Applying William Easterly's Wisdom to Haiti

A reader emails to ask me what lessons one of my favorite books, William Easterly's The Elusive Quest for Growth, might offer for Haiti.  Since Easterly is often seen as a critic of lavish aid, I think my answer might surprise you:  we should give Haiti a bunch of money and other help.

Easterly makes a convincing case that aid doesn't improve the level of economic growth, or pull nations out of poverty.  But aid can alleviate human misery, and that's what Haiti has a lot of right now.  Haiti may not be any richer when we pull out.  But it will have fewer dead people, fewer children missing parents, or parents missing limbs.  It will not have descended as far into the brutal chaos of starvation and desperate thirst--a chaos which can irreparably rend the social fabric.

The important thing, I think, is that we start with our exit strategy in mind.  It needn't be a rapid exit--maybe we plan to be out in ten years.  But we should be focused on the beginning at building institutions that can survive our withdrawal, which means giving Haitians as much power as possible even when it slows us down.  We may not be able to leave Haiti richer than it was when we went in, or any more likely to grow.  But we can probably avoid leaving it worse than we found it.