Bret Stephens: To Help Haiti, End Foreign Aid





[Bret Stephens writes the Journal's "Global View" column on foreign affairs.]

It's been a week since Port-au-Prince was destroyed by an earthquake. In the days ahead, Haitians will undergo another trauma as rescue efforts struggle, and often fail, to keep pace with unfolding emergencies. After that—and most disastrously of all—will be the arrival of the soldiers of do-goodness, each with his brilliant plan to save Haitians from themselves.

"Haiti needs a new version of the Marshall Plan—now," writes Andres Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald, by way of complaining that the hundreds of millions currently being pledged are miserly. Economist Jeffrey Sachs proposes to spend between $10 and $15 billion dollars on a five-year development program. "The obvious way for Washington to cover this new funding," he writes, "is by introducing special taxes on Wall Street bonuses." In a New York Times op-ed, former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush profess to want to help Haiti "become its best." Some job they did of that when they were actually in office.

All this works to salve the consciences of people whose dimly benign intention is to "do something." It's a potential bonanza for the misery professionals of aid agencies and NGOs. And it allows the Jeff Sachses of the world to preen as latter-day saints.

For actual Haitians, however, just about every conceivable aid scheme beyond immediate humanitarian relief will lead to more poverty, more corruption and less institutional capacity. It will benefit the well-connected at the expense of the truly needy, divert resources from where they are needed most, and crowd out local enterprise. And it will foster the very culture of dependence the country so desperately needs to break.

How do I know this? It helps to read a 2006 report from the National Academy of Public Administration, usefully titled "Why Foreign Aid to Haiti Failed." The report summarizes a mass of documents from various aid agencies describing their lengthy records of non-accomplishment in the country.

Here, for example, is the World Bank—now about to throw another $100 million at Haiti—on what it achieved in the country between 1986 and 2002: "The outcome of World Bank assistance programs is rated unsatisfactory (if not highly so), the institutional development impact, negligible, and the sustainability of the few benefits that have accrued, unlikely."

Why was that? The Bank noted that "Haiti has dysfunctional budgetary, financial or procurement systems, making financial and aid management impossible." It observed that "the government did not exhibit ownership by taking the initiative for formulating and implementing [its] assistance program." Tellingly, it also acknowledged the "total mismatch between levels of foreign aid and government capacity to absorb it," another way of saying that the more foreign donors spent on Haiti, the more the funds went astray.

But this still fails to get at the real problem of aid to Haiti, which has less to do with Haiti than it does with the effects of aid itself. "The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape," James Shikwati, a Kenyan economist, told Der Spiegel in 2005. "For God's sake, please just stop."..



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