Facebook Debate re: Aid for Haiti

(AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)

OLD GRADE-SCHOOL FRIEND: wait just a god damn minute... i was under the impression that this country was pretty much broke... how the hell and why are we giving money to Haiti ....way to go ...lets give it all away... HAVE YOU THANKED A DEMOCRAT TODAY....oh yea keep the change ...
10million dollars are you out of your freakin mind...how is this guy still in office...is there any other country, or major corperation [sic] out here that needs help... we dont have it but we will give it to ya .... just ask general motors

ME: Hey old pal, isn't this what Facebook is good for? A lively debate between old friends... As a Democrat and as someone who just donated money I can't really personally afford to the recovery efforts in Haiti, let me take a stab at this:

Yes, the U.S. is in debt. However, (1) Haiti is a nation that has long been crippled in poverty, a poverty largely forced upon them, first by French imperialism and slavery and second a ruthless 3-decade-long dictatorship to which the U.S. turned a blind eye; all the while the U.S. (and other countries) kept Haiti in stifling debt for incredibly high-interest loans we made 2 centuries ago...

(2) This isn't a political issue; it's a humanitarian issue. Tens of thousands of people have died due to a natural disaster, and countless more are now homeless. I can't imagine any developed nation failing to respond with aid. If a Republican were in office, I am certain the figures wouldn't be much different, actually (take a look at the Bush administration's response to the earthquake in Pakistan, for one example). And regardless of what dire straits we may be in in this country, it's nothing compared to what Haitians are now experiencing. Regardless of how much debt we're in to China, our government can afford to, and has an ethical obligation to, assist people in desperate need.

I agree that some of the corporate bailouts may have been irresponsible and excessive, but the comparison to this situation just doesn't fly. These aren't greedy, rich, conniving businessmen looking to walk away from a disaster they created. These are innocent people, already long-victimized by political and economic thievery, now devastated by a natural catastrophe.

I would ask, "Wouldn't you want Haiti to give us money if something similar happened to us?" But that question seems ridiculous for at least 2 main reasons. First, Haiti wouldn't be able to offer much aid, because they were already pretty much bankrupted by shitty internal governance and international exploitation. And secondly, the U.S. generally doesn't require the same level of foreign aid because we've developed a comparatively strong(ish) infrastructure to handle these sorts of catastrophes. Of course, Katrina is one glaring example of that system's failure, and we received loads of foreign aid for that, most of which—by the way—actually went unclaimed, because however much we owe China, we are still an extremely wealthy nation, relatively and otherwise. And we are wealthy in large part because we've fucked over less fortunate nations, just like every other imperial or militarily dominant world power. I think we owe Haiti as a nation, and I think we should help the Haitians as fellow human beings.

[Also, thanks to Beka for pointing out several other opportunities I missed in my response, e.g. the first T.A.R.P. bailout legislation was passed under Bush; our aid to Haiti won't hurt our deficit remotely as much as our funding of wars abroad—tax dollars which my old friend likely doesn't protest; etc.]

Update: My great (old & always) friend (and rare YSC contributor) Megan has also chimed in with a brilliantly-worded response (as always, devoid of capitalization):
"old grade-school friend, please check yourself. i can't believe if you've seen the pictures and video coming out of haiti, you would still say that. those are human beings, our neighbors in the world. think 'golden rule'. i know our country's economy is in peril but this a humanitarian emergency needing immediate attention. the united states has always been there for emergency aid, regardless of which party holds power in washington. the structures that created our country's economic problems took years to build and it will take some time to re-create a sustainable economy in which everyone thrives... haiti's needs are dire and, thankfully, unimaginable to most of us."

Update 2: I really love a good, respectful debate... It continues...
OLD GRADE-SCHOOL FRIEND: ahhh... Ben... you do however make a good point buddy...
i do agree with your points Megan and Ben however, what about the problems here at home first. Now as of this morning it jumped from 10milliom to over 100million that money can be used here at home in this country to maybe lets see decrease the poverty level here... Yes i understand its an emergency but come on can we really afford right now.

ME: Those are valid questions, for sure. When those quantities of money are discussed, I really can't even wrap my head around it. My brain balks at the concept of that much money, and I definitely won't claim to understand completely where it comes from or the mechanisms in place to put it to good use. And I even suppose it involves some implicit trust in our government that that sum is appropriate and will be used wisely to assist the people in Haiti.

But like Megan said, this really is a humanitarian emergency that despite our own current economic woes we can't even begin to fathom. The relief efforts after Katrina exceeded $100 BILLION, and that was an area of devastation far smaller than we're talking here, in a country far wealthier.

I think it's really difficult—maybe impossible—to fully understand the disparity in economics at play here. I agree we are a far way from adequately addressing our own poverty issues within this country, but I also know that the majority of people in Haiti (as in lots of other undeveloped countries) make less than $2 a day—before this catastrophe! Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere; the U.S. is (and probably always will be) the richest. The average yearly income (yeah, I just looked this up) is less than $400. They needed our help before this disaster, and while $100 million seems like an awful lot, in the grand scheme of things we can afford it and they need it more than we do.

Here is a fascinating summary, by historian Carl Lindskoog, of Haiti's political and economic history leading up to the current catastrophe: "What You're Not Hearing about Haiti (But Should Be)"

Visit Oxfam to make a donation to the recovery efforts in Haiti.

You can also donate $10 to the American Red Cross's efforts in Haiti right now by texting the word "Haiti" to 90999.


NAB said…
What makes me nuts here is that the old standby, protectionist knee-jerk of "we have enough problems at home" or "we should use that money to help Americans" not only attempts to exempt us from international ethical obligations, but it's also frequently spouted in an utterly disingenuous manner. If, for instance, a domestic proposal to "spend that money on Americans" actually comes to the fore (say, for instance, in the form of proposing a single-payer health insurance system), it's inevitably criticized and shot down as "socialistic" or otherwise wrong-headed. Apparently, many Americans have no problem with passing emergency spending bills to fund two wars off the books, but have plenty of moral outrage when we attempt to actually do some good in the world for a place that desperately needs our help. How sad.
NAB said…
Also: Good for you for standing up to this nonsense. Those initial comments made my blood boil, but your rational responses to this insanity were damned impressive.
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