Haiti’s avoidable death toll

Walter Williams's picture

Some expect Haiti’s 7.0 earthquake death toll to reach over 200,000 lives. Why the high death toll? Northern California’s 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was more violent, measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale, resulting in 63 deaths and 3,757 injuries. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake measured 7.8 on the Richter scale, about eight times more violent than Haiti’s, and cost 3,000 lives.

As tragic as the Haitian calamity is, it is merely symptomatic of a far deeper tragedy that’s completely ignored, namely self-inflicted poverty.

The reason why natural disasters take fewer lives in our country is because we have greater wealth. It’s our wealth that permits us to build stronger homes and office buildings.

When a natural disaster hits us, our wealth provides the emergency personnel, heavy machinery and medical services to reduce the death toll and suffering. Haitians cannot afford the life-saving tools that we Americans take for granted.

President Barack Obama called the quake “especially cruel and incomprehensible.” He would be closer to the truth if he had said that the Haitian political and economic climate that make Haitians helpless in the face of natural disasters are “especially cruel and incomprehensible.”

The biggest reason for Haiti being one of the world’s poorest countries is its restrictions on economic liberty. Let’s look at some of it.

According to the 2009 Index of Economic Freedom, authorization is required for some foreign investments, such as in electricity, water, public health and telecommunications. Authorization requires bribing public officials and, as a result, Haiti’s monopolistic telephone services can at best be labeled primitive. That might explain the difficulty Haitian-Americans have in finding out about their loved ones.

Corruption is rampant. Haiti ranks 177th out of 179 countries in the 2007 Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Its reputation as one of the world’s most corrupt countries is a major impediment to doing business. Customs officers often demand bribes to clear shipments.

The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom says that because of burdensome regulations and bribery, starting a business in Haiti takes an average of 195 days, compared with the world average of 38 days. Getting a business license takes about five times longer than the world average of 234 days — that’s over three years.

Crime and lawlessness are rampant in Haiti. The U.S. Department of State website (travel.state.gov), long before the earthquake, warned, “There are no “safe” areas in Haiti. ... Kidnapping, death threats, murders, drug-related shootouts, armed robberies, home break-ins and car-jacking are common in Haiti.”

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warns its citizens that, “The level of crime in Haiti is very high and the police have little ability to enforce laws. Local authorities often have limited or no capacity to provide assistance, even if you are a victim of a serious crime.”

Crime anywhere is a prohibitive tax on economic development and the poorest people are its primary victims.

Private property rights are vital to economic growth. The Index of Economic Freedom reports that “Haitian protection of investors and property is severely compromised by weak enforcement, a paucity of updated laws to handle modern commercial practices, and a dysfunctional and resource-poor legal system.” That means commercial disputes are settled out of court often through the bribery of public officials; settlements are purchased.

The way out of Haiti’s grinding poverty is not rocket science. Ranking countries according to: (1) whether they are more or less free market, (2) per capita income, and (3) ranking in International Amnesty’s human rights protection index, we would find that those nations with a larger free market sector tend also to be those with the higher income and greater human rights protections.

Haitian President Rene Preval is not enthusiastic about free markets; his heroes are none other than the hemisphere’s two brutal communist tyrants: Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

Haiti’s disaster demands immediate Western assistance but it’s only the Haitian people who can relieve themselves of the deeper tragedy of self-inflicted poverty.

[Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.] COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM

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dawn69's picture
Submitted by dawn69 on Sat, 01/23/2010 - 1:38am.

Tyranny, worldwide, has certain prerequisites to be successful: an unarmed population, illiteracy, and hunger. An unarmed, illiterate, emmaciated population has little hope of uprising and little success if they do. Change a man's fate by broadening his mind - then you open him up to endless possibilities. Thank you, Gutenberg!

It sickens my heart, the suffering of children the world over. Haiti has more than it's share of suffering children. We should do all we can to help them; but, as Gym points out below, what is the end result. Until they have the nourishment in their bodies, hope in their hearts, and knowledge that things can be better - they will never rise above their tyranny. Those in power will see to it that they stay illiterate and hungry.

"The most beautiful things in life cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart." - Helen Keller

Submitted by AtHomeGym on Fri, 01/22/2010 - 4:46pm.

We Americans are among the most generous in the world when it comes to helping folks in dire straits. But Walter Williams make some very good points about Haiti's self-inflicted poverty, no doubt ably assisted by a leader who kisses up to communist dictators. Haiti has been a failed country for years with no forseeable recovery in sight. We must ask ourselves "just how much to we commit of our citizen's tax dollars to prop up a failure and just what limit does mercy have? Tough decisions but that's what we pay our elected officials for. You happy with what we're doing? If yes, how long are you willing to commit our country's resources to help others who are not willing to help themselves? And yes, I realize I risk being the skunk at the garden party, but I can handle it.

Submitted by Davids mom on Sat, 01/23/2010 - 10:55am.

Our tax money is paying for our military and city/state rescue services in this calamity. We are not the only country involved in this effort. (111,000 are reported dead). However, the bulk of assistance is now coming from the generosity of those who are volunteering to contribute. That is an individual choice - and I'm proud of the generosity and caring of the American citizen. If I see a workable plan for individuals who will work to raise the literacy and hope of this country - I will contribute to that effort. Many of our churches already are involved in this effort. The rulers of Haiti have been corrupt for generations. My money will go for education and hope - not continued greed and corruption.

Submitted by AtHomeGym on Sat, 01/23/2010 - 1:03pm.

Commendable idea but know what the real problem is? YOU DON'T KNOW WHO TO TRUST!

Submitted by Davids mom on Sat, 01/23/2010 - 11:34pm.

I've worked too hard for my money to waste it. I seriously research any and all organizations before I give. (Especially the reputation of the local handlers of national organizations and/or churches.) The reputation of many of the organizations that have been in Haiti for some time providing education and medical services are solid. It is wisdom to beware/cautious . . . but it won't stop me from giving what I can. I think many Americans and citizens of other countries feel the same. It appears that needed help is arriving. (the report today was 200,000 dead - and they have stopped the search and rescue operation) Without a doubt - I will not send anything to the corrupt government of Haiti.

Submitted by AtHomeGym on Sat, 01/23/2010 - 1:04pm.

You recovered?

hutch866's picture
Submitted by hutch866 on Sat, 01/23/2010 - 1:06pm.

Getting there, 1 day at a time.

I yam what I yam....Popeye

meanoldconservatives's picture
Submitted by meanoldconservatives on Fri, 01/22/2010 - 6:27pm.

"Tough decisions but that's what we pay our elected officials for. You happy with what we're doing?"

I don't think it is really what you are asking for here. But, let me say I am in no way happy with what our "paid" elected officials are doing - and I'm talking about what they are doing here in our country. My suggestion would be to ship every one of them off to Haiti permanently, and elect a whole new crew.

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