|This GUEST eCOLUMN
is used by
Dr. Walter E. Williams.
Dr. Williams serves on
the faculty of George
Mason University as
John M. Olin
Economics and is the
author of More Liberty
As tragic as the Haitian calamity is, it is merely symptomatic of a far deeper tragedy
that's completely ignored, namely self-inflicted poverty.
The reason why natural
disasters take fewer lives in
our country is because we
have greater wealth. It's our
wealth that permits us to build
stronger homes and office
buildings. When a natural
disaster hits us, our wealth
provides the emergency
personnel, heavy machinery
and medical services to reduce
the death toll and suffering.
Haitians cannot afford the life-
saving tools that we Americans
take for granted.
President Barack Obama called the quake "especially cruel and incomprehensible." He
would be closer to the truth if he had said that the Haitian political and economic
climate that make Haitians helpless in the face of natural disasters are "especially
cruel and incomprehensible."
The biggest reason for Haiti being one of the world's poorest countries is its
restrictions on economic liberty. Let's look at some of it. According to the 2009
Index of Economic Freedom, authorization is required for some foreign investments,
such as in electricity, water, public health and telecommunications. Authorization
requires bribing public officials and, as a result, Haiti's monopolistic telephone services
can at best be labeled primitive. That might explain the difficulty Haitian-Americans
have in finding out about their loved ones.
Corruption is rampant. Haiti ranks 177th out of 179 countries in the 2007
Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. Its reputation as one of the
world's most corrupt countries is a major impediment to doing business. Customs
officers often demand bribes to clear shipments. The Heritage Foundation's Index of
Economic Freedom says that because of burdensome regulations and bribery, starting
a business in Haiti takes an average of 195 days, compared with the world average of
38 days. Getting a business license takes about five times longer than the world
average of 234 days—that's over three years.
Crime and lawlessness are rampant in Haiti. The U.S. Department of State
website (travel.state.gov), long before the earthquake, warned, "There are no "safe"
areas in Haiti. ... Kidnapping, death threats, murders, drug-related shootouts, armed
robberies, home break-ins and car-jacking are common in Haiti." The Australian
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warns its citizens that, "The level of crime in
Haiti is very high and the police have little ability to enforce laws. Local authorities
often have limited or no capacity to provide assistance, even if you are a victim of a
serious crime." Crime anywhere is a prohibitive tax on economic development and the
poorest people are its primary victims.
Private property rights are vital to economic growth. The Index of Economic
Freedom reports that "Haitian protection of investors and property is severely
compromised by weak enforcement, a paucity of updated laws to handle modern
commercial practices, and a dysfunctional and resource-poor legal system." That
means commercial disputes are settled out of court often through the bribery of public
officials; settlements are purchased.
RISING ABOVE SELF-INFLICTED Haitian President Rene Preval is not enthusiastic about free markets; his heroes are
The way out of Haiti's grinding poverty is
not rocket science. Ranking countries
according to: (1) whether they are
more or less free market, (2) per
capita income, and (3) ranking in
International Amnesty's human rights
protection index, we would find that
those nations with a larger free
market sector tend also to be those
with the higher income and greater
human rights protections.
none other than the hemisphere's two brutal communist tyrants: Venezuela's Hugo
Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro.
Haiti's disaster demands immediate Western assistance but it's only the
Haitian people who can relieve themselves of the deeper tragedy of self-
Copyright 2010 Creators.com. Used by permission of the author.
DR. WALTER WILLIAMS
...Haiti's Avoidable Death Toll
Some expect Haiti's 7.0 earthquake death toll to reach
over 200,000 lives. Why the high death toll?
Northern California's 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was
more violent, measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale, resulting
in 63 deaths and 3,757 injuries.
The 1906 San Francisco earthquake measured 7.8 on the
Richter scale, about eight times more violent than Haiti's,
and cost 3,000 lives.
Obama called the
He would be closer to the
truth if he had said that the
Haitian political and economic
climate that make Haitians
helpless in the face of natural
disasters are 'especially cruel