Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Medici Effect Meets Haiti

Eleven days ago, the world's attention was drawn to the impoverished nation of Haiti as its buildings and its corrupt and fragile infrastructure collapsed as a result of an earthquake. The outpouring of first responders, led by our own nations armed forces and joined by countries as far away as China is to be honored as a mark of the finest of traits in caring for your fellow human in need. The problem now has turned from rescue to sustaining the survivors until the country can be rebuilt. But, therein lies the question, how do you rebuild something so broken as Haiti,  Economy of Haiti.  The last two decades saw a resurgence in U.S. military intervention trying to stabilize the government and the economy. The United Nations has been on a concurrent track lending peacekeeping forces and economic aid in the billions with almost naught to show. What then is the path that the United States and the World can take to ensure the future for Haitians is better than being kept alive until the arrival of the next natural disaster scythes down more souls.

Astute minds have been asking that question this past week. I felt it best to provide an intersection here on the blog to allow those ideas to come together in the best tradition of the Medici Effect.

Author and grand strategic thinker Thomas Barnett along with his business associate Steve DeAngelis have gotten out in front of this story and begun a series of posts asking that very question, what comes next? In this first post, Tom Barnett comments on a post penned by Galrahn for the U.S. Naval Institute Blog.

Reader Gerry left this link after commenting on my somewhat acidic interpretation of Bret Stephen's truly acidic piece on the disutility of foreign aid. It is a very informative blog post from Galrahn, who appears to be doing a yeoman's effort on Haiti, a subject I have yet to gain any serious traction on due to recent nonstop travel.
Gerry's comment was to the effect that the Haiti response could be a Katrina-like, politically damaging affair for Obama--quite possibly true.It could also reveal, a la Galrahn's observations, that SOUTHCOM was ill-prepared for this sort of thing.
Read more:
Do We Require Catastrophic Faiures to Change?

Barnett continues his commentary in this next post on why Haiti remains disconnected.

...if your take is that globalization crushes local cultures (and it sure does when they have nothing useful to offer, but then again, check out the Japanese as slick mega-exporters of an isolated culture and wonder why they succeed where others fail), then be prepared to keep on paying while the glory that is Haitian stay-at-home culture (as opposed to that which comes along with immigrants to America and adds to our mixing bowl) is given free reign to prove its disutility yet again after this disaster.
Read more:
Haiti's Cultural Poverty

In this post, Barnett comments on two articles that support the idea that capitalism has done more to restore societies after disasters than any other economic system.
By definition, Haiti's in for a bad time, because it's capitalism was stunted (especially in its rule sets) and highly criminalized and informal prior to the disaster--hence a city not built to anybody's code and thus the profound destruction at merely a 7.0 quake level (bad, but not off anybody's charts).
But since there seems to be equal camps on the question of "is capitalism/globalization the answer" or "the culprit," there's unlikely to be any renaissance in Haiti, as it'll remain the sole, exclusive property of the NGO/PVO crowd.
Read more:
Shocking capitalism! It actually helps after disasters!

Steve DeAngelis of Enterra Solutions, a company devoted to helping countries develop a more resilient rule set has been way out in front of thinking about how to help Haiti. In this post, Steve tries to answer the question, can Haiti bounce back, or will she do as she has always done, slide back to the bottom of the pyramid and be ignored until the next wave of disasters strike.
The outpouring of concern for Haiti has been remarkable. The American Red Cross, for example, has been amazed at the amount of money that has been donated through mobile phone contributions (over $22 million was the last figure I heard). There is a nagging suspicion, however, that once the bodies are buried, the wounded attended to, the streets cleared of rubble, and the rebuilding process begins, that Haiti will return to its status as a failing and fragile state. New York Times' op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof reports that some people have actually had the courage to state what many others are obviously thinking ["Some Frank Talk About Haiti," 21 January 2010].

DeAngelis goes on to discuss Kristof's article and points out several areas where he feels Kristof misses the mark.
I think Kristof is confusing humanitarian assistance with developmental aid. Only the most calloused soul would opt to withhold humanitarian assistance to a suffering nation. Humanitarian assistance, however, is in intended to relieve suffering not foster development. Even though Kristof claims that the debate about whether foreign aid fosters development remains "a bitter and unresolved argument," most people in the development community understand that foreign direct investment is much more important than aid in helping a country grow its economy. That is not to say that foreign aid doesn't play a role.
Steve's post is rather long and deserves a careful read as well as the linked articles. As many of us have been moved to contribute to helping rescue and sustain the Haitian people in this time of need, we owe it to them to help build a better future, than just a short reprieve from an early grave.

Read more:
Can Haiti really become resilient?

As I read Tom's and Steve's posts and pondered the merit of what they argued, I was reminded of a similar line of thought that was the main theme of Howard K. Bloom's latest book The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism.  Bloom argues that capitalism is a product of human evolution and is the perfect vehicle for repurposing ourselves after a bust or fall from grace. This concept seems to dovetail perfectly into what Tom and Steve's posts allude too. Bloom writes that the Panic of 1857 and the American Civil War, combined to be our greatest social and economic upheaval and brought about a new form of social consolidation; the modern nation, capable of sustaining itself through the kind of trials that before had led to total collapse of society. Tom Barnett wrote of this very example, in his latest book, Great Powers: America and the World After Bush where, in chapter three he recaps how America, continually repurposed itself after each crisis, to grow stronger and more resilient as it spread it's unique brand of economic system worldwide.

Much ink and megabytes have been used to describe what happened in Haiti and prophesize the future. Sadly, as the stench of decomposing bodies wafts away on the trade winds, so will the world's attention. That is, unless heed is taken of men like DeAngelis, Barnett, Kristof, Bloom and Collier who have devoted much thought to the benefits of connectivity and social and cultural responsibility. Hopefully my little effort will stimulate some thought about how we of the developed world can provide a lasting connected future to those left swirling in the back wash of civilization.

What to do about Haiti-Los Angeles Times

Comment Upgrade-more Haiti data-Thomas PM Barnett-blog

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