The Haiti Spectacle

January 31, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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Well, the amazing outpouring of concern and money for Haiti continues. As economists Paul Collier and Jean-Louis Warnholtz reported in the New York Times a few days ago, nearly half of American households have contributed money to help Haiti recover from the devastating earthquake that hit it almost three weeks ago. My own parish here in Flatbush, Our Lady of Refuge, is hosting a fundraiser next Saturday night, an orchestra and chorus performing Brahms’s  Requiem. Fifteen dollars at the door. Maybe you’d like to join us?

Yet I have to confess that there’s something about all this outpouring of support that I find deeply disturbing. What is it with us that we need a catastrophe–a spectacle–to motivate us to act? In his 1997 book The Bottom Billion,  Paul Collier, the same economist whose recent op-ed piece explains what’s needed to rebuild Haiti, reported that approximately fifty failing states around the world, totalling a billion people, were sinking deeper and deeper into poverty, and what was needed to reverse it. Seventy percent of this “bottom billion,” according to Collier, were in sub-Saharan Africa. Another chunk of them, I’m willing to bet, were at the time in Haiti, though now their share of that “bollom billion” has been reduced by 200,000 or so.

I mention this because, as that radical socialist David Brooks noted on the PBS News Hour not long after the earthquake, the devastation in Haiti was the  result of poverty, plain and simple. A similar magnitude earthquake in San Francisco in 1989 resulted in about 60 deaths. But Haiti, a nation within spitting distance of the richest country in the history of the world, was permitted to construct its capital city out of such inadequate  materials that 200,000 human beings, more or less, were crushed to death when a similar earthquake hit them. 

Meanwhile, the US Congress seems on the verge of cutting back substantially on global warming legislation. No cap and trade. Too difficult in a recession, when the American people are so angry at government. Maybe a little money for green jobs. Of course, if the United States doesn’t provide substantial leadership on global warming, entire communities in the South Pacific and elsewhere will be wiped out in the  not too distant future by rising seas. After which perhaps we generous US citizens will pledge ten bucks apiece on our cellphones or have a benefit concert to raise money for those who managed to escape the flood in rowboats.

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