Why is Haiti so poor?

I'm not interested in talking about Greg Clark or making comparisons to the West; if need be compare it to other black Caribbean nations, such as Jamaica or Barbados.  It's much worse and in terms of social indicators it is also worse than many places in Africa.  Why?  Here a few hypotheses (NB: I don't endorse all of them):

1. Haiti cut its colonial ties too early, rebelling against the French in the early 19th century and achieving complete independence.  Guadaloupe and Martinique are still riding the gravy train and French aid is a huge chunk of their gdps.

2. Haiti was a French colony in the first place and French colonies do less well.

3. Sugar cane gave Haiti some early characteristics of "the resource curse," dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.

4. Haiti was doing OK until the Duvaliers destroyed civil society, thus putting the country on a path toward destruction.  It is a more or less random one-time event which wrecked the place.

5. Hegel was correct that the "voodoo religion," with its intransitive power relations among the gods, was prone to producing political intransitivity as well.  (Isn't that a startling insight for a guy who didn't travel the broader world much?)

6. For reasons peculiar to the history of the slave trade, Haitian slaves came from many different parts of Africa and thus Haitian internal culture has long had lower levels of cohesion and cooperation.  (The former point about the mix is true, but the cultural point is speculation.)

7. Haiti has higher than average levels of polygamy (but is this cause or effect?)

8. In the early to mid twentieth century, Haiti was poorly situated to attract Chinese and other immigrants, unlike say Jamaica or Trinidad.  It is interesting that many of the wealthiest families in Haiti are Lebanese, such as the Naders.

Overall I don't find this set of possible factors very satisfactory.  Is it asking too much to wish for an economics profession that is obsessed with such a question?

If you are looking for some cross-sectional variation to ponder, consider the fate of Haitians in Suriname (they make up a big chunk of the population there), Haiti vs. Santiago, Cuba, pre-Castro of course, or why early Haitian migrants to Montreal have done better than later migrants to Miami and Brooklyn.


Haiti also suffered from a great deal of discrimination in its earlier history. European nations constantly tried to take it over (to end the bad precedent of a successful slave revolt) and to take over the rich sugar.

The US and Europe also refused to trade with Haiti for a long while for similar reasons (though US recognition and trade flip-flopped with administrations).

Sugar also wasn't quite as easy to grow profitably without slavery, but especially without regular and steady markets to ship to (and hence allow specialization in sugar, since food shipments are relatively guaranteed).

I was also going to say that Haiti was isolated by its revolution. Western nations were very frightened of black slave revolts, and so they minimized interaction with Haiti. The isolation probably caused a lot of economic and cultural problems.

Regarding point 6, I wasn't aware that the Haitian slave population was measurably different from that of other Caribbean islands. It is interesting that the less cohesive group managed a successful slave revolt.

So, this is kind of embarrassing, but I can't figure out what point 5 means:

5. Hegel was correct that the "voodoo religion," with its intransitive power relations among the gods, was prone to producing political intransitivity as well. (Isn't that a startling insight for a guy who didn't travel the broader world much?)

What is the meaning of the word "intransitive" in this context?

Funny. I googled the exact title of this blog post no more than an hour ago.

As for why Haitians migrants in Montreal did better than in the US, well, Quebec has better social policies than the US, we speak the same language, and we are not racists against black people as in the US.

What about detrimental US interventions in Haiti? Does not that fact have something to do with Haiti's struggles?

Going back more than one or two generations isn't all that instructive for finding causes of their present destitution. Nations just as poor have turned themselves around in mere decades.

As per Hazlitt in The Conquest of Poverty, it is most likely a problem of too little fixed capital. This obviously stems from a lack of property rights. That, in turn, can be seen as a consequence of:

- poor education
- poor health/malnutrition

Starving people obviously don't care if food belongs to someone else. Survival instincts supersede the social conscience. And even if there are educational resources provided, gathering food/clean water is of greater importance.

So what's the solution? Giving food and medicine obviously helps in the immediate term. But it does nothing to improve the nation's long term prospects. And it may even disincentivize locals from accumulating the necessary capital goods to produce their own. Giving capital goods doesn't help much either, because villagers don't have the wherewithal to maintain them (or protect them from scavengers).

The Darwinian side of me suggests that crisis must deepen before society unites itself enough to provide a legal framework conducive to private property rights. I wish there were easier answers.

Jared Diamond has a good discussion of this in Collapse. His theory is that it's because they cut down all their trees and destroyed their environment. He compares Haiti to the Dominican Republic, just on the other side of the same island. He says that Haitian loggers regularly cross over into DR to do illegal logging.

There's a fascinating chapter (11) in Jared Diamond's book "Collapse" which compares Haiti and the Dominican Republic, specifically the way in which each country has utilized it's natural resources in the past, mainly forests, and the impact that has had on its current economic situation. A few relevant points taken from the book:

- 28% of the Dominican Republic is covered by forest. Only 1% of Haiti has trees.

- Deforestation in Haiti has resulted in loss of timber (for both building and for cooking), soil erosion, loss of soil fertility, sediment loads in rivers (resulting in poor drinking water quality), loss of watershed protection and decreased rainfall.

- Haiti is the poorest country in the New World, and one of the poorest outside of Africa

- Dominican Republic is also poor, but per-capita income there is 5 times that of Haiti. Population density and growth rate are lower than in Haiti.

Diamond looks at colonial background of both countries, and many of the issues you discuss above Tyler. The "Natural Experiments" book linked above by tomharvey looks really interesting, as it is also edited by Diamond. Perhaps there's more detail there.

from my time on both sides of Hispaniola, I can safely say that I have never seen a more racist place in my life. The prevailing Dominican view of the Haitians is appalling. I can only fear the strife that will be caused in the DR by the upcoming Haitian influx.

At least in biological systems, polygamy tends to follow unequal distribution of resources, not lead it. I doubt it's a relevant factor in Haiti's economic state.

via Rachel Maddow's Facebook page: Evangelist Pat Robertson says Haiti is cursed because of a deal it made
with the devil to get freedom from the French (at the six-minute mark).


"True story!" he says.

Your first 5 points are correct in its assessment. A week ago, my family (we are Haitian btw) went to a friend's house for dinner and of course, the issue of Haiti came about. We basically came up with the exact same hypotheses as you did. However, you need to also include the whole issue of caste system which is prevalent in most Caribbean and Latin states and the problem of colorism which is intertwined with the former. The more the economic power stays in the hand of the light skinned population, which is a minority, the greater the inequality will deepened. Believe me, Tyler, I have pondered on the question of Haiti's poverty for a long time and still haven't found the answer

I'd like to 2nd the powerful argument in Collapse. The general argument is that civilizations who cut down all their trees in environments where regrowth is slow tend to collapse. It can even explain the movement of the center of western civilization from Iraq to Greece to Italy... and then up to Europe where rainfall was plentiful enough to survive the mistake of deforestation.

The Diamond thesis is available at this site: http://www.theglobalist.com/StoryId.aspx?StoryId=4776

And you can use Google Maps to see the comparison.

Pat Robertson thinks it's because the Haitians sold themselves to the devil:

Just a quick laugh. Notice he doesn't cite his source for the "true story."

So Haiti's poverty seem to be entirely blamed on evil westerners. At some point doesn't a failed society have to take some responsibility for itself?

This is a joke. Many nations have been treated much worse than Haiti by war, fate, and other nations -- and yet have risen to provide a decent standard of living to their people.

Haiti is Haiti primarily due to poor choices by Haitians.

I don't have a deep knowledge of the place, but at least this item from the Wikipedia page is striking:

"In July 1825, the king of France Charles X sent a fleet of fourteen vessels and troops to reconquer the island. To maintain independence, President Boyer agreed to a treaty by which France recognized the independence of the country in exchange for a payment of 150 million francs (the sum was reduced in 1838 to 90 million francs) - an indemnity for profits lost from the slave trade."

also, one can count how many foreign interventions/attempts to invade and coups the country had, besides the Duvaliers.

also, i find your number 1 argument repulsive. The fact that Guadaloupe and Martinique survive on Frech aid is not an argument for colonialism - but rather a sad consequnce that they did not manage to develop by themselves and still depend on France for their survival.

I'm sure the Tonton Macoute helped with development.

Haiti was not just any sugar-producing slave island. It was the biggest sugar producing slave island. As a result, Haiti had a least three different strikes against it from the beginning:
1. Haiti had the largest and wealthiest free-black/mulatto population among the islands.
2. Independence came about as part of a three-way struggle (White/French vs. free-black/mulatto vs. slave).
3. It depended on sugar production over the last 199 years (199 years in which northern hemsiphere countries have subsidized local production of sugar and pseudo-substitutes for sugar).

Number one and number two are obviously connected. When the slave uprising first began, free-blacks and mulattos joined the colonials is opposing it. They only switched sides when Napoleon's forces stopped differentiating between free-blacks and slaves. Their swich turned the tide of the war and brought independence, but the former slave population never trusted the mulatto and free-black elite and this division undermined governance for decades (if not longer).

As for subsidies, just look at what happened to commodity prices in the first great age of globalization (1870 to 1914). In that period, many Latin American countries saw commodity prices increase (cotton, hides, tobacco) or at least stay steady (rice, coffee, cocoa). But sugar prices dropped in half in those years as many European countries and the United States saw the need to create a sugar beet industry. So Haiti lost out on their first chance to join the developing economies of the region. And they haven't been given another shot. In fact, I think that sugar-beets and corn syrup protection was one of the main factors that helped kill Doha. Sugar has just been the worst ticket in the world-commodity lottery.

So why is Haiti poor? Partly its their fault, and partly its the fault of the rich world.

GDP per capita of ex British colonies is higher than catholic spanish , portuguese ex colonies.
Trinidad ( $23600). An spanish colony until 1795. It was part of Venezuela (GDP per capita $12,800 )
Barbados $18,977-Mexico: $14,932
Honduras 1842- Belize: $4310( one beside the other)
Brazil $10551-Antigua $ $14,929
But Jamaica$5,335. A socialist government by a pro castrist politician in the 70s
And the Neth. Antilles $17,837

Judy Cross the Dominican Republic was invaded by US Marines at least twice and its situation is not as drastic as Haiti's.

I think that James Davies presents very important points about the use of natural resources and the protection of said resources. The French set a precedent of destruction on a side of the island that was already more prone to desert type environment. Land usable for agriculture as a percentage of total land mass was much smaller than the Dominican side. Unfortunately sugar cane fields destroyed Haiti's limited forests and later investments in cattle ranching continued the assault. There is a reason why Haiti was one of the largest sugar producers in the world given that every inch available was planted without regard to the effects on the environment by French authorities.

In the 1980s while living in the Dominican Republic I remember President Balaguer instituting two programs that I believe saved the country from a similar fate. He forbade the cutting down of ANY TREE in any place by anyone without approval from local authorities. I remember that the Department of Natural Resources was headed by military colonels who were extremely inflexible and feared by city people and peasant alike. When fumigating their crops people actually feared a nearby tree accidentally being killed and the authorities assuming they had done it on purpose.

A second measure he took was the subsidizing of propane gas and the government actually gave away millions of small stoves and tanks to citizens of rural areas so that they would stop chopping down trees in order to cook their meals.

These simple steps as well as continuous reforestation projects in the DR have had significant effects on the environment. It seems that when France finally left Haiti the damage to their environment was either irreversible or the attitude of the people and the government was indifferent to the problem.

I think it is also important to note that Haiti's ratio of slave to free man was about 20 to 1 whereas other countries had more balanced populations and more mixing among them. I would not be surprised if most of the educated people in the country (as slaves received no education) simply picked up and left after the country gained independence, causing a massive brain drain.

"and we are not racists against black people as in the US."

It's really cute that you believe both of these things on a broad scale.

It's also good to see that Maddow continues to be on top of the really important facets of this disaster, as always.

My take on conservative objections to Avatar is that those objections primarily revolve around the blatant anti-American/American military caricatures, and the director's own admissions about same.

"perhaps Canada could be a good choice given the common language, relative proximity (compared to France) and the very large number of haïtians living in Canada."

The mythology Canadians have constructed for themselves is sometimes astonishing. Yes, Canada is surely free of a racist, plundering past - and present. Very different from bad old America.

Moving past that neverending conceit and on to the issue, to me the question is not "why is Haiti so poor" but, in the context of its history, "why wouldn't it be?"

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it," he said on Christian Broadcasting Network's "The 700 Club." "They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal."

Robertson said that "ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other" and he contrasted Haiti with its neighbor, the Dominican Republic.

This must be true if Pat said it.

Not that it's the main cause, or even one of the biggest, but I'm sure it hasn't helped much that Haiti is routinely blasted to smithereens by tropical storms. I think it was just last year, or the year before, that Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike all hammered Haiti in a single month.

Especially problematic when combined with Haiti's deforestation problems.

IIRC Haiti's problems long pre-date US interventions and certainly the swine killing.

The money to France, the dependence on a plantation economy, the isolation of Haiti by other powers afraid of slave revolts couldn't have helped Haiti. But what about the language issue?

In how many other nations is the language of the masses so different from the language of political power? In many places the common dialect is different than the official language, but in general common people can understand the official language well enough to be able to figure out legal matters (well apart from the legalese, etc.) and so forth.

But what good would property rights, rule of law and the like (which seem necessary to a successful society) be in Haiti when most people can't even understand the language of the government: French and Creole are hardly even dialects of the same language.

This is an interesting explanation (from Ben Smith at Politico):

The Rev. Pat Robertson, on his CBN broadcast today, offered his own explanation of the earthquake in Haiti:

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it," he said. "They were under the heel of the French ... and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.'

"True story. And the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal,'" Robertson said. "Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another.

Attempting to understand why a nation does poorly is as
frustrating as following the demise of a disfunctional child;
Generally speaking, he human condition is far too complex to
analyze to a logical conclusion. I suspect though, that If one
positive element doesn't exist, a surplus of another will cancel
it out and In the balance of innumerable factors (work ethic,
tolerance, justice, natural resources, etc.) it's simply a matter
of a maintaining a positive balance.

While racism in Canada wasn't as rampant or extreme as in the US, you are either ignorant or brainwashed to think that Canada is/was not racist. Ever heard of the Chinese head tax, Indian residential schools, Japanese internment camps during WWII, Ukrainian internment camps during WWI, and "voluntary" segregation?. I guess you also missed that whole Bouchard-Taylor commission on "reasonable accommodation" that took place in your province way back all those years ago, in 2007. Here's a refresher: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/montreal/story/2007/10/24/qc-herouxville1024.html

The original Haitian immigrants that settled in Montreal were relatively few in number. They came at a time when Quebec separatism was peaking and when the vast majority of immigrants to Quebec chose English as their first official language. Haitians were a novelty because they settled in working class French neighborhoods like Little Burgundy and learned French rather than English and, like the Algerians in France, took up jobs that Quebecers didn't want to do. Successive immigrants from Haiti have fared significantly less well than previous entrants. Once they began to form significant percentages of the population in the North Montreal and Ahuntsic neighborhoods, and as crime and street gang activity in those neighborhoods rose, all that Canadian gentility flew out the window.

The fact that Guadaloupe and Martinique survive on Frech aid is not an argument for colonialism - but rather a sad consequnce that they did not manage to develop by themselves and still depend on France for their survival.

They could survive and develop by themselves but why would they want that? They are very well developed and given that they are way overpopulated ... why would one want to lower living standard to himself just to be independent?

Over 30 coups in two hundred years has a bit to do with it. Haiti's pretty much been a corrupt violent kleptocracy of one form or another since the slave revolt, and it shows.

I second/third the curiosity regarding "intransitivity." Speaking mathematically, a rock-paper-scissors setup is an example of an intransitive relationship, but it is not the only kind. Another kind could be like: Ann is Bob's wife and tells him what to do, Bob is Charlie's boss and tells him what to do, but Ann has no clout over Charlie. I am not sure if one or both of these conceptions is what Tyler means, or something other than the mathematical notion.

I'm involved with an orphanage in Haiti. Deforestation in Haiti is just terrible. Want to see just how stark it is? Go to the link pasted below, and notice the obvious difference in green between Haiti (left) and the Dominican Republic. (right)

This difference is easy to see even when you zoom out for many miles.


Do we want to get into the concept that the average IQ in Haiti is 72 or is that beyond the pale and just too impolite? Every other reason seems represented.

Vanderleun, the contributions on this thread have only begun to scratch the surface of the myriad causal factors behind Haiti's relative political, social, and economic instability; cf., tori on land reform, dadanarchist on agricultural modes, etc. I'd suggest you reread some of them before declaring "ever other reason" represented -- which I take to mean exhausted.

And you know, call it political correctness if you like, but I do find your racial reductionism beyond the pale.

However, I'm sure there other forums available for you to "get into the concept that the average IQ in Haiti is 72." (By the way, that's not actually a concept.)

Deforestation can't be a satisfactory explanation by itself. The question "why deforestation occurred?" must be asked.

Was it was because property rights were poor so it was a useful source of income. Did it happened even though property rights were good? Was it initiated by the state?

Notice that laws against cutting down trees aren't present in developed countries. As far as I know, in Britain there were none even when it was a developing country in the 19th and 18th centuries.

Ah, yes the handful of Marines excuse. Poor guys, running all over the island, rounding up all the textbooks, mechanics tools, farm tractors and dumping them offshore. Those lethernecks did the same thing to Japan and look at that dump too.

I'd be inclined towards #3, with political economy effects that are still being felt. Wealthy elites that can live well off a country's resources have zero interest in any institutions - schools, roads, the rule of law - that would foster the development of the country outside their narrow resource sector. I remember in the early 90s, when the US imposed sanctions on Haiti to get rid of a brutal military govt (strongly supported by Jesse Helms btw), observers pointed out that the Haitian elites were quite happy with the sanctions because they could get an even bigger take from smuggling than they normally did from dominating Haiti's external trade - a classic case of govt-created rents fostering corruption, & with parallels in Saddam's Iraq. Now consider how something like that situation has prevailed throughout Haiti's history.

More data about the plunder of Haiti, it's resources and it's people by France and the USA.




Being forced to spend as much as 80 percent of its gdp servicing high-interest rate debt for most of its history as an independent nation?

"How could you leave out the fact that Haiti was occupied by the US Marines from 1915-1934?"

In the late 1960's I was in Naval ROTC. I recall the Marine Option instructor saying, "The Marine Corps made Haiti what it is today." I don't know that the statement is true, but it made me cringe even then.

Haiti has had an unfortunate history of outsiders continually interfering. From the beginning, as a slave state, where it was cheaper to import new slaves and let babies die rather than grow up, to the US and European horror at a successful slave revolt, there has been both a refusal to trade and ongoing interference, including occupation and exploitation.

Posted by: f at Jan 13, 2010 2:35:52 PM
Posted by: Mike at Jan 13, 2010 2:38:19 PM

Are two enlightned readers.

Haiti has too many people for the resources available. "Collapse" by Jared Diamond clearly explains why.

Diamond also addresses potential collapse of present day Australia and actual collapse of ancient societies such as found on Easter Island.

His prior book "Guns, Germs, and Steel" is worth reading if you want to understand why Western Europe became the dominant economic and political force over the last 1000 years.

Sustained ~10% economic growth is achievable (for third world countries, anyway) if the nation creates a suitable environment. See ref. China.

That works out to 16 years of growth for Haiti to reach where DR is now, or 22 years to catch it.

Next month marks the 24th anniversary of the overthrow of the Duvaliers.

In other words, Haiti could be where the Dominican Republic is now, even disregarding everything that happened prior to '86.

Jared Diamond in his book "Collapse" argues that environmental problems go a long way to explain the failure of Haiti when compared to the relative success of the Dominican Republic, both of which occupy the same island, Hispaniola. As I recall the soil is much worse on the eastern side of Hispaniola. An extraordinary book well worth reading.

Interesting that so many of the comments either blame the U.S. (hey, isn't everything our fault somehow?) or give credence to Jared Diamond's silly tree argument. To hear Diamond tell it, pretty much all the world's problems can be linked to cutting down trees, which leads one to wonder how on earth the almost completely denuded eastern U.S. of the 19th Century ever survived until now.

It would, indeed, be interesting to have a competent economic analysis detail the exact causes of Haiti's failures. It would probably conclude that like so many other dysfunctional societies, Haiti suffers from a dysfunctional culture enabled by well-intentioned but misguided foreign aid. Like so many African countries, the degree of ignorance, superstition, corruption, and filth in Haiti is difficult to fathom, yet foreign aid keeps the overlord class in power and allows the common people to stay alive just long enough to produce the next generation.

In a place where civil society is all but non-existent, this is what you end up with. Just look at Palestine.

Haiti is a good example of what government patronage can do to a country. The person who wrote about the lack of private property rights there also had a good point.

Also, Haiti has been a constant focus of do-gooder redistributionist experiments for almost a hundred years. In the last half-century, most of these have been overseen by the corrupt, kleptocratic UN. If you wonder about the fruit of socialism, look no further than Haiti.

Hang on...is Haiti still paying an indemnity to the French? Can we get confirmation on that? Because if it is, then it would seem the major problem is that Haiti never really stopped being a colony.

Deforestation and the resultant erosion and loss of topsoil are a major factor in Haitian poverty. Further, the connection between hillside construction and deforestation is direct and the amount of housing which has collapsed in the hillsides is staggering. While such hillside development and use of wood for charcoal is a contributor to deforestation, it probably could have been a sustainable contribution were it not for the loss of forest to colonial plantation farming and to loss of old-growth hardwoods to the "reparations", in the form of lumber, extracted by France from Haiti in the century after independence, as "compensation" and as a form of blackmail in return for France not re-invading militarily. Where did the Haitian forests go? In large part, they were used to furnish French homes.

Looking at the long term is of limited usefulness. Compare South Korea from 1953 to today, and post-Nuclear Japan from 1945 to today.

I would suggest we should look at corruption levels in the last 30-odd years. Environmental degradation, lack of capital and property rights, etc, can probably all be linked to corruption levels, at least in part.

The RCMP have been in Haiti for years trying to improve the quality of the local police, for exactly this reason. Several officers are now missing in the quake.

How could you leave out the fact that Japan was occupied by the US Marines from 1945-2009?

Because the US Marine occupation improved the lot of Haitians over what it had been before and after, Judy Cross. Particularly between the end of the anti-US rebellion in 1922 and the Great Depression in 1930, the place was getting it together: infrastructure improvements, increased literacy, public order, public health, economic growth. Google "Borno" and "Russell".

The occupation also happened to be racist, though, and that made it unpopular with the locals. It is better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.

As for how Haiti started: Dessalines invited the white population back to Haiti in 1803 and then ordered their massacre in 1805. Read the end of Lothrop Stoddard's "French Revolution in San Domingo", the year before the US invasion and still readily available at Google Books. That more than anything else, IMO, kept everyone sane out of the area until 1915.

....."and we are not racists against black people as in the US."

Hey, Pierre-Louis from Montreal, you really need to update your anti-American screed, have you ever noticed the color of our President? Want to point out a black politician in Canada or Quebac for that matter of any national prominence? Duh.

Pierre-Louis said...
"As for why Haitians migrants in Montreal did better than in the US, well, Quebec has better social policies than the US, we speak the same language, and we are not racists against black people as in the US."

I've never known a more racist population than that of French-speaking Quebec.

A single-channel resource structure has strangled Haiti since immediately after the revolution. Think Lord Acton, or proverbs like 'A Fish Rots from the Head.' This means corruption. For details, see chapter 5 of The Origin of Cultures (2009 -- see Amazon).

"The US has a black President and several other blacks in high positions. Canada has none and certainly Quebec is a very racist place."

The black, Haitian Governor General of Canada might disagree with you. She's the head of state and the Queen's representative in Canada:


The very people who lay the blame for Haiti's civic poverty at the feet of the "Western" world (more specifically the USA) would transform the west into Haiti if given the chance.

BTW Haiti was colonized by Europeans AND Africans.

- A Carib

The elephant in the room is heritable group differences in IQ. Yes, (1) is true and other points are true, but all they imply without stating is that Africans can't make it on their own -- definitely not to modern standards.

Sorry the truth is so horrifying we must cloak it in political correctness, but Haiti is the perfect case study. There were no African Hamiltons and Jeffersons and Franklins to found the country, there weren't lesser lights to carry it forward.

Self-selected, cream-of-the-crop successful Haitian immigrants do not rebut this basic truth.

Haiti is poor because it has bad domestic politics. Until they improve their politics, there will be no good decision making whether in economics, education, or infrastructure. Outside investment in Haiti will remain low. Bad government may be culturally ingrained since colonial times, but until they get good politics, they're doomed.

Regarding point 5, I would speculate the "intransitivity" described is this:

The petty gods of voodoo tradition are indifferent to humanity, follow no moral code, and respond only to bribes. Their power to harm is held greater than their power to help, such that the voodoo gods will only give power that they first take from somewhere else. So the voodoo sense of supernature is totally unlike the Catholic sense of supernature in which divine grace is unlimited, always given for good ends, and always given freely (not purchased).

A culture which practices voodoo is one in which personal success is attributed to one's ability to manipulate said petty gods into taking from one's neighbors and giving to oneself. Such a culture must be consumed with the existence of, and the potential for, antagonistic interpersonal relationships -- curses, blood feuds, and the like. So a political culture of peaceful coexistence, bargaining, and compromise is unlikely to take hold.


@ Posted by: Current at Jan 14, 2010 7:08:48 AM

"Notice that laws against cutting down trees aren't present in developed countries. As far as I know, in Britain there were none even when it was a developing country in the 19th and 18th centuries."

Completely false.

In Britain there were many laws, with nasty punishments too, for cutting down trees without proper permission. Particularly trees that could/would be used in shipbuilding and most especially trees that were suitable for ship masts.

Something to be said about being a former French colony.... the perfect example.... New Orleans, Louisiana.

Critically -- land tenure is not secure. Land transfers are recorded by law or by custom. Most transfers take place using the customary system to avoid registration costs. This leads to all kinds of arguments over ownership and, when local power changes, land frequently seized by the new governors. This ends up in a huge mess. No one feels secure.

Sounds like a complaint about China, yet China doesn't suffer the problems of Haiti.

Sorry, property rights isn't the magic bullet of economic stability.

I have a theory about the correlation between length of time colonised and viability as a nation state. South Africa, colonised in the seventeenth century versus Zimbabwe, colonised in the nineteenth, for example. Or India, colonised in the seventeenth century, versus Afghanistan, never colonised. As the old adage goes, the best way to end up with a wealthy, democratic and modern country is to be invaded by the United States (or the British in previous centuries).


@ craig

"Regarding point 5, I would speculate the "intransitivity" described is this:"

IMO as a non-Christian I have a very deep respect for Christianity and the positive influence it has had on the world. Homo Sapiens has been around for about 100,000+ years and yet we've only really developed significantly in the last couple thousand years or so. Frankly I attribute that to Christianity.

Apparently she/he lives on livejournal and is connected with all kinds of 'sustainable' this and 'agitator' that...

You mean the APPOINTED governor general who was AT LEAST a quota Francophone pick? Yeah, that's the same as electing blacks to the highest offices.

It's because they had a successful slave revolt, one of only one in all of history: As arnold kling commented earlier:

I was also going to say that Haiti was isolated by its revolution. Western nations were very frightened of black slave revolts, and so they minimized interaction with Haiti. The isolation probably caused a lot of economic and cultural problems.

Posted by: Arnold Kling at Jan 13, 2010 1:33:54 PM

It's full of irony, but there it is. The slave societies that did not revolt retained their ties with capitalist investors. Haiti threw them out. It's not fair, it's not good, it's not the way the world should be. It nevertheless, is.

Yes, being invaded by the US was so bad for Western Europe, Japan, and South Korea. It must be that!

Seriously? 'Cut colonial ties too early.' Yeah, they really should have not tried to free themselves from slavery. But, when they did, it was only foreseeable, and thus their fault, that the French would plunder their wealth before leaving and the Americans would treat them as a great threat because they showed black people could be free. No mention of the U.S. backing of the Duvalier's? The answer is exploitation and oppression. See The Uses of Haiti.

In the end, a nation's success will depend on the culture and whether property rights are protected. Growth is impossible without property rights.

So, China isn't growing? Or is China ahead of the US in property rights based on its much higher growth rates?

Sorry, property rights is no magic bullet, and the economic development of the US was based for centuries on the government taking the land from its owners to spread the wealth of the land around to corporations and selected white men. When Andrew Jackson saw land he wanted, he got the Congress to fund the removal by force of the land owners so he could claim it. Why do you think the glory years include "When the West was won" referring to the government defeating and taking the land from the landowners who fought to defend their property rights and obtain justice for crimes against them.

"How could you leave out the fact that Haiti was occupied by the US Marines from 1915-1934?"

Not sufficient, either. Many countries have had American occupations. Many went on to be top economic powers.

Also, look how far other countries have come since 1934. Much of Europe, including Germany and Poland, were devastated in the 1940s. So was Japan. They've rebuilt to become major economic powers. Haiti is still destitute.

"I have a theory about the correlation between length of time colonised and viability as a nation state."

This statement makes zero sense. The Portuguese African colonies were under colonial rule longer than almost any other colonies, from the mid-16th century until 1974. Most of them - Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique - were or are basket cases.

Maybe your case study only applies to Anglo-American colonies, but then as another counter example, I'll offer Jamaica, a British colony from the mid-17th century until 1962. Or St. Lucia or Dominica.

Some other comments: the casual cultural chauvinism on this board is depressing. It is obvious most people know about as much about voodoo as Pat Robertson. Read a book. Voodoo has little to nothing to do some mythical "Haitian culture" that breeds poverty.

If I had to posit my principal reasons for endemic Haitian poverty, they would be:

1. Overpopulation - since conditions on French plantations were so brutal, the average lifespan of an African slave on the sugar plantations was 21 years of age. If most were imported as teenagers, the average lifespan of a slave in the colony was 3-7 years. Because of that the French imported massive amounts of slaves into the colony. According to one historian (the name escapes me at the minute, I think it was Laurent Dubois), the colony had to import food because the plantations were entirely given over to export-oriented crops. So when the slaves revolted in 1791, and they ceased to be worked to death, Haiti ended up overpopulated for its actual size.

2. Re-peasantization - I mentioned this above and it is discussed in Thomas Holt's book on Jamaica, "The Problem of Freedom." On Jamaica, the British colonial system endured following slavery and the big estates were not broken up as the emancipated would have preferred. On Haiti, however, with the death of Louverture in a French prison, the radical generals that rose through the ranks acquiesced to the demands of their rebels and dissolved the estates. The slaves, most of whom had come from Africa (due logically to the death rate and the high rate of slave replacement in Haiti), wanted to establish African modes of agricultural production based on small collective lands held by a clan, without a clear delineation of property rights. This effectively liquidated a capitalist mode of agriculture, and also weakened the concept of property ownership. Now, while the mulatto elite held big estates and had the poorer blacks work for them, the blacks always had an "escape mechanism" (per Hirschman) to their family plots. Wage labor was thus casual and supplemented rather than replaced small-scale agriculture. Thus, no capitalization of agriculture.

Haiti persisted in a sort of "respectable poverty" until the US occupation of 1915-1934 (described in both Renda, "Taking Haiti" and Schmidt, "US Occupation of Haiti") rescrambled property rights. The US tried to establish a modern, rationalized system of property rights, which had the net effect of allowing foreigners and the mulatto elite to buy up the countryside and begin to rationalize agriculture. However, since there was no nascent industry for the peasants to enter into as a labor force, most ended up as peons toiling away on the huge estates.

3. Reparations to the French - this has been covered by others, but this was a huge burden the Haitians paid for more than a 100 years, and in those 100 years, they were forced to borrow money form US and British banks to fund those necessary services of government that were unfundable due to the massive debt repaid to the French. The US sent the marines in in 1915 in part to guarantee the debt of National City Bank (aka Citibank) that was heavily invested in Haiti. Even if the Haitians finally paid off the 150 million francs in 1947, they still have outstanding debt from those years from the US and UK, service of which takes a big bite out of their government's budget.

4. US and Foreign meddling - there is no way to dismiss this entirely. The US has been fucking around in Haitian affairs since 1915, usually to prop up various army strongmen who were either a.) anti-Communist or b.) defending US interests in Haiti (National Bank, United Fruit, etc.). The US occupied the nation from 1915-1934, helped depose a socialist government in 1949, propped up the Duvaliers from 1957-1986, and twice encouraged the military to overthrow Aristide (whatever you think of him, getting the army involved was not a positive step towards democracy).

5. Isolation of the Mulatto Elite - one point where Diamond's "Collapse" is relevant is suggestion that societies collapse when the elite are isolated from the popular masses. Haiti is a case in point, where much of Haiti's elite lives in gated, guarded communities, or in France, or in Miami, and rules the country in abstentia through their family connections who are in politics or the army. Again, whatever you think of Aristide and Lavalas, they attempted to reorient Haiti's priorities from servicing this absentee Haitian elite to focusing on the vast mass of impoverished Haitians. This of course breeds kleptocracy, where mulatto elites act as gatekeepers to Western groups that want Haitian natural resources. The mulatto elite skims off the top and any benefits of Western investment are gobbled up by this essentially predatory class.

I am discouraged at their ability to succeed in the face of problems 1-3, but recent reports suggest that under Préval, another Lavalas member, things were beginning to turn around, though this was in part due to the involvement of outside organizations, from Bill Clinton's outfit to the Venezuelans and Brazilians.

Anyway, that is my quick and dirty take on why Haiti is so poor.

Often overlooked in most contemporary histories of the Haitian revolution is the wholesale massacre of the islands white inhabitants by the last successful revolutionaries. Any whites who did not flee where murdered including children.

This had the effect of blowing the county's brains out. A slave based plantation system intentionally kept slaves illiterate and uneducated. The strange economics of sugar plantations often meant that it was more economical to import finished goods than to maintain skilled craftsman locally. Slaves were to valuable in the fields to train up or educate. As a result, all the educated and skilled people were white. When they were killed/exiled, very, very few people had the education and skills to manage a society/technology-base on par with that which prevailed before the revolution.

A good model of historical Haiti would be modern day Zimbabwe where educated and skilled whites have been driven from the country. Haiti had to start out bereft of the hard learned lessons in law, politics, commerce and technology that gifted Europe up until that time. They were forced to rely on a much smaller knowledge base of a hodgepodge of small scale cultures from sub-Sahara Africa. They could never really catch up.

A lot of factors came into play but I think in the end this was the decisive one. You just can't start from virtual scratch in terms of your intellectual capital and expect to end up on par.

"You just can't start from virtual scratch in terms of your intellectual capital and expect to end up on par."

This also makes zero sense. Thousands of Haitian mulattoes, many of whom were well educated, remained after the revolution. Like Alexandre Pétion (namesake for Pétionville) who was educated in France, or Jean-Pierre Boyer, educated in France, or André Rigaud, and so on and so forth. In the 19th century, the mulatto elite regularly sent their children abroad to be educated.

So I'm not sure what your point is, but I could speculate, and the results would not be pretty...

Bob -- That's a patently stupid accusation given that Dominicans are black, too. Check out the large number currently playing in the MLB. Sheesh.

Mulp, et. al. -- This ridiculous leftist claptrap whereby the failures of the "oppressed" are blamed on external forces and the screwups are never -- NEVER! -- held accountable for their own actions is really old and trite. The same kind of crap is discussed in the context of urban crime here:


Mulp, et. al. -- This ridiculous leftist claptrap whereby the failures of the "oppressed" are blamed on external forces and the screwups are never -- NEVER! -- held accountable for their own actions is really old and trite.

I just delineated five reasons why Haitians are poor in a lengthy post above, finding equal cause in the actions of Haitians and in the interference of foreigners.

Insisting that external actors played no role in Haiti's problems is equally trite, and in Haiti's case, particularly trite, since the history of foreign intervention in Haiti is well and extensively documented in the historical record.

dadanarchist -- I never said external forces did not cause problems for Haiti. But to hear some tell it, that cesspool of corruption is entirely the fault of external forces and cannot in any way be blamed on the Haitians themselves.

Can someone explain what "political intransitivity" means? I have no idea what it means. What does it have to do with voodoo?

Hard to take Hegel seriously when explanations of his ideas are themselves incomprehensible and opaque.

Judy Cross
What were the Hatians doing before the Marines' occupation to become prosperous that the Marines stopped?

Most places that were once under the iron-fisted rule of the French tend to do badly, unless the underlying cultures of the people occupying the region encourage thrift, industriousness, education, private property, and the nuclear family. The difference between places like Vietnam and Quebec versus places like Haiti and Mali has to do with the basic concepts that make up the culture. Certainly, French culture did not lend itself to the success of regions they ruled as well as Anglican culture did. But, if you're an ignorant socialist, you'll simply ignore such arguments as racist.

Smart fractions?

Talent Development & Excellence
Vol. 1, No. 1, 2009, 3-25

The impact of smart fractions, cognitive ability of
politicians and average competence of peoples on
social development’

“Following an economic research tradition “human capital† is relevant for economic growth and wealth (Hanushek & Kimko, 2000; Lynn & Vanhanen, 2002, 2006; Jones & Schneider, 2006; Weede, 2006; Rindermann, 2008a). In addition, cognitive ability of nations has a positive impact on political development, in that it helps building up democracy, the rule of law and political liberty (Simpson, 1997; Rindermann, 2008b).

Intelligence, knowledge and the intelligent use of knowledge also have beneficial effects on health, for instance they act as a brake on the spread of HIV (Oesterdiekhoff & Rindermann, 2007; Lakhanpal & Ram, 2008; Rindermann & Meisenberg, 2009). Finally, cognitive competence is relevant for the development of modernity as a societal and especially as a cultural phenomenon consisting of education, autonomy, liberty, morality and rationality (Habermas, 1985/1981; Meisenberg, 2004; Oesterdiekhoff, 2008; Lynn, Harvey & Nyborg, 2009). Societies at a higher ability level develop more complex, more evidence-based, more ethical and more rational world views.

For some scholars like Georg Oesterdiekhoff (2000) or Michael Hart (2007) intelligence is the driving force of history.

These broad effects at the cross-national data level are backed in different societies by results at the individual level for job performance and wealth (Bacharach & Baumeister, 1998; Schmidt & Hunter, 2004; Irwing & Lynn, 2006; Rindermann & Thompson, 2009), for tolerance, civic political attitudes and participation in elections (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994; Denny & Doyle, 2008; Deary, Batty & Gale, 2008), for health behavior and health (Goldman & Smith, 2002; Gottfredson, 2004), moral judgment (Piaget, 1997/1932;†


Haiti is poor due to a low average IQ among its indigenous population of 95% africans.

(In the 18th century Haiti was the largest sugar producer in the world. Universities and other centers of higher learning kept the island abreast of the world's progress and advances, and it became one of the richest of France's overseas possessions---richer than any of the 13 original American colonies. Haiti came to be called the Jewel of the Caribbean.
All this ground to a halt in the late 1790s, when the egalitarianism introduced by Whites fresh from the French Revolution precipitated a Black revolt in which, ultimately, the Black revolutionaries murdered nearly every one of the 40,000 White men, women, and children on the island. In the 200 years since the revolution, under one corrupt and tyrannical regime after another, Black Haiti has become one of the most dangerous, superstitious, and backward places of Earth. The vast majority of the people are illiterate, and less than 3 percent finish primary education. It has one of the lowest per capita incomes on Earth, endemic crime and drug problems, wholesale destruction of the environment, negligible education, high infant mortality and primitive health care, and its dominant religion is voodoo)-----"My Awakening", D. Duke

Although the lengthy duration of Haitian poverty is inextricably linked with anti-egalitarian arguments in the spectrum of racial "hierarchies"(the 'darker-skinned' and more 'negro-dialected' tend to not thrive by capitalistic metrics and "civilizational standards") and while the intransitivity or solipsistivity of voodoo deities may have, in the spiritual spectrum, left a nihilistic legacy of "sound and fury signifying nothing", that country just got a lot richer. Because CNN IS transitive; global capital IS seeking redemption(from the 'high-yielding' sins of Madoff and Mortgage paper) and........I dont know of too many devils that are gonna hold you to a pact after 30,000 loosed souls in one fell swoop. Do you?

The way I read this, our country has imposed tariffs and quotas on cane sugar production, with the variable being whatever is good for US sugar cane farmers becomes policy.
Loans were extended or revolked to Haitian plantation owners to artificially maintain a constant import rate. Taxes on imported refined sugar, combined with direct payoffs to plantation owners, ensured that Haiti would never develop an industry based on their main marketable commodity.

In short Roosevelt screwed them royally. In keeping with a long standing American tradition started by Jefferson but continuing on throughout the antibellum, when despite the Haitian slave revolution defeating Napoleon, which led directly to the abandonment of French designs on Louisiana, the only ingrate on Mount Rushmore refused to recognise their government, normalise trade, or extend the protections of the Monroe Doctrine to Haiti.

That's my take on it.

For once I'm actually sort of glad we have a black president, however resolutely incompetent he may be. Perhaps racial bonds will overcome the status quo of usary through sugar tariffs.

The way I read this, our country has imposed tariffs and quotas on cane sugar production, with the variable being whatever is good for US sugar cane farmers becomes policy.
Loans were extended or revolked to Haitian plantation owners to artificially maintain a constant import rate. Taxes on imported refined sugar, combined with direct payoffs to plantation owners, ensured that Haiti would never develop an industry based on their main marketable commodity.

In short Roosevelt screwed them royally. In keeping with a long standing American tradition started by Jefferson but continuing on throughout the antibellum, when despite the Haitian slave revolution defeating Napoleon, which led directly to the abandonment of French designs on Louisiana, the only ingrate on Mount Rushmore refused to recognise their government, normalise trade, or extend the protections of the Monroe Doctrine to Haiti.

That's my take on it.

For once I'm actually sort of glad we have a black president, however resolutely incompetent he may be. Perhaps racial bonds will overcome the status quo of usary through sugar tariffs.

---I'd chalk much of the systemic poverty in Haiti down to the US-led destruction of the Haitian black swine in the late '70s, ---

Yes, I can see where that is a more influential cause than the 1957 political dictatorship of an ultra-liberal "Papa DOC" ---A former Minister of Health who had earned a reputation as a humanitarian while serving as an administrator in a U.S.-funded anti-yaws campaign, Duvalier (known as "Papa Doc") soon established another dictatorship. His regime is regarded as one of the most repressive and corrupt of modern times.


socialism kills

-----How could you leave out the fact that Haiti was occupied by the US Marines from 1915-1934?----

How could you not offer the merest hint of a cause effect relationship here?

per wiki::::::The U.S. occupation was self-interested, sometimes brutal, and caused problems that lasted past its lifetime. Reforms, though, were carried out. The currency was reformed and the debt stabilized. Corruption was reduced, although never eradicated. Public health, education, and agricultural development were greatly improved.

Also they made that pact with the devil to get free from the prince Napoleon III or whatever.

"Until a cadastre system is established (DPKO still thinks elections and 'stabilization' are the key to developing Haiti), we can count on generations of planted and slashed trees, with little economic progress."

Omitted variable here is cognitive ability which is necessary for economic development.

Rindermann, H. (2008a). Relevance of education and intelligence at the national level for the economic welfare of people. Intelligence, 36, 127-142.

Rindermann, H. (2008b). Relevance of education and intelligence for the political development of nations: Democracy, rule of law and political liberty. Intelligence, 36, 306-322.

Clearly the reason they are so poor is that the Haitians made a pact with the devil, as Pat Robertson said. He gave them independence, but he never said that he would make them rich.

Charlie B: these two arguments are not exclusive.

It may well be that black nations are disproportionally inclined to kill or persecute their intellectual capital.

Has anyone tried to find any correlation, or lack thereof, between military occupation and country development?

My guess, based on the history I know, would be that generally there should be no correlation - and, in cases of peacekeeping efforts, probably a positive correlation.

People will not stop eating, working and doing business just because foreign troops are present on their territory.

The possible exceptions are:

a) occupation by real savages, something like Genghis Khan,

b) occupation whose sole concern is to loot the occupied country's resources (a la Japanese in Korea before 1945).

None of those applies to most of the 20th century occupations.

I think Haiti is poor primarily for the same reason digital cameras are designed in Japan rather than, for example, in Ghana: it's full of low IQ black people. Therefore they have an extremely small "smart fraction", i.e. a population of people with an IQ above 105 or so, meaning the sort of people who (predominantly) form the scientific, professional, managerial, and entreprenurial classes.

I think it is interesting that in this discussion we have a combination of historical determinists (citing past occupations, colonization - these people would make Marx proud) and geographic determinists (ie., Jared Diamond has a huge following here), and pretty much noone doing economic development analysis per se. If you as an economist cannot find economic rules that allow for development, you do not understand economics, or economics is irrelevant and subordinate to the past of a place, or its location.

All of these historical and geographic issues are factors, they are not irrelevant, but they are co-related, not causes, of the lack of development in Haiti. Please read Hernando de Soto, and study MICROeconomics a bit more, let's have a serious discussion about why Haiti is poor and not cite historical circumstances which, while important to take into consideration, are not the primary explanation for the situation after the passage of 200 years.

My candidate? A lack of human capital. Haiti lacks a critical threshold of people with the necessary skills to administer a minimal set of modern state institutions. Without a considerable infusion of human capital -- which means a lot more than a 9000 member UN peacekeeping force -- no amount of material aid will rectify this situation.

What Haiti needs, in so many words, is a benign form of British colonialism, but under another name. It would have to be manned and financed by the international community and last a generation at least.

I would wager an overwhelming majority of Haitians would go for such a plan. I would if I were in their shoes. Wouldn't you?

Why is Haiti poor?

Because of low average IQ among its 95% majority Africans.


Apparently you're really fucking stupid, at least when it comes to politics. I'm absolutely amazed that you don't mention the US-sponsored coups of Aristide.


The racist posters are the retards from Steve Sailer's blog. They are too stupid to do anything but spam this blog with race crap; Steve posts here too, in an effort to keep the spam high. Most are simply uneducated nazis...

My opinion is that Tyler should just "clean house" and let the grown ups talk...

Black swine reference: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,951249-2,00.html

Shocking, actually.

Uh, guys? I know it's fun and all to debate the impact of vodoo, eco-collapse, etc, but it takes some willful blindness to ignore the obvious. Haiti is poor because the average IQ of Haitians is somewhere around 72. This makes it comparable to Sub-Saharan African countries, most of which are about as poor as Haiti. It's not that hard to figure out.

My grocery store has a couple of mentally retarded baggers. I'm fine with that -- it's heartwarming. But could the grocery store possibly survive if the average employee had an IQ under 80? Of course not. Same with Haiti.

You really should keep your culturally tone deaf and shockingly racist "analysis" to yourself. You should be ashamed of yourself for scolding Haiti for "cutting its colonial ties to early". At least wait a day or two after the earth quake to write this bullshit.

1. Haitians have a very low IQ. IQ test scores from pre-school kids, school kids and adults have always been very low.
2. As a result, they do not have every smart leaders to manage their country. Smart people must be able to remember things, understand complex concepts, make logic thinking and communication, etc. Haiti just does not have these kind of people.

Point 5 is nonsense. Voodoo is practiced by a sect. The Duvalier dictatorship actually tried to eradicate them and since it is practiced by a poor minority group and not by the elites or the mainstream, voodoo is irrelevant in this debate.

I think many of you are missing the more immediate cause of illiteracy and the lack of education in Haiti

the main reason for Haiti's problem is the failure to elect people that will have their best interests at heart. All their elected leaders lately just enjoy enriching themselves 1st before doing anything to help their countryman.The blame should not go to only the Duvaliers,later leader including a former priest have done worst.Some former presidentshave stolen more in their short time in power then the Duvaliers did in their30 years in power,but for some reasons no one blames them for the country's downfall.
What Haiti really need is honest governement led by sincere politician,not thieves, also all haitian need to get their hands in the process and rebuild their nation instead of waiting for rich nations to come to their help all the time. It is a shame for such a beautyfull place to fall by the way side.

My conclusion to the question at hand is that there needs to be a cultural change in Haiti, on things such as education, rights/justice, and thought process shared by the masses of "im going to get mines and F*ck everyone else". And another important aspect of the whole situation is Haiti needs a strong leader, one that has the influence and strength to do what is needed to lead the country forward. A leader that thinks of him/her self less and worries about the people more. Stopping the selfishness and work on social responsibility is all that is needed.

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