January 25, 2010

Some Points about Haiti

This post is probably overdue, but I wanted to make some observations and tackle some issues that have been brought up by the terrible earthquake that destroyed so much of Haiti. Please understand my comments in the context that they are meant to be understood. I am speaking from the stance of one concerned about the role of government and how it has increased in size and scope beyond what is both moral and necessary. I am actually quite optimistic about the capacity of the individual to act charitably toward another in need. I think this capacity is rather obvious and even overwhelming at times such as this.

1) The role of government is not to respond to natural disasters and provide humanitarian aid. The government is not a humanitarian aid organization. It is an entity of force established to provide equal protection of property rights under the law. All humanitarian and relief efforts are the responsibility of the individual who gives as he or she sees fit and how he or she sees fit. It thus follows that the military is NOT an organization designed to aid other countries after a natural disaster. The military was formed to defend against invasion and insurrection. That is all. Any performance of acts beyond this scope is an exercise of authority that simply has not been given to the government or the military. The Constitution does not authorize it. If we want government to perform these functions, we need to amend the Constitution to give it power to make the military a worldwide humanitarian aid organization. This would likely make our military the most ironic organization in the world, but at least we could say we weren't ignoring the Constitution because we felt like it.
As one blogger puts it:
Extreme cases like this have a certain educational value, in that they separate the libertarian wheat from the chaff. They separate those whose libertarianism is rooted in a philosophical adherence to the non-aggression axiom and those whose libertarianism is only an emotional predisposition toward less government.
Consider the words of Ron Paul, the only one who opposed government aid to Haiti, on this very issue:

Statement of Congressman Ron Paul

United States House of Representatives

Statement in Opposition to H Res 1021, Condolences to Haiti January 21, 2010

I rise in reluctant opposition to this resolution. Certainly I am moved by the horrific destruction in Haiti and would without hesitation express condolences to those who have suffered and continue to suffer. As a medical doctor, I have through my career worked to alleviate the pain and suffering of others. Unfortunately, however, this resolution does not simply express our condolences, but rather it commits the US government “to begin the reconstruction of Haiti” and affirms that “the recovery and long-term needs of Haiti will require a sustained commitment by the United States….” I do not believe that a resolution expressing our deep regret and sorrow over this tragedy should be used to commit the United States to a “long-term” occupation of Haiti during which time the US government will provide for the reconstruction of that country.
I am concerned over the possibility of an open-ended US military occupation of Haiti and this legislation does nothing to alleviate my concerns. On the contrary, when this resolution refers to the need for a long term US plan for Haiti, I see a return to the failed attempts by the Clinton and Bush Administrations to establish Haiti as an American protectorate. Already we are seeing many argue that this kind of humanitarian mission is a perfect fit for the US
Certainly I would support and encourage the efforts of the American people to help the people of Haiti at this tragic time. I believe that the American people are very generous on their own and fear that a US government commitment to reconstruct Haiti may actually discourage private contributions. Mr. Speaker, already we see private US citizens and corporations raising millions of dollars for relief and reconstruction of Haiti. I do not believe the US government should get in the way of these laudable efforts. I do express my condolences but I unfortunately must urge my colleagues to vote against this resolution committing the United States government to rebuild Haiti. military. I do not agree.

2) Haiti does not benefit economically from the natural disaster (though there may be arguments for it benefiting in other ways). This idea is commonly voiced after natural disasters of all kinds. The fallacy is known as the broken window fallacy and takes the following form in this case: Haiti will have to rebuild and that process will create jobs for Haitians and improve their economy.
I understand why one would come to this faulty conclusion, but it is wrong for the same reason that government cannot create real jobs. If it were true that destruction actually helped the economy, why are we not excited about hurricane or tornado season? Why don't we just blow up our own houses and then rebuild them? That would keep us all working and our economy would boom! Right?! The ridiculousness of this idea is clear. The resources that are used to rebuild could have been used otherwise to improve the economy without having to reconstruct buildings. Again, this is the same reason that the Cash For Clunkers program was one of the most ridiculous and economically wasteful programs ever.

3) Haiti is not poor because we don't send it enough money. In fact, a strong argument could be made that Haiti remains poor BECAUSE we send them money. The corrupt government uses that money to maintain power. Haiti is poor primarily for political purposes. Political oppression more often than not manifests itself as economic oppression. The political history of Haiti shows it to be an unstable country, which has discouraged investment, making it difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to raise capital and grow the economy. Some may argue that Haiti was first poor and that the poverty lead to political corruption and a vicious cycle. They may insist that the cycle of poverty must first be broken through foreign aid and then the political side will follow. Not only does this fly in the face of reason, but it ignores historical experience. If this were the case, no country would ever become prosperous. All countries were poorer than they are now, relatively speaking, and even the richest of countries was at some point poorer than the poorest country today. It is freedom that brings prosperity. Economic freedom and political freedom go hand in hand. You cannot truly have one without the other.

Now, all this aside, I believe it is the moral obligation of every person to seek ways to serve others and do it. I encourage those who can to give any way they can to help those who are suffering in Haiti.