Helping Haiti

David Brooks contemplates why international aid doesn’t work and fails to reach a conclusion:

The first of those truths is that we don’t know how to use aid to reduce poverty. Over the past few decades, the world has spent trillions of dollars to generate growth in the developing world. The countries that have not received much aid, like China, have seen tremendous growth and tremendous poverty reductions. The countries that have received aid, like Haiti, have not….

The second hard truth is that micro-aid is vital but insufficient. Given the failures of macrodevelopment, aid organizations often focus on microprojects. More than 10,000 organizations perform missions of this sort in Haiti. By some estimates, Haiti has more nongovernmental organizations per capita than any other place on earth. They are doing the Lord’s work, especially these days, but even a blizzard of these efforts does not seem to add up to comprehensive change.

I see absolutely no benefit to anyone, least of all the Haitians, by turning it into the latest iteration of Band Aid. The track record of “international aid” is perfectly clear; it does not work, it fosters dependency, and it creates far more long-term problems than it solves short-term ones. The tragedy of this earthquake is, as Brooks correctly points out, the three orders of magnitude difference between it and the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. This is not an act of God, it is the entirely predictable consequences of human action. The West has abandoned the White Man’s Burden for the world along with its Christian identity. Furthermore, there are already 10,000 aid organizations present in Haiti, so one more organization or one more dollar of aid is not going to accomplish anything positive, it is merely going to prolong the very situation that turned what should have been an expensive, but minor societal annoyance into an appalling human tragedy.

Being a moderate, Brooks splits the difference by implying that those doing “the Lord’s work” should continue even though it’s not going to do any good and can even be shown to have done tremendous harm. I disagree, as I think it is wrong to act to save one life today if that action will cause one thousand deaths tomorrow. A refusal to act is not always a sin of omission; if anyone besides the people of Haiti are to blame for this lethal debacle, it is the tens of thousands of people who were so magnanimously “helping” them in the past.

It is good to help the poor and needy. But it is evil to keep people in a constant state of poverty and deprivation. Distinguishing between the two requires wisdom and discernment, not science and politics. The people of Haiti need prayer, discipline, and wise leadership, they do not need more of what has played such an important role in killing so many of them.