In a state that is no stranger to earthquakes, Californians of all Americans understand the kind of damage and horror these natural disasters can cause. In 1952, an earthquake in Kern County California wrought a path of destruction that cost Californians $60 million (I know- it’s practically a rounding error these days the way politicians spend money) and took twelve lives. This was of course, dwarfed by the 1906 earthquake that killed over 3000 people and caused over $500 million worth of damage to property.
So, it’s no wonder that California has been very sensitive to the plight of the earthquake victims in the Caribbean island nation of Haiti. For example, the California Nurses Association, the largest registered nurses union in the country, is spearheading an effort to get nurse volunteers down to Haiti to deliver badly needed emergency care. This kind of constructive behavior, outpouring of love, and solutions-oriented thinking is truly encouraging!
On the other hand, one of California’s favorite sons, actor and director Danny Glover, is politicizing this occasion with finger-pointing and more global warming alarmism, remarkably laying the blame for the earthquake in Haiti at the feet of global warming. Not to be outdone by left-wing radicalism, Pat Robertson blames the earthquake on a pact that he alleges the nation of Haiti made with the devil (not even joking) to throw off the French.
While it should be clear to most of us without an axe to grind that the earthquake in Haiti was caused by plate tectonics, not a Midwestern farmer’s belching cow or a centuries old pact with the devil himself, there is one thing whose cause we can and do need to get straight: Haiti’s immense poverty. As the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti’s desperate poverty and lack of emergency infrastructure severely exacerbated this week’s disaster.
So why is Haiti so poor? World-renowned Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto writes in his book “The Mystery of Capital” that “In Haiti, the poorest nation in Latin America, the total assets of the poor are more than one hundred fifty times greater than all the foreign investment received since Haiti’s independence from France in 1804.” In other words, the poor aren’t as poor as we may think. But then why do they live in squalor?
De Soto contends that these assets (which are usually in the form of land, a building, or livestock) aren’t documented in a formal property system like all assets are in the West. This prevents the poor from being able to infuse them with life by turning them into capital. Borrowing against his or her house has been one of the main sources of capital for the innovating entrepreneur and small business owner in America.
A poor Haitian simply cannot navigate the complex, expensive, bureaucratic world of property documentation to help his assets live a parallel life as capital. His government’s policies are too difficult, time-consuming, expensive, and hard to understand. Only the established and wealthy get to play the game of capitalism and the poor are shut out in a kind of economic apartheid where they remain poor and desperate despite holding assets that could save them, not to mention a hard work ethic and enterprising spirit (the third world poor are some of the most enterprising of the world’s people, de Soto argues).
So what can you do to help Haiti, not just through this rough time, but for the long run? Educate yourself and others about the causes of poverty. Purchase a copy of Hernando de Soto’s book “The Mystery of Capital.” Create a cultural movement based on moral outrage and basic love for your fellow man. Pressure from Western nations ended racial apartheid in South Africa by forcing the government there to reform its policies. That same pressure can and will end economic apartheid in Haiti and other third world countries with similar problems, if we can get the message out there.
You could also start by sharing this article with a friend. Haiti’s in the spotlight. Seize the opportunity to help someone learn more about this poverty-stricken nation and what we can do to truly and permanently help Haiti. And stay caught up with developments, news, and commentary here at CAIVN. The same bureaucratic and complicated policies that have hurt the people of Haiti for so long are spiraling out of control in Sacramento and Washington, threatening to strangle our own economic development and future.
Let’s not do here what is obviously not working over there. Simple, practical, modest, responsive, community-based government is the best anybody can ask for. Let’s fight for that in Haiti, in our Federal government, and in our state government.