Haiti, a Lesson
for All of Us
By Michael Spence
January 28, 2010
For a few brief moments, the American people had their attention
diverted to the utter chaos and suffering in Haiti following
a devastating earthquake. Before the earthquake, Haiti was the
poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Now it is even poorer.
Most scholars agree that the problems with delivering aid to
Haiti, and the slim chance of a healthy recovery from this latest
disaster, can be blamed on bad governance . In the case of Haiti,
bad governance is a simplified term, generalizing its long history
of dictatorships, corrupt politicians, and oligarchic control
of the nation that concentrates fifty percent of its wealth to
one percent of its population.
In his epic 1966 novel "The Comedians", author Graham
Greene detailed the strategies of the dictator "Papa Doc"
Duvalier to maintain total control over Haiti's people and its
economy. While this book is fiction, it could be likened to a
textbook for the modern systemic use of terror to exert control
over nations. In the book, Duvalier's secret police, the TonTon
Macoute operated as henchmen and criminals by night, and then
would don their uniforms and protect the frightened population
during the day. Not surprisingly, Graham Greene's novel was villified
and forbidden by the Haitian dictator.
Haiti is just one example of many poor nations that owe their
poverty to the wealth hoarding habits of oligarchic government.
While the wealthy people of Haiti are not necessarily rich by
American standards, in their own nation they are at the top of
the food chain. They cannot stand the notion of allowing access
to commerce or opportunity to newcomers. Innovation is stifled,
trade is restricted, and the rich stash their money in tax free
offshore bank accounts, and the poor; well, you get the picture.
Taking this example into historical context, Haiti's world didn't
start with a oligarchic dictatorship.
Centuries earlier, it was a thriving agricultural economy that
supported its population in relative comfort. So it is with many
other nations that somehow have fallen into the abyss of bad
As we contemplate the disaster in Haiti in the relative comfort
of our own land of abundance, we might also consider the similarities
that have evolved in our own system of governance. In the past
decade, a several-fold increase in wealth has concentrated in
a tiny few individuals, while a larger and larger portion of
our population is either unemployed, or without a pension, or
without health care. The rise of corporatism has allowed a few
corporate entities, or more precisely, a few wealthy individuals,
to own public policy. Their modus operandi is by campaign contributions,
employment of politicians and lobbyists, and no-bid government
contract awards. A trillion dollars was spent on the war on terror
alone, much of it going to companies with political connections
like Halliburton Inc.
Thanks to corporatism in our government, the Federal Trade Commission
stopped enforcing antitrust law, allowing companies like ATT
and Microsoft and Blue Cross and Bank of America to get bigger
and bully consumers and force out competitors like never before.
The Securities and Exchange Commission stopped enforcing insider
trading laws, which allowed people like Abraham Madoff and countless
others to defraud millions of Americans of their pension funds.
While our public debt escalated to a level never seen by any
nation in history, a few executives running companies that a
few months ago were rescued for bankruptcy by taxpayers are now
collecting billions of dollars each in bonuses. The recent 5
to 4 decision by the corporatist-leaning Supreme Court to strike
down the McCain-Feingold Act will further our decline down this
path. According to this bare- majority decision, the constitution
protects the rights of a few billionaires to corrupt our government
and decimate the U.S economy for their own personal enrichment.
By any measure, our government and our economy is beset by corruption
on a grander scale than ever imagined in Haiti or anywhere else.
Adverse consequences most certainly will follow, and they will
probably not be shared by the wealthy few American billionaires
living off their Swiss bank accounts. The corporations they were
entrusted with running will be jettisoned as mere nameplates
while their former employees and future generations will somehow
be held accountable to rescue a bankrupt federal treasury.
A natural disaster such as
the Haiti earthquake can strike any of us at any time. Hopefully
the Haitian government will someday rise in its consciousness
to better protect its citizens in such a time of need.
In the meantime I hope all
who are able will give generously to non-profit agencies to
ease the suffering of the Haitian people.
About: "Ketchikan resident
who spent his childhood in several oligarchic countries in Latin
Received January 27, 2009 -
Published January 28, 2010
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