this post uses naughty words

Wow. Just … wow. John Stossel on Haiti:

George Mason University Economist Don Boudreaux again opens my brain to what should have been obvious:

(T)he Haitian earthquake killed tens of thousands of people. But the quake that hit California’s Bay Area in 1989 was also of magnitude 7.0. It killed only 63 people. This difference is due chiefly to Americans’ greater wealth. With one of the freest economies in the world, Americans build stronger homes and buildings, and have better health-care and better search and rescue equipment. In contrast, burdened by one of the world’s least-free economies, Haitians cannot afford to build sturdy structures. Nor can they afford the health-care and emergency equipment that we take for granted here in the U.S.

These stark facts should be a lesson for those who insist that human habitats are made more dangerous, and human lives put in greater peril, by freedom of commerce and industry.

Economic freedom saves lives. The ultimate tragedy in Haiti was not the earthquake. It was Haiti’s lack of economic freedom. That tragedy plays out every day in most of the third world.

I knew I wanted to comment on this the minute I read it, but it took me a few minutes to calm down before I could write anything more substantial than “Dear John Stossel, fuck you.”

Leaving aside for the moment that Stossel has taken a nearly incomprehensible tragedy and used it to make his childishly inane argument for “free markets”, we have the fact that he’s so incredibly, infuriatingly wrong.

The implication that Haiti lacks a “free” market is laughable. Haiti’s economy is “free”, in a sense, to the extent that Haiti exists in a nightmarish mire of post-colonial chaos. (I won’t use the word “anarchy” here, for obvious reasons.) The only plausibly accurate sentence above is “This difference is due chiefly to Americans’ greater wealth”. Anyone want to take a guess why Haiti is so wretchedly poor? No? I’ll give you a hint: it has a lot to do with the aforementioned oh-so-very “free” economy Boudreaux puts on a pedestal — the good ol’ U S of A, among others. In what alternate universe does Stossel live where the US has a “free” economy, anyway? Also, there’s the ultimate irony in the example he cites as the result of the free economy at work: San Francisco, California, liberal mecca and refuge to latte-sipping bureaucrats everywhere. Two words, dude: building codes.

Haiti is a truly, truly fucked up country. There is indeed a lot we could learn from this tragedy, and it would have nice maybe if America could be bothered to give two shits about Haiti before tens of thousands of people died at once. But to hold the US up as a shining example of economic purity that the Haitians should aspire? It’s so deeply offensive and ignorant of history I don’t even know where to start. Maybe I should have just stopped at “fuck you”.

  • bob

    It’s simplistic to blame Haiti’s problems on the USA, or the first world nations, or the colonial powers, or whatever. Sure, those things contributed, but Haiti grew a lot of its own troubles at home. To a large degree, for instance, their revolution replaced one race-based heirarchy of socio-economic power with a different one that was no more enlightened by the first. There have been, over the centuries, many contributing factors to Haiti’s troubles.

  • bob

    Oh, uh, also I recognize that you were not trying to lay sole blame at the feet of the USA. We’re seeing a lot of similar commentary these days, though, and I think it’s worth not leaving unsaid that there are Other Factors, which commentators tend to.

  • winston

    Yeah, I think that would have encapsulated it. The last part, that is.

  • Jim Boyd

    It looks like the ‘Blame America First’ crowd is out in full force today.

  • bob

    If you look around a bit, Jim, I think you’ll find that there’s quite a bit of the internet that’s NOT Chris’s blog, so in grand scheme of things this post isn’t really a “crowd in full force” sort of thing.

  • Jon

    >But the quake that hit California’s Bay Area in 1989 was also of magnitude 7.0. It killed only 63 people.

    As I understand it, there was also one teeny difference that he’s ignoring — the brunt of the Bay Area quake hit a sparsely populated area.

  • Southern Beale

    Wow, add Stossel’s asshattery to the nonsense we’ve heard from Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh and the rest. Dear conservatives: next global natural disaster, please refrain from using it to support your crackpot ideology. Consider keeping your yaps shut, you’re just embarrassing yourselves.

  • Kathryn

    Building codes make a huge difference in property damage, mortality, and morbidity in the face of natural disasters. Of course, building codes are also a prime example of government regulation, which as we all know acts solely as a jackboot on the necks of decent hardworking people. So, uh, yeah, John; I don’t think “free market” means what you think it means.

  • Scavenger

    Wait I’m still looking through Stossel’s article and the original letter to find the details of how Haiti’s economy is less ‘free’ than ours. It’s got to be in here, or else the whole debate has no basis and is a total waste of time. I’ll find it eventually.

  • t. rev

    On the building code issue: Haiti doesn’t have the history of earthquakes that the SF bay area does; in a world where Haiti were as prosperous as California, the local building codes would still not be as stringent in that respect. (On the other hand, you’d expect them to be a lot more hurricane-tolerant.)

  • emma

    Well, the *epicenter* was in a sparsely populated area, but because of geological differences, I think the effects were more widely distributed. I heard a commentator in Haiti say that if you went as little as 40 miles outside of Port-au-Prince, there were cities with virtually no damage. If that is indeed true, the radius of fairly severe property damage was larger in the Loma Prieta quake. Speaking as a Bay Area native, I think types of buildings and safety codes are a huge factor. A number of brick edifices in downtown Santa Cruz pretty much fell over, foundations of homes in the mountains (closer to the epicenter) were severely messed up — but because of earthquake safety codes, the buildings themselves didn’t completely collapse like what we’re seeing in Haiti. A lot of the buildings in Port-au-Prince that were so completely destroyed were multi-story buildings of unreinforced concrete, which just can’t withstand much.

  • wrog

    actually Haiti sits on a plate boundary that is every bit as active as the San Andreas (hint: there’s a reason Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles [with its 15 active volcanos) are lined up the way they are) if not more so. Haiti had an 8.1 in 1946, which is both more recent and bigger than the big predecessor to Loma Prieta (the 7.8 San Francisco quake in 1906), so,… um,… no.