OP-ED: To Help Haiti, End Foreign Aid, by Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, JANUARY 19, 2010
I have a love-hate thing with Stephens, because he's almost always so angry and dismissive of attempts to help any situation on any score, but I do sense the profound and painful truth in what he says here:
All this works to salve the consciences of people whose dimly benign intention is to "do something." It's a potential bonanza for the misery professionals of aid agencies and NGOs, never mind that their livelihoods depend on the very poverty whose end they claim to seek. And it allows the Jeff Sachses of the world to preen as latter-day saints.
For actual Haitians, however, just about every conceivable aid scheme beyond immediate humanitarian relief will lead to more poverty, more corruption and less institutional capacity. It will benefit the well-connected at the expense of the truly needy, divert resources from where they are needed most, and crowd out local enterprise. And it will foster the very culture of dependence the country so desperately needs to break.
How do I know this? It helps to read a 2006 report from the National Academy of Public Administration, usefully titled "Why Foreign Aid to Haiti Failed." The report summarizes a mass of documents from various aid agencies describing their lengthy records of non-accomplishment in the country.
The instinctive rush to flood the place with aid will accomplish almost nothing. We'd be better off simply annexing the entire country, which, if left with any sovereignty intact, will simply go on abusing itself ad infinitum, as it has for decade upon decade. How quickly this whole tragedy has become about the "great celebrities/humanitarians" who have made this cause their own. It all feels like one big Oscar race.
But Haiti goes nowhere so long as it remains a place where almost nobody wants to engage in profitable business--other than funneling aid. The government has been child-like in its response to date, victimized by the well-meaning efforts by outsiders for many years to do for Haitians what they cannot manage for themselves.
Yes, our hearts tell us we must do whatever to relieve immediate suffering, then the conversation shifts into these Marshall Plan-like clarion calls. But five years from now, the place will remain the same with the government just that much more infantilized--and thus that much less resilient (if you can believe it).
The aid curse is on par or worse than the resource curse. It is a killer of human spirit even as it deeply gratifies that of the givers.
Will Enterra get involved? If we see the right opportunity, yes. DeAngelis loves such challenges, even as he remains someone committed to finding a business angle for engagement.