Raising the BarrSince 1992, the United States government has sent close to $3 billion in aid to the nation of Haiti, and after the recent earthquake decimated an already decrepit economy, the international community has responded with an outpouring of support.

Benefit concerts have been held, community outreach programs initiated and school aid projects have been fervently supported by those wanting to help the citizens of Haiti.

But what many donors and supporters of the “Help Haiti” initiative don’t realize is that what may help the Haitian people in the short term may in fact do nothing to pull Haiti out of its current technologically stagnant and politically putrescent state.

It has been less than two weeks since President Obama promised a preliminary $100 million in aid, and already that estimate has been more than tripled, totaling more than $317 million at the last count conducted by the Associated Press . Needless to say, we’re sending a lot of immediate aid.

The question at hand is simply, why?

Why is it the responsibility of the United States to give aid to Haiti? Sure, people are suffering, but people suffer all over the world. There are even those who are still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina in the American south, in our own backyard.
 The heart-wrenching pictures we see of small, sad children sitting in rubble and elderly people sleeping by the side of the road are not exclusively Haitian, nor are they solely the sequela of an earthquake. The conditions we have been exposed to (as a result of the massive media blitz on Haiti) are symptoms of a larger, inveterate syndrome.

Suffering exists everywhere on earth. It is naive to suggest that we could even begin to stop the misery that millions across the globe endure on a daily basis.

Indeed, we are a nation afflicted with attention-deficit disorder, as well as a severe prioritization problem.  When disaster strikes Haiti, we immerse ourselves in an immediate aid effort that, though well intentioned, will have little to no lasting impact upon the county’s future.

The monetary pittance that is being thrown at the Haitian government by our government will do nothing towards the infrastructural development that the nation truly needs.
In terms of U.S. governmental aid, the Associated Press reports that for every dollar, 40 cents goes to U.S. military operations (search and rescue, etc), 36 cents goes to disaster assistance (generators, hygiene kits), a little over 10 cents goes to food, while getting the food to the Haitian people costs another 10.5 cents.
The Obama Administration wants to use another 1.5 cents to pay Haitians to work, and another .5 cents to fund Dominican Republic Haitian refugee hospitals. Out of every U.S. governmental dollar of aid, only 1 cent goes to the government, the entity responsible for the long run well being of the nation.
If Haiti had been fundamentally stronger, with a stable government and a functioning economy, the breakdown of governmental control after the quake (and consequential chaos, panic, and suffering) would not have been as severe.

Unless President Obama intends on making a long-term military commitment to the region, like declaring Haiti a U.S. protectorate, governmental monetary emphasis should be put on rebuilding the government, not just throwing aid packages to the populace and high-tailing it back across the Atlantic. 

 In terms of private aid, the “trend” of donating that has taken over prime time television, as well as our school hallways, does even less.

While I extol the efforts of our community organizers and school administration for trying to bring together the school and the community in the spirit of good will, the money that we give privately suffers even more encumbrances than governmental aid.

Private aid organizations don’t have the resources (or have to pay more) to provide protection for their aid against looters and corrupt officials, as well as an efficient means of dispensing that aid.

We need to stop reacting to Haiti’s problems and adopt a proactive approach towards economic stabilization. But how is this accomplished? How is it possible to “seed” an economy for economic success? The answer lies in business, American business.

For years, Haiti has been experiencing a “brain drain;” thousands of skilled and educated Haitians have fled the nation and have requested asylum in the United States, asylum which we have granted.

This and other factors have resulted in Haiti’s perpetual abject poverty, driving the country’s annual budget down to approximately 1/3 the size of Cook County’s.  

 The initiation of incentives for private development would begin to reverse the “brain drain,” offering tax credits to American businesses that invest in Haiti. These investments would create a framework for the infrastructural stability that Haiti has not seen since the 1920s (when we occupied them).

The real solution lies in moving away from the government-to-government aid that has become custom, to industrial tax credits, allowing for the widespread dispersal of more capital, without increasing taxpayer costs.

 The inefficiencies of government-to government aid, like mismanagement, corruption would be drastically cut back, and through tax credits, infrastructure, and institutions vital to sustained economic development could exist, and most importantly, perpetuate.

 If American companies are granted tax breaks and subsidies to operate and/or invest in Haiti, drawing off the native labor pool and providing incentives for the “lost generation” of Haitian innovators to return, perhaps working for American businesses, the Haitian economy will grow and flourish, while still retaining a dependence on U.S. businesses- a win-win situation for the United States and the People of Haiti.

 The most that we can do for Haiti is to not fuel the delusion that the $5 that we drop into a can at school makes any real difference to the people of Haiti in the long run, at least under our current system of aid dispersal.

If you truly want to make a difference in the lives of the Haitian people of today and tomorrow, invest in U.S. companies with ties to Haiti, and continue to strive for policy involves businesses in the aid process, businesses that draw from the Haitian workforce and stimulate the Haitian economy as well as our own.