Monday, February 01, 2010

Jonah Goldberg on Haiti

From the National Review.

American columnist and author Jonah Goldberg writes,
"Emergency relief won’t cure Haiti’s poverty culture".

Drawing comparisons with natural disasters in other, more successful parts of the world, he concludes that Haiti's crippled economy, and culture, were to blame for the huge number of dead.

"It’s hardly news that poverty makes people vulnerable to the full arsenal of Mother Nature’s fury. The closer you are to living in a state of nature, the crueler nature will be — which is one reason why people who romanticize tribal or pre-capitalist life (that would be you, James Cameron) tend to do so from a safe, air-conditioned distance and with easy access to flushing toilets, antibiotics, dentistry, and Chinese takeout. The sad truth about Haiti isn’t simply that it is poor, but that it has a poverty culture.

Yes, it has had awful luck. Absolutely, it has been exploited, abused, and betrayed ever since its days as a slave colony. So, if it alleviates Western guilt to say that Haiti’s poverty stems entirely from a legacy of racism and colonialism, fine. But Haiti has been independent and the poorest country in the hemisphere for a long time."

Even if blame lies everywhere except among the victims themselves, it doesn’t change the fact that Haiti will never get out of grinding poverty until it abandons much of its culture.

What aspects of culture contribute to poverty? Herein lies a lesson for most African countries, too:

When Haitians leave Haiti for the U.S. they get richer almost overnight. This isn’t simply because wages are higher here or welfare payments more generous. Coming to America is a cultural leap of faith, physically and psychologically. Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz note in their phenomenal new book, From Poverty to Prosperity, that low-skilled Mexican laborers become 10 to 20 times more productive simply by crossing the border into the United States. William Lewis, former director of the McKinsey Global Institute, found that illiterate, non-English-speaking Mexican agricultural laborers in the U.S. were four times more productive than the same sorts of laborers in Brazil.

Why? Because American culture not only expects hard work, but teaches the unskilled how to work hard.

It’s true that Haiti has few natural resources, but neither does Japan or Switzerland. What those countries do have are what Kling and Schulz call valuable “intangible assets” — the skills, rules, laws, education, knowledge, customs, expectations, etc. that drive a prosperous society to generate prosperity. That is where the real wealth of nations is to be found — not in factories, oil deposits, and gold mines, but in our heads and in the habits of our hearts. Indeed, a recent World Bank study found that 82 percent of America’s wealth could be found in our intangible assets.

Haiti’s poverty stems from its lack of intangible capital. It shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, and yet the Dominicans have six times the GDP (and are far better stewards of their environment). Collectively, Haiti depends on the kindness of strangers much more than on itself. Before the earthquake, Haiti had 10,000 non-governmental organizations working there, the highest rate per capita in the world. In 2007, notes Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, it had ten times as much foreign aid as investment. If people are determined to blame Haiti’s problems on someone other than the Haitians, perhaps they could start by looking at the damage done by the foreign-aid industry.

To those who would deny the role of culture in maintaining a permanent state of poverty and deprivation, favouring accident of geography, climate, and sheer good luck as the root causes of the gaps in the wealth of nations, it must be repeated ad nauseum that it is indeed the case that culture is the deciding factor. Intelligence? Maybe, but that does not account for the difference in GDP between Haiti and the neighbouring Dominican Republic, which is six times richer per capita than Haiti, whose citizens we can assume possess more than one sixth their intelligence.

Poverty Culture, as practised in recent years by Jacob Zuma, among other Third World leaders, tends toward the glorification of traditional "values" and rejection of modernity. It favours collectivism over individualism, ignores the lessons of history and holds a utopian view of its own past. And future.

Intangible assets are what make a country, not what Julius Malema sees as the wealth of the Nation: that which is under the soil. These are
"the skills, rules, laws, education, knowledge, customs, expectations, etc."
that lead to prosperity - all of which are routinely rejected and despised by the peddlars of poverty culture.

Haiti is a lesson for all of us.

3 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

There's that word "culture" again. Zuma throws that word around whenever he's caught with his pants down (literally). The Haitians "culture" is to suck the teet of the Western World dry. There is a simple solution - let the teet go dry and see what happens.

Anonymous said...

"What those countries do have are what Kling and Schulz call valuable “intangible assets” — the skills, rules, laws, education, knowledge, customs, expectations, etc. that drive a prosperous society to generate prosperity. "

This has to be simplified as
"What those countries do have are valuable “intangible assets” — large sections of their nations consist of people of European (preferably Northern European) and North East Asian origin who have much higher IQs and are much more evolved... that drive a prosperous society to generate prosperity." Now that is more useful information. Haiti is full of low IQ primitive humanoids who barely look and behave like Homo Sapiens Sapiens and are most likely late Homo Erectus-early Homo Sapien population.

Max said...

Try and explain this to the South African electorate and convince them that white rule means prosperity and black rule is disaster. You got more chance of Winnie Mandela becoming Pope.