“And did we tell you the name of the game, boy?
We call it Riding the Gravy Train.” (Pink Floyd)
From the Guardian comes a story titled “The west owes Haiti a bailout. And it would be a hand-back, not a handout.” Yes, it’s all our fault. Our fault that they were poor, poorly governed, unprepared for natural disasters. Certainly, it wasn’t the fault of the Haitians themselves. Who could have foreseen the lack of economic progress in a nation that was more collectivist than capitalist? If the Haitian people were content to live under the bad government they had, rather than instituting a better one at any cost or risk, or emigrating to a better one, can we blame them? Inertia isn’t easy to overcome.
But the West, now, there is as selfish a collection of uncaring nations as can well be imagined. Billions upon billions of dollars for bailing out bankrupt financial institutions, but precious little for those that need it most—the Haitians:
The scale, urgency and determination with which western governments moved to salvage a broken [financial] system stands in stark contrast to their laggardly, inadequate and negligent approach when it comes to rescuing a broken society. I refer here not to the emergency aid operations in Haiti, which, given the logistical obstacles of operating in a crushed nation, have been impressive. Nor to the charitable donations from all over the world that prove that people are far more generous than the governments they elect. But to the resources and long-term systemic solutions that Haiti needs and the west could summon – if it so desired.
Haiti has needs. The West has means. One side of the equation neatly balances out the other.
And if simple need isn’t enough justification, there are also the sins of our fathers to account for:
Haiti gained its independence from France in 1804 through a slave rebellion – the first postcolonial, independent black-led nation in the world. For this audacity they would pay for generations . . .
The US refused to recognise the new country for more than half a century, and would then go on to occupy it for 20 years between the wars. The French burdened it with a punitive debt the country shouldered for over a century.
Both the US and France backed the Duvaliers’ brutal dictatorships and when democratic government did arrive it was hogtied by terms imposed by the IMF and the World Bank. Among other things, rigged trade agreements transformed Haiti from a self-sufficient rice producer to importing the bulk of its rice from subsidised growers in the US. When Haiti fined American rice merchants $1.4m in 2000 for allegedly evading customs duties, the US responded by freezing $30m in aid. With friends like these, Haiti does not need enemies.
So Haiti’s bailout would not be an act of charity, but reimbursement and reparation. This is not a hand out but a hand back. In terms of Haiti’s needs, it would be the beginning not the end. The country needs investment in its social and civic infrastructure so that it can shape its own future.
Is there a country on earth that couldn’t point to similar mistreatment from some other nation at some point in its past? Should we hold the British of today responsible for the expenses of the Revolutionary War? Or all the money our forefathers lost due to the anti-capitalist trade restrictions the British imposed upon us in the colonial era? These trade agreements with the IMF and the World Bank—they were agreements, right? Both sides agreed to the terms? These things cannot be imposed on any country by a bank. Only an occupying army can impose anything. I’m not aware of the IMF or the World Bank having a military wing. If Haiti now doesn’t like the terms of these agreements, is that too our fault, here in the West?
The actions of the IMF and the World Bank are not likely to be capitalist, in that their funds are presumably derived from taxation. The solution to that is the abolition of these institutions, not more collectivism. Does Haiti want investment in its infrastructure? On what terms: collectivist, or capitalist? If it wants them on capitalist terms, the way to get there is by instituting a capitalist government, not demanding tax money from foreign governments, that is, the citizens of foreign governments. If it wants it on collectivist terms, it wants what can never be justified. It wants the enslavement of others to themselves.
James Dobbins, a special envoy to Haiti under President Clinton and director of the International Security and Defence Policy Centre at the Rand Corporation, saw other possibilities. “This disaster is an opportunity to accelerate oft-delayed reforms,” he argued. The reforms included “breaking up or at least reorganising the government-controlled telephone monopoly”, and restructuring the ports. In other words, privatising what little is left of the country’s state enterprises.
Clearly, to the writer of the Guardian article, capitalism is the problem, not the solution.