As I read the heart-wrenching accounts of people being pulled from the rubble in Port-au-Prince, I couldn't help but wonder what we hope to do for Haiti in the long term. Eventually the streets will be cleared of rubble and the wounds will start to heal. But what comes next?
Iraq and Afghanistan should have taught us the lesson that there is no magic bullet for international development. We all want an economic miracle for Haiti, but that isn't going to happen anytime soon, and there isn't much we can do to kick-start the process.
China, Japan and South Korea all have thousand-year heritages of strong centralized governments and vibrant economies. The national heritage of Haiti is 100 years of slavery followed by 200 years of endless coups. The development of China wasn't done with the International Monetary Fund, the U.N. or the United States Agency for International Development. It was done with a combination of profit-seeking American corporations, serious environmental degradation and a despotic government. Even America was developed through slaves, giant corporations and environmental destruction, not women selling trinkets to tourists. Development is always a very nasty business, but it is the only solution to poverty.
We have learned that we can't make democracies with soldiers, and we aren't going to make industrial capitalism with aid workers. The only hope for Haiti — and all other Third World countries — is that they will someday produce goods and services that the world economy needs. But we cannot do this for them.
So how do we reconcile our moral imperative to help with the reality that we really have no idea how to help Haiti in the long term? There are historical examples we can look to — Taiwan, for instance — for guidance, but the circumstances are different and will require a different approach. We may have ideas of how to jump-start the Haitian economy, but these are worthless unless the Haitian government and its people are willing to embrace these ideas. The status quo seems unacceptable for us, but we are not Haitians. We are Americans who know what we would want if we were in their situation.
I believe this is the underlying tension that manifests itself in the fevered backlash against David Brooks's column in the New York Times ("The Underlying Tragedy," Jan. 14). It is the cornerstone of the liberal worldview that we must treat all cultures with respect — something along the lines of treating others the way you would want to be treated.
However, we must acknowledge that not all cultures are created equal. Some are more conducive to the development of industrial capitalism than others. This isn't "racist," "colonialistic" or "hegemonic"; it is a fact that has been observed for a hundred years (see Max Weber's "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism"). If we want to feel good about our dogmas, then we should go on saying that Haiti is just fine as it is, and it is only our own prejudice that says that it ought to be different. If we want to actually mitigate suffering, then we need to be willing to be paternalistic.
We, as residents of the developed world, have the monetary capital, the intellectual capital and the social capital. Development necessarily means "making Haiti more like us." It will eventually mean Wal-Marts, McDonalds and car dealerships. It will mean American-designed economic and monetary policy. We can either see this as paternalism or doing what we can to share our knowledge with Haiti.
Yes, capitalism means homogenization, commercialization, exploitation and commoditization. Eventually the United States will move beyond industrial capitalism, and hopefully, one day, so will Haiti.
For Americans as individuals, the best we can do is to buy Haitian products made by Haitian companies. For America as a country, we can encourage growth by creating tax breaks for companies to source products from and build factories in Haiti. It took Taiwan a generation to go from a per capita income comparable with the Democratic Republic of the Congo to that of the United States. It will take at least that long for Haiti. But in the end, it isn't about us and what we want for Haiti. It is about what Haitians want for Haiti.
Brian Judge '11 is a philosophy concentrator from North Carolina. He can be reached at
brian_judge (at) brown.edu