Thursday, December 8, 2011

Planned Statehood

I just finished reading Building a More Resilient Haitian State, a Rand Corporation report that was published in the wake of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. It is somewhat better than I expected it to be, since it acknowledges the destructive roles that both France and the US have played in Haitian history -- up until the election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the Presidency in 1990, where it pretty much follows the US government line. But its analysis and recommendations seem fairly reasonable for the most part -- which doesn't mean I'd follow them if I were granted the power to decide what to do in Haiti, only that they're reasonable given US power and the constraints of politics.

Here's one thing that caught my attention, though. On page 73 the team writes:
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and the only country in the hemisphere formally designated a least-developed country by the World Bank. Alone among the states of the Western Hemisphere, per capita GDP in Haiti has fallen over the past 40 years to roughly one-half to two-thirds the level that it was in 1965. Not surprisingly, Haiti suffers from high rates of absolute poverty: Fifty-four percent of the population is estimated to live on less than $1 per day, and 72 percent on less than $2. Income is the most unequal in the hemisphere.
Then, on page 84, we get this:
The Haitian economy needs to enjoy a period of sustained, steady growth. With such a period, Haitians will remain mired in poverty, with all of its attendant ills. To generate growth, Haiti will have to sustain macroeconomic stability, improve the environment for business, and capitalize on favorable treatment it has been granted by the international community. With the adoption of the HOPE II Act by the U.S. government, Haiti enjoys highly favorable access to the U.S. market for clothing. Some of Haiti’s best prospects for growth are to attract foreign and domestic investment to the garment industry. Haiti has too many people engaged in agriculture. The country is heavily populated, and more land is cultivated than is ecologically sustainable. In contrast, labor-intensive industries, such as garment manufacture, provide an attractive source of jobs and income, especially given Haiti’s competitive, low-cost labor force. However, to take advantage of the opportunities in labor-intensive exports, the Haitian government in conjunction with the international community, should implement the recommendations set forth in this section.
Notice the words I put into boldface. The reason why Haiti's labor force is competitive and low-cost is Haiti's terrible poverty, the worst in the Western hemisphere. As I've pointed out before, Haitian garment workers will only be "competitive" as long as they are poor. Once their wages go up -- as they must, because as apologists for global capitalism love to say, working in terrible conditions for a pittance is the best hope of the world's poor to escape poverty -- they will become much less attractive to foreign businesses, and even to domestic ones. What Haiti (or any other country in the same position) will do then is anyone's guess. But at the moment, Haitians still have a long way to go before they have to worry about being paid too much, even by the miserly standards of global capital.