaving Haiti alone until it can figure out how to forge a society and government that attracts more investment. So long as aid vastly outstrips private investment, he contends, Haiti, or any other country like it, is doomed.

That's true, but may be unpalatable for the global society at large.

Perhaps a better, and certainly a viable alternative, way to help Haiti is by way of military government. Recall how the US helped to rebuild Japan and Germany in this fashion after the devastation of WWII?

Why could not the US armed forces maintain a modest, UN-approved garrison which provided protection of the civilian population from banditry, repaired or built basic infrastructure (electricity, water, sewage, roads), and supervised the creation of a stronger, better government?

Letting any sort of private contractors near Haiti to rebuild at the direction of a Haitian government is just inviting incredible corruption.

Far better to have relief dollars spent to offset the cost to the US of stationing the necessary, appropriate military resources to do that work.

While they are at it, such resource could, to be blunt, eliminate "the usual suspects" who would otherwise prey on the populace as goods and services begin to flow into Haiti and to its populace. Military government means we could dispense military justice, too. Goodbye local gangs. Hello district councils.

It's just a thought. Because nobody in their right mind believes for a second that any of this aid will make any lasting difference at all to the lives of average Haitians if all we do is spend it through the current local regime and society.

We have evidence from decades of prior efforts, cited in Mr. Stephens' piece, to prove this. What's needed now is some creative solutions for implementing Haitian aid so that a new, more responsible Haiti can actually enjoy and prosper from the fruits of that aid.

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