The Ergosphere
Friday, January 15, 2010

Who will admit Haiti's real problem?

Even before the earthquake, Haiti was a disaster area.  Massive shantytown slums surround cities.  Deforestation runs rampant as people push into protected watershed areas trying to feed themselves.  Roughly a million people only eat due to the World Food Program.  And long before these issues came to the fore, Haiti was known for being a hotbed of HIV.

No amount of reconstruction will address these issues.  This means reconstruction is futile without looking at the underlying cause.

One major cause of Haiti's problems is overpopulation.  There are too many Haitians to feed on the land of Haiti, and not enough other resources to employ them; the result is grinding poverty and starvation only held off by massive food aid.  People who live in shanties cannot build to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes; the Dominican Republic, on the other side of Hispaniola, is notable for having no prominent reports of deaths or damage in this news cycle.

The obvious solution is a one-child policy for the nation, starting with free condoms.  Unfortunately, many powerful pressure groups in the USA treat any suggestion of population control or even birth control as tantamount to genocide.  This means the suffering cannot be addressed, and the escalation of every hiccup of Nature into a humanitarian disaster will continue.

We deny reality at our own risk.

Belgium is slightly larger (30,000 km sq. vs. 27,000) than Haiti and has a larger population B 10 M people H 9. The Netherlands is 34,000 km sq and has a population of almost 17 M, and is one of the worlds leading agricultural exporters.

Haiti's problems can not be ascribed to population density. They may be magnified by pop density. but the causes are political, legal, and social.
I could not find anything to verify the claim that the Netherlands is a leading agricultural exporter, or a listing of imports vs. exports.  On the other hand, I found the fastest-growing imports from the US includes dairy products, soybeans and oilseeds.

If Haiti's problems are not due to pop density, then the intrusion into essential watersheds must be explained by other factors, such as deficient human capital.  If human capital is insufficient despite population, the problems are not smaller; they are greater.
I don't deny that Haiti's problems are immense. I just assert that they are found in the realm of the human, politics, law, education, religion, and the like.

From the CIA World Fact Book:

"The Netherlands has a prosperous and open economy, which depends heavily on foreign trade. The economy is noted for stable industrial relations, moderate unemployment and inflation, a sizable current account surplus, and an important role as a European transportation hub. Industrial activity is predominantly in food processing, chemicals, petroleum refining, and electrical machinery. A highly mechanized agricultural sector employs no more than 3% of the labor force but provides large surpluses for the food-processing industry and for exports."

The point I was making about agriculture is that population density, even one that is much higher that Haiti, does not, in itself, create environmental destruction of the level of Haiti. Of course, as the saying goes, the Dutch made the Netherlands, and the capital investment human and structural is enormous.
The solution seems to me to allow the population of Haiti to emigrate to places where they will be able to spread out more. Or is the fear of the teeming black masses coming over here part of the issue here?
I think all of us yeasties can see that the solution is a bigger wine barrel.

Pop densities per Wiki (from CIA factbook) -
The Netherlands = 396/km2
Dominican Republic = 208/km2
Haiti = 361/km2

Of course not all square kilometers are created equal. Nor does all mash equally support fermentation. I just can't help the ominous feeling that we are approaching the decantation step...
Spreading out Haitians is a great idea, in principle.  The problem is that there isn't anyplace to spread to that isn't already full of people; for Haitians to spread out, someone else has to be crowded.

There's also the issue that many Haitians are far from desirable neighbors.  Cité-Soleil is full of drug gangs and bands supporting themselves on kidnapping ransoms.  The USA has quite a few criminal Haitians we are not going to deport immediately due to the crisis, but the American taxpayer isn't going to like that even without a refugee influx.  A surge in crooks who don't speak English and probably aren't literate in any language is going to go over like a lead balloon.  That's even before considering the costs of treatment for imported cases of HIV.  We're already running trillion-dollar deficits and lack of health care without that.

Last, a major problem with Haiti and Haitians can't be fixed by moving them.  That's a lack of human capital and a retrograde culture; voodoo in particular inculcates fatalism.  A one-child policy would allow much greater investment in education per child, and perhaps allow a change in direction.  With less pressure on the environment, fewer demands for capital improvements and more labor freed from feeding and raising children to do other work, Haiti could turn around in a generation.
Unfortunately, the one-child thing is a tough sell politically. Of course, Haiti has had its tyrants who could have implemented such a policy, but they've been too stupid to do so. Now they're trying to be a "liberal democracy" without industry, education, or the ability to grow enough food. Without massive aid, they collapse in a matter of weeks -- they don't have a generation for such a policy to work.

As for a planned diaspora, we have an example from the evacuation of New Orleans in 2005. There were hordes of poor illiterate Yats, moved to public housing in places like San Antonio, Houston, and Little Rock. The crime rates in those cities shot up. Few of them have moved back to the Big Easy.

It worked for my Scottish-Irish ancestors, but they had a whole continent to expand into. Now it's "no vacancy" almost everywhere.
The problem is that there isn't anyplace to spread to that isn't already full of people

I take it you've never been to South Dakota then.

There's also the issue that many Haitians are far from desirable neighbors.

Neither are Republicans, and there are lots more of those.

Last, a major problem with Haiti and Haitians can't be fixed by moving them. That's a lack of human capital and a retrograde culture; voodoo in particular inculcates fatalism.

Ah, it's all the fault of the Voudou from bongobongoland, I see now. This would be the same Voudou that Pat Robertson, famed for having the ear of many a president, explicitly stated he believes in. At least as far as believing it's possible to sign a deal with the devil, that is. To repeat: that's Pat Robertson, who has been one of the more influential people in US politics over the last four decades, not some Voudou priest from Haiti. But, of course, it's they who are retrograde and fatalist.

I love how all problems in places like Haiti are down to the "culture" of those exotic creatures, never down to the politics.

The trick seems to be to keep the primitives in place and teach them how to behave less like savages, controlling their populations as we see fit. Don't see anything at all problematic with that, do you?
This comment has been removed by the author.
I take it you've never been to South Dakota then.

Or Antarctica. Plenty of room there, and with their superior Haitian technology, they'll thrive.

McDuff, I take it you've never been to Nuevo Laredo, Juarez, or Tijuana...
Well, my first concern would be the lack of effective institutions to cope with the tragedy. There were no building codes, there's effectively no government in Haiti to speak of. This is only the kind of thing one can blame on a "retrograde culture" in Haiti if you are as blissfully unaware of the history of the country as Pat Robertson is of the relationship his superstitions have to the real world.

Pop density is really easy to put down to the primitives not knowing about condoms if, you know, you're that way inclined in the first place. Those with a bit more nous might look further and wonder why Port-au-Prince grew into a slum in such a short period of time in the 70s and 80s. Those who do look might indeed find evidence of a chap called "Baby Doc" who happened to run the country - running it with the guidance of a bunch of people calling themselves "USAID" I might add. Some might imagine, upon reading what happened during this period, that the structural changes that were imposed on Haiti during the Devalier period might have had some effect on the population distribution in Haiti, particularly since this is precisely what USAID designed them to do! Result: millions of poor people crammed into poorly built slums around a city, fighting for work in textile factories rather than living on the farms and villages they'd called home before the US's neoliberal policies impoverished Haitian farmers in favour of large scale export-based agroculture in the 80s.

Haiti has been a playground for people with fancy imperial ideas for more than a century. While theories about population control may fit nicely into a narrative that holds the swarthy islanders are all ignorant savages to be managed correctly in the wake of this tragedy, you have to ignore the entire history of the island except for the exotic bits about Voudou in order to make it work. The facts do not support you.

I would suggest that the last thing Haiti needs is more people coming over and telling them how to run their lives. We've been trying that for the entirety of the 20th century and look where it got them. Why don't we try simply helping out human beings when they need help and not treating them like subhumans to be paternalistically managed for a change, see how that works out for everyone?
Incidentally, DIYer's first post contained the question "Seriously, if it wasn't overpopulation, what was it?" which is what I was answering. It was also a significantly less racist comment, which is why I bothered.

I don't know what on earth the "superior haitian technology" comment was supposed to be about, frankly. Nobody's claiming they're not desperately poor. The causes of that poverty, on the other hand, are what's under discussion. Can we ignore the politics of the island because they have exotic religions and suspiciously dusky appearances? I'd suggest not, perhaps you all feel differently.
Sorry McDuff, I was self editing ... then I just couldn't help myself and posted one with a snark tag.

I think my response is similar to most folks when I see the reports from Haiti, I think "Oh, those poor people!" - but I don't really want them next door either. A confluence of factors has made the place the way it is over the last century or so, and that's sad.

Two hundred years ago, the population of Africa (everywhere for that matter) was kept in check by famine and parasites. And we're probably seeing the beginnings of a return to that state. Nature isn't always pretty.

But now that I think of it, relocating Republicans to Antarctica makes a lot of sense. I hear it has very low taxes.
Where's this "Africa" of which you speak? Two hundred years ago the Ethiopian Age of Princes was upon us and the wealth of Africa was still, remarkably though it may seem to some, very much owned by the Africans. What a difference a slave trade makes, eh? I suspect you'd have a tough time isolating a consistent "Africa" that can be held to stretch across the whole continent. But then, that you believe it's likely to go the way of Malthus shows that you listen rather too much to the western news and have, as you say, a typical westerner's ignorance.

What, however, African politics has to do with a Caribbean Island is beyond me. French, German and American politics have far more import for the history of Haiti than those of Kenya or Zimbabwe.

I am not tremendously sympathetic to the feelings of people who don't want a particular class of "them" next door, either. Wealthy white middle class people always tend to feel that way about Jews and Gypsies and Blacks and Mexicans and the like, and there's always some story about disease or crime they can tell themselves to justify their initial reactions as not racist. Almost makes me long for the days when it was OK to just come out and say you didn't like black folk. At least people were honest with themselves and others, back then, and such small mercies are very absent these days.

Why is it, do you think, that people who know that even their small enclaves of ethnically homogenous folks contain within them a remarkable diversity of human characteristics do not feel they have to extend the courtesy of acknowledging that same nuance to populations as they get further removed from oneself? 40% of the people of Alabama voted for a black man named Hussein for POTUS, yet it's acceptable to treat "the Haitians" as a mass of undistinguishable crooks, a homogenous "them" who we do not want next door to "us"? Who's this "us" of which, and on whose behalf, you apparently speak?
McDuff, getting back to your initial remark allow the population of Haiti to emigrate..., the fact that you would redistribute them is simply an affirmation of E-P's initial post.

They are overpopulated.

And Africa can be found on Google Earth and in most reputable atlases. It is overpopulated as well, for many of the same reasons.
Interjecting myself into the fascinationg discussion for a minute, it appears that Steve Sailer is on the same page.
"Africa" can be found on google maps, so can "the USA. But only an idiot would say "the USA is full of big tall buildings and Yankees fans." If you refer to that google maps, you might notice that Africa is a rather large continent, with many different countries in it. And Johannesburg is not Harare, and neither of them are Cairo. These are not difficult facts to grasp.

Further, you still haven't explained what relevance African politics has to Haiti.

As far as supporting the initial point, it was a partly facetious comment. If the problem is overpopulation, humanitarians would potentially seek to ameliorate it in the short term as well as the long. Managing a population like cattle is rather a long term and somewhat imperialist solution - allowing migration is far more natural.

Of course, since the issue is not "overpopulation" per se, at least outside the slums of Port-au-Prince, but rather a complete failure of government institutions - failure to exist in many cases, and to function correctly and sufficiently in others. In this case, also, there are certain obligations one would hope the wealthy among us would feel towards the less fortunate. The hope is, of course, so often dashed on the rocks of petty nimbyism, but there you have it. In a country racked by civil unrest and constant corruption I rather doubt it matters how many children you have. In this case, allowing Haitians to emigrate if they so desired seems rather the only thing to do - with large parts of the capital city rendered uninhabitable, and the traditional agricultural landscape tattered at the behest of western agribusiness, there's really little of the state of Haiti left.

Interesting facts that may help decide whether "overpopulation" is the sole factor here. NYC pop density is 72K/sq.mi, Paris pop density is 65K/sq.mi, Port-au-Prince pop density was 73K/sq.mi. and is now most likely less than that since the earthquake death toll is estimated to be anywhere up to 10% of the population of the city. Looking at those numbers, do you think the difference in population density between Paris, New York and Port-au-Prince adequately explains the income gap? Is there some cut off point just above 72K/sq.mi. that the people of Manhattan island should be aware of, lest they cross it and find themselves transformed from one of the richest cities in the world to one of the poorest overnight? Or is it logical to assume that other factors may be in play here?

In any event, a million or so Haitians could disperse across the globe and not make a ripple. Large urban conurbations have been absorbing refugee populations for as long as there have been cities. Paris, London and New York could take ten thousand each and not blink an eye. Of course, racist fuckers will do lots of blinking on behalf of the cities, but that's only what that kind of cretin does anyway - there's a certain kind of person who complains whenever anything new happens anywhere near them, and unfortunately we can't send them all off to Switzerland where such behaviour is seen as normal rather than antisocial. But putting up with the whinging of racists is something we have to do anyway, I don't see why it should stop us doing what we always have done, and integrating refugee populations into our densely populated, wealth-creating cities.
Well as long as you're on the same page as noted racist Steve Sailer, EP, what could possibly go wrong, eh?
We can't send them to Switzerland? So, umm, do you have a list of places they can and can't go? Sheboygan? Muleshoe? Allentown?

Those other places you've mentioned are hideously overpopulated as well BTW. I think most of the pieces are in place for catabolic collapse, and it's gonna hit the population centers - they can only exist with abundant cheap energy, a fact of which very few seem aware. Abundant cheap energy which has been derived from hydrocarbons for a century or two without much of a plan 'B' in place.

Anywho, I'm done playing white-mans-burden to your noble-savages, and shall go back to lurking ...
Haha. You think I was taking the side of "noble savages" here? Honestly, people on the internet can't spot sarcasm if you telegraph it from the middle of last week any more, can they?

Energy is indeed a potential 21st century crisis. But it is not, I must point out, a crisis at this present moment in time. NYC has a population density of 72K/sq.mi. and an average income of over $100K per annum in 2008. Port-au-Prince had a pop density of 73K/sq.mi. and an average income of $1300 per annum in 2008. Given that oil (and fossil fuels in general) are fungible, is there any reason to suspect that Haiti is somehow harking forward to NYC's energy-scarce future right now, and that it has been for the last thirty years?

If overpopulation were the cause of Haiti's problems, we would see the same problems in NYC and Paris. We don't.
Ah, yes, racists.  I guess it doesn't matter if they have all their facts right, if their logic is impeccable, and if no dispassionate analysis can arrive at a conclusion which varies too much from theirs; if they're racist, they MUST be wrong.  Isn't that how it is these days?


NYC and Paris are isolated parts of one nation, and have far more invested capital than e.g. Cité-Soleil.  The Haitians didn't invest the capital (perhaps due to not having it to invest), so it's not capable of supporting as many people.

The net population density of the USA is about 30 people per km².  Haiti's pop density is about 10 times that.  Despite the much better growing season, etc. Haiti really is overpopulated.
Snark away, dear boy. If you can show me an argument in which the analysis really is dispassionate and the logic really is impeccable I shall gladly entertain it. I'm open to the possibility that it's possible to come up with "the whites should manage the reproduction of the blacks for their own good" via such an argument, but given the historical preponderance of evidence in which we've tried it and it hasn't worked, you'll excuse me if I don't immediately jump on the bandwagon on the say so of Steve Sailer.

It's funny how racist arguments, like religious arguments, always seem to come up with conclusions which conveniently support the prejudices of the person making the arguments. Almost as if there was some kind of bias in play, where evidence which didn't confirm the foregone conclusions are discarded in favour of those that do. I wonder if any cognitive scientists have done any research into whether such a phenomenon might exist?

It's more the conclusions than the facts, you know? Haiti has a dense population and a failed state infrastructure — your jumped-to conclusion is to immediately talk about controlling what you perceive as a runaway population, which is one of those racist shibboleths that always pops up. Other factors that contribute to poverty are discarded – it must be the population, and the solution must be to control the runaway breeding!

Similarly, when you hear about Muslims doing things based on an interpretation of their Muslim faith, you immediately jump to the conclusion that we should screen the population "Muslims" for their "extremist sympathies". Goodness knows if you've ever heard of the Roman Catholic group the IRA, or the base rate fallacy, but I have, and so I don't need to figure that stuff like that is racist to know that it's patently unworkable. There's your track record of "impeccable logic and dispassionate analysis" cast into immediate doubt on an issue where bias and prejudice have traditionally come out to play, see, so it undermines your credibility somewhat.

The question is, do you think your logic in arriving at such conclusions is really "impeccable"?
Let's see, the undisputable facts are:

- Haiti's got nearly 2x as many people per km² as the Dominican Republic and some 9 times as much as the USA.
- Haiti has had a long problem with deforestation, including people moving into essential watersheds providing drinking water for cities (risking silt and bacterial contamination of that water).
- NPR reported last night that abandonment of children by destitute mothers is "not uncommon in Haiti".
- NPR also reported that many children in orphanages have living relatives.

Yet you say that any talk about Haiti being overpopulated is "bigoted".  Riiiiight.

I'd deconstruct your stuff about Muslims but I am busy this weekend.  You can troll somewhere else henceforth.

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