the money come from? The main answer is that there are about a million
Haitians abroad, mostly in the US and Canada, supporting the 8 million
Haitians in the country. The hope and salvation of every family is to get
somebody to Miami, in order to survive. Of course, that makes it hard for
any but the most extraordinary emigrant to save enough to really get anywhere
up to $500 million a year comes in from various NGO's. Some of them actually
do some good. Most, however, are just bureaucracies, sending their
policy works to drive around in new Land Rovers, survey the poverty, and
write largely worthless reports that nobody reads. Half of the relatively
few people who get regular paychecks draw them from the government; most
of them are laughingly referred to as "zombie workers" for obvious reasons.
Fortunately, that no longer includes the army, because the army has been
abolished, in recognition of the fact that, typical of Third World militaries,
it's sole purpose was to intimidate potential dissidents. On the bright
side, at least there's no direct aid to the Haitian government, due to
the rare insight that it would mostly just get siphoned off to some people's
foreign bank accounts.
The whole country
is on welfare. It's like a rural Washington, D.C.
despising welfare, I'm also somewhat disinclined towards organized charities,
as well. They tend to quickly become top heavy vehicles for the politically
correct to righteously play big shot with other people's money. At some
point soon, I'll editorialize about the corruption charity often brings,
and why those of you with plans along those lines may want to rethink it.
So I was only marginally enthusiastic about the Foundation for Mercy and
Sharing, founded by my friend Susie Krabacher, whom I accompanied on this
trip. Susie is a legend in Haiti; everyone knows her. An ex-Playboy centerfold
and cover girl, she's done well in the world, and truly wants to help other
people in thanksgiving; she picked the right place. I've seen poverty,
I promise you, but what goes on in Haiti is a whole other level—and an
excellent barometer of how far this place has fallen. Poor people regularly
abandon children, already on death’s door, they can't care for. What happens
is that they're basically stacked up like fire wood in an unrefridgerated
morgue, before they die, and sometimes aren't buried for months after they
die, because there's no money to dispose of them. It literally defies the
imagination. In any event, Susie has set up, on a shoestring, an orphanage
for about 1,600 kids, and it is impossible to find fault with the small
organization. And I say that as someone who believes most charities aren't
worth the powder it would take to blow them to hell. If you're so
inclined, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org,
World countries prohibit foreigners from owning islands, border lands and
coastlines—ostensibly for "security" reasons, probably stemming from a
fear of invasion, or guerrillas. Needless to say, Haiti has laws of this
type. In theory, the beachfront owned by the State is available for acquisition
by citizens; it can be leased for five years for a nominal amount (about
US$25 per hectare per year) and then, if development plans are approved,
the legislature can grant title. I met several Haitians who've apparently
done this. But, although it's simple in theory, it's exceedingly hard in
practice. Hernan de Soto, the Peruvian student of why Third World countries
tend to remain basket cases, points out that Haiti is especially perverse
in this regard: He documents how it takes an average of 19 years and 176
bureaucratic procedures to legalize the purchase of private land in Haiti—forget
about getting it from the State.
the State probably (who really knows, since their records are a shambles)
owns over half the land area of the country. That amounts to totally dead
capital in a country that can't afford to waste a cent. In fact, it's worse
than that. You can tell exactly where the border between the Dominican
Republic and Haiti lies by flying over it at 10,000 feet; the Haitian side
has been totally deforested. People rarely do anything so stupid with their
own property. But when it comes to State property, which is to say unowned
property, anything goes. It's the Tragedy of the Commons come to the Caribbean.
Still, if I
can get a few thousand idyllic, isolated acres for peanuts, I think there's
some real opportunity. My feelers are out. But that's Plan B. My real attention
is on Plan A.
disastrous as the country is, it makes the days when the Duvalliers ran
it as something of a private plantation look like a halcyon time. Some
people say the Haitians are capable of no better and are best off under
some type of (hopefully) benign dictatorship. That's complete rubbish.
the country, the first in the Western Hemisphere after the US to go independent,
is such a basket case is simply a lack of property rights, and an efficient
legal system to enforce them.
he has a tiger by the tail, that this poor and overpopulated country is
a potential time bomb. But he's at once too ignorant, too weak and now
too corrupt to do anything about it. A pity, because he's both intelligent
and charismatic enough to transform the place. Naively, he appears to think
that making plans to sell the airport, promoting the artistic talents
of Haitians and getting more foreign aid will solve the problem.
I spent some
time with one of his cabinet and closest advisors, presenting a radical
plan for change. This is a country with terminal cancer; Band-Aids and
gradualism are nonstarters. Out of 200 countries in the world, only about
25 are capital exporters. And out of the 175 importers Haiti is about the
last on any capitalist's list.
What I proposed
is a plan, which I've presented to autocrats running a half dozen similar
basket cases, which would do three things:
Make him (and his cronies) legitimately wealthy. Even though he was once
a priest ministering to the bottom of society, he's found that power corrupts.
And money is the main reason people get into and around government anyway.
Put him on the front cover of every news magazine in the world in a favorable
light for the next decade. No one likes being a pariah, or a laughing stock
in charge of a country that's viewed as an embarrassment.
Make the country as wealthy in a generation as Hong Kong, Singapore, or
Taiwan are today. After all, 50 years ago those places were as poor as
Haiti. But today the world is much richer, and technology far more advanced.
got his attention. "Tell me more," he said, which is the usual reaction.
My plan basically contemplates the 100% elimination of all taxes and regulations;
these things serve absolutely no useful purpose in any Third World country
except to create sinecures for parasites. That part is simple, and obvious.
The twist is to take all government assets and put them initially into
one large corporation to facilitate distributing 70% of the shares, pro
rata, to every citizen now living, 15% in trust for the next generation
to be born over the next 21 years, 10% for the folks who allow it to happen,
and 5% to be sold in the world's capital markets. The money raised thereby
would mainly be used to promote the fact the country is open for business
in a way no country in the world has ever been. And the people, not the
government, would be the direct beneficiaries.
much more to it. But, in essence, it's possible to transform a hellhole
like Haiti into the kind of place you'd want to move to, no matter where
you now live, regardless of other considerations. If there were ever a
true free market country, the place would be so overrun with rich people
that workers now making $1 a day would be in demand at $15 an hour (what
I have to pay my maid in Aspen—in cash, thank you). Could it happen?
Well, in case you're wondering what my other hobby, besides polo, is, it's
pitching this plan to Third World governments. They've bought every cockamamie
scheme that's come down the pike since the days of Karl Marx. Why shouldn't
they go for something that actually makes sense? Well, I can think of lots
of reasons, but that doesn't mean I'm about to quit.
If you have
a connection to a troubled Head of State, I'd like to hear from you.
There are those
who may find Doug's ideas intrusive. There are many who view economics
as form of repression rather than as a tool to liberation. Usually
those who hold such views have a refrigerator, television, a VCR, computer,
car and other amenities that make their life tolerable. They like
to travel around the world and see downcast societies and view them as
'quaint' and 'picturesque.' You can be assured that the impoverished
inhabitants of Haiti would welcome the chance to own a refrigerator or
to make a wage on which they could send their children to college.
Haiti is known
for it's unique art and it's early history of liberation. Haiti's liberation
began in 1794, shortly after the French Revolution of 1789. Under the leadership
of Toussaint L'Overture, known to Haitians as "The Precursor", slaves were
set free. True independence came in 1804 - making Haiti the first
independent Black "republic" to be established in the Americans.
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