The Haitian Catastrophe

Right now, the most important thing we can do as average Americans is to donate to charitable relief organizations, budgets permitting. (Jennifer and I chose the Red Cross.) And we can offer our gratitude and support for Americans going to Haiti to help. The magnitude of destruction is overwhelming.

We must also denounce the lunacy of people like Pat Robertson, who said the earthquake was a result of a Haitian “pact to the devil.” (Mercifully, Rick Warren said on his Twitter feed, “Labeling any natural disaster as God’s judgment is nonsense.”)

Then, as the dust settles, the majority of us not directly involved in relief efforts should contemplate how to mitigate the harm of such disasters in the future.

The first obvious thing to note about Haiti is that its government is corrupt and its people oppressed. The Heritage Foundation ranks Haiti as “mostly unfree,” ranking 147 out of 179, behind Russia.

A second point to note is that the Haitian government knew the earthquake was coming and did little to prepare for it. As Cassie Rodenberg reports for Popular Mechanics:

Back in 2008, Eric Calais and Paul Mann, geophysicists who study fault lines in the Caribbean, predicted that Haiti would soon face such a devastating quake. …

Calais says that because Haiti poses safety concerns and a difficult work environment with a poor road access system, it’s been neglected by seismologists. …

But his research didn’t translate well enough to elicit safety precautions before the quake. Though Calais notes that earthquakes can’t be prevented, he says there was enough advance warning for the Haitian government to make preparations, and, in fact, his team alerted the government four to five years beforehand.

“We’ve told the Haitian government that the Enriquillo fault is a major player,” Calais says. “We’ve told them exactly where the fault is. We’ve told them how fast it was building up elastic energy, and we’ve told them that right now, if it was to go, it could produce a 7.2 in magnitude or larger event.”

The government has worked with the team and listened to its foreboding reports, Calais says, but for the most part, Haiti has failed to implement emergency plans and restructure crucial buildings.

Economic liberty and a government constrained by the rule of just law is necessary for human life. Statism kills. Corrupt governments kill. Stifling economic development kills.

Michelle Malkin points to a post by Jim Roberts: “Long-term reforms for Haitian democracy and its economy are also badly overdue.” (I profoundly disagree with Roberts’s calls to violate economic liberty at home through forced wealth transfers in order to promote economic reform in Haiti.)

John Stossel refers to the excellent summary of the matter by economist Don Boudreaux:

The ultimate tragedy in Haiti isn’t the earthquake; it’s that country’s lack of economic freedom. The earthquake simply but catastrophically revealed the inhuman consequences of this fact.

Registering 7.0 on the Richter scale, the 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, though, 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.

If you want to live, if you want to promote human life, you must advocate capitalism.