This is Chile, not Haiti

by on March 2, 2010 at 6:33 am in Current Affairs, Education, Political Science | Permalink

"There is a certain lawlessness in this country that the government enabled," he said in Spanish. "They don't protect people and people don't respect them and criminal elements get out of control. People also have a high sense of entitlement. They expected the government to have water and power and things under control."

There is much more at the link or try this tweet: "The situation in Concepción is deteriorating. Citizens have taken up arms to defend themselves and their stores. 8 PM to 12 PM Army curfew."  By no means is it just a bunch of people trying to feed themselves: "…many residents in the most damaged areas have not only taken food from supermarkets, but also robbed banks, set fires and engaged in other forms of lawlessness."

Haiti, on the other hand, remains fairly orderly and there have been reports that police corruption has gone down significantly

One implication here is that I fundamentally distrust the use of "social trust" or "social capital" indicators in cross-country growth regressions.  Repeat three times after me: context-dependence, context-dependence, context-dependence.  The lessons for social science run deep.

My deeper worry is that this event will change Chile and set it back more than the damage alone would indicate.  It will alter their self-image and national unity could decline.  An alternative story is that Chile will become more progressive, as there will be greater common knowledge of income divisions and it will be harder to pretend everything is just fine.

Maybe it is a sign of social health to have some looting after an earthquake.  In this part of blogland we do not dismiss the counterintuitive conclusion out of hand.  For instance perhaps Haiti is so orderly because a) looters would be killed on the spot, and b) the entire fate of the nation is at stake and thus every small event is taken very seriously.  Neither factor is exactly good news.

Tom T. March 2, 2010 at 6:56 am

There’s likely fewer luxury goods to be looted in Haiti. And the fact that people are stealing TVs in Chile rather than food is an indicator of how well the basic infrastructure in Chile survived; there’s less danger of starvation.

Note too the reference to the looters being organized, which makes it sound like this is opportunistic gang violence. That’s going on in Haiti too.

E. Barandiaran March 2, 2010 at 7:47 am

As I told you yesterday in a comment to one of your posts: the Chilean state has traditionally been inept. Actually its ineptness is the main reason for Chile not to be yet a developed country (in the past four years CODELCO the state enterprise running large copper mines earned and transferred to Treasury close to 28 billion dollars and they have saved quite a lot but also wasted a lot). Concerning the earthquake, they were not ready at all in the third largest city of the country, and as usual government officials have been giving all kinds of stupid excuses for their terrible performance. In addition, you should remember that the Bachelet lefty government has been reluctant to use of the military for any purpose (except parades to celebrate national holidays).

Tori in DC March 2, 2010 at 7:52 am

On context dependent — I agree. Human behavior is economic behavior — neither good nor bad (in whatever moral system you adhere to) — just economic. The context varies but the competition for resources is constant. This is what it is to be human.

john March 2, 2010 at 8:59 am

Chile is an authoritarian place. The police are largely a national force, deployable like the Army. Lots of aviator sunglasses and automatic weapons. The atmosphere harkens back to Pinochet. It wasn’t too long ago that people were being pushed out of airplanes over the ocean by their secret police.

ZH March 2, 2010 at 9:20 am

Come one Tyler, you missed the most obvious thing. Chile has looting simply because there is what to loot. Haiti was extremely poor before, and then was totally and completely destroyed. Chile was relatively wealthy, and a very good portion of the country came out reasonably intact given the magnitude of the earthquake. Since there is what to loot, people will do it. The looting seems to me to be more like the stories my father told about the 1977 blackout in NY with a good amount looting for a short period of time, but no long term effects on the society overall.

CMc March 2, 2010 at 9:32 am

For a starker comparison, witness the behaviours of the populations in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami and that of Hurricane Katrina.
I think it has something to do with expectations. In the US following Katrina and now in Chile it seems there was an expectation that the state will provide. Not so much in Asia following the tsunami and now in Haiti.
I also think it might have something to do with to what extent and form individualism exits and takes. Individualism has a lot less going for it when the institutions that support it temporarily break down. I’ve not been to Haiti but my experience in much of south east Asia is that people at the local level look after each other as a matter of course because for each in the long run it is too costly not to. These thoughts trouble me deeply because if true go against much of what I “believe”.

John 4 March 2, 2010 at 9:57 am

Using only principles that severely restrict state sanctioned killings, it is possible to defend shooting looters on the spot. That’s what we did in the big SF earthquake (or fire…I can’t remember which). And the consequences were on balance pretty good: not very much looting. A good case can be made that widespread looting is very damaging to a society…once you’ve wantonly broken the law in a serious way, it is very difficult to get yourself back into a state where breaking “big” laws is not on the table. And if you’re constantly doing cost benefit analyses about whether to rob a bank or kill your mistress, then in an important sense you’re already a criminal, whether you end up committing the crimes or not. Put differently, it is very bad to have a significant portion of the population doing such analyses.

E. Barandiaran March 2, 2010 at 11:03 am

The Other Eric, you’re wrong about what happened yesterday in Concepción. As I said in a comment yesterday, the looting was grotesque and no business was spared from the tragedy–the looting was in Chile TV and I watched for a few hours how things developed. I’m not going to compare what happened yesterday in Concepción (and to a much lesser extent in a few other towns close to Concepción) with lootings in Haiti, Los Angeles and Detroit because the situations are quite different. I repeat: the main cause of the looting yesterday was the ineptness of the Chilean state, perhaps aggravated by the reluctance of the Bachelet lefty government to use the military.

CMc, you may be right about the difference between SE Asia and US/Chile, but I take your point to indicate the failure of SE Asia to have any government that people can trust and provide a foundation for development. In Chile, regardless of its traditional ineptness, people still trust that government somehow will provide relief to a national or local tragedy. At least in Chile, one should question why people still trust government (just to give you an idea of the ineptness of government to deal with earthquakes, please note that in the last two small earthquakes that hit northern Chile the government failed to provide emergency aid and then failed to deliver on several promises of reconstruction).

E. Barandiaran March 2, 2010 at 11:31 am

Apparently in the first 24 hours after the earthquakes of 1960 (Valdivia, Southern Chile) and 1985 (Algarrobo, central Chile), the military were given the responsibility of providing security and there was no looting. If this is so, it will be evidence that at least in relation to looting, the reluctance to call the troops has been more important that the traditional ineptness of the Chilean government.

jimbino March 2, 2010 at 12:06 pm

“An alternative story is that Chile will become more progressive….” really means to say “An alternative story is that Chile will become more socialist (or statist).” There is nothing progressive about stealing wealth and income from some and “distributing” it to others.

T. Shaw March 2, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Someone ought to read today’s WSJ piece by Bret Stephens.

In Haiti over 200,000 people were tragically killed. In Chile, the tragic number was below 800. The Chilean earthquake was far stronger than the Haitian.

Here are some take-aways:

“In 1973, the year the proto-Chavista government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Chile was an economic shambles. Inflation topped out at an annual rate of 1000%, foreign-currency reserves were totally depleted, and per capita GDP was roughly that of Peru and well below Argentina’s.

“Chile had intellectual capital, thanks to an exchange program between its Catholic University and the economics department of the University of Chicago, then Friedman’s academic home. Even before the 1973 coup, several of Chile’s “Chicago Boys” had drafted a set of policy proposals which amounted to an off-the-shelf recipe for economic liberalization: sharp reductions to government spending and the money supply; privatization of state-owned companies; the elimination of obstacles to free enterprise and foreign investment, and so on.

“As for Chile, Pinochet appointed a succession of Chicago Boys to senior economic posts. By 1990, the year he ceded power, per capita GDP had risen by 40% (in 2005 dollars) even as Peru and Argentina stagnated. Pinochet’s democratic successors—all of them nominally left-of-center—only deepened the liberalization drive. Result: Chileans have become South America’s richest people. They have the continent’s lowest level of corruption, the lowest infant-mortality rate, and the lowest number of people living below the poverty line.

“Chile also has some of the world’s strictest building codes. That makes sense for a country that straddles two massive tectonic plates. But having codes is one thing, enforcing them is another. The quality and consistency of enforcement is typically correlated to the wealth of nations. The poorer the country, the likelier people are to scrimp on rebar, or use poor quality concrete, or lie about compliance. In the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, thousands of children were buried under schools also built according to code.”

Were Chile to devolve into a copy of progressive Zimbabwe, Venezuela or Nicaragua under the Sandinistas – because of a couple thousand looters in Concepcion – that would be a long lasting tragedy.

Arguably, Pinochet saved his people from the bolshevists.

farmer March 2, 2010 at 11:34 pm

other eric: chile has “out” groups, called mapuche. they are what we would call “indians”. perhaps e. bar can tell us, but i bet we find looting along these lines

also: why is looting a problem? if my store is in an earthquake, my insurance company writes off my wares as a loss. if someone sifts through and finds something intact, from whom did he steal?

CSolberg March 3, 2010 at 7:19 am

John 4: If you had bothered to read up on the history of the SF earthquake, you would know that what looting and violence occurred was pretty much equally spread between civilians on the one hand and army, National Guard and police forces on the other. Philip Fradkin is the guy to read in that regard.

Furthermore, the definition of looting you seem to imply in your post is so narrow as to beggar belief. If your house is destroyed and you have no basic amenities, do you consider it looting if you take food, water or medicine from a supermarket in order to survive?

POWInca: Pinochet and the Chicago Boyz de-regulated and decentralised the regulatory apparatus that had ensured that buildings built after the ’39 and ’60 earthquakes in Chile were compliant with what were and are some of the best seismic building codes in the world. Read Sebastian Gray in the NYT (if you dare tread on that lefty ground):

Quote:” Saddened as I am by the loss of life and landmarks, I am scandalized by the few modern structures that crumbled, those spectacular exceptions you keep seeing on the TV news. The economic bonanza and development frenzy of the last decades have clearly allowed a degree of relaxation of the proud building standards of this country. That’s likely why some new urban highway overpasses, built by private companies with government concessions, are now rubble. It’s a sobering lesson for the neoliberalism favored for the past 35 years, and a huge economic and cultural setback for the country.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/02/opinion/02sgray.html

Lauren March 3, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Obviously something is going wrong for people to be looting everything, not just things they’d need to survive. Soledad O’Brien from CNN is quoted in this video (http://bit.ly/ces7ky) saying that she talked to some people who are looting because they’re angry that Chile didn’t respond quickly enough. I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about entitlement!

CSolberg March 4, 2010 at 7:16 am

wef: have you got any data that contradicts Gray’s assertion? If not, you’re the one guilty of agit-prop.

Andrew Sansone March 4, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Did you hear about this? A Haitian family who moved to Chile following the Haiti earthquake has survived the Chile quake as well. Unbelievable! I covered it on my show today. http://bit.ly/9Tl8dd

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