I do not know if what I’m about to write makes me a monster. I do know that it makes me a part of a miniscule minority, if Internet trends and news stories of the past weeks are any guide.

“It”, is this:

I haven’t donated a cent to the Haitian relief effort. And I probably will not.

I haven’t donated to the Haitian relief effort for the same reason that I don’t give money to homeless men on the street. Based on past experiences, I don’t think the guy with the sign that reads “Need You’re Help” is going to do anything constructive with the dollar I might give him. If I use history as my guide, I don’t think the people of Haiti will do much with my money either.

In this belief I am, evidently, alone. It seems that everyone has jumped on the  “Save Haiti” bandwagon. To question the impulse to donate, then, will probably be viewed as analogous with rooting for Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, or the Spice Girls.

My wariness has much to do with the fact that the sympathy deployed to Haiti has been done so unconditionally. Very few have said, written, or even intimated the slightest admonishment of Haiti, the country, for putting itself into a position where so many would be killed by an earthquake.

I can’t help but wonder why questions have not been raised in the face of this outpouring of support. Questions like this one:

Shouldn’t much of the responsibility for the disaster lie with the victims of that disaster?

Before the reader reaches for his or her blood pressure medication, he should allow me to explain. I don’t mean in any way that the Haitians deserved their collective fate. And I understand that it is difficult to plan for the aftermath of an earthquake. However, it is not outside the realm of imagination to think that the citizens of a country might be able to: A) avoid putting themselves into a situation that might result in such catastrophic loss of life.  And B) provide for their own aid, in the event of such a catastrophe.

Imagine that I’m a caveman. Imagine that I’ve chosen to build my house out of balsa wood, and that I’m building it next to a roaring river because I’ve decided it will make harvesting fish that much easier. Then, imagine that my hut is destroyed by a flood.

Imagining what would happen next is easier than imagining me carrying a caveman’s club. If I were lucky enough to survive the roaring waters that took my hut, my tribesmen would say, “Building next to the river was pretty dumb, wasn’t it?.” Or, if I weren’t so lucky, they’d say, “At least we don’t have to worry about that moron anymore.”

Sure, you think, but those are cavemen. We’re more civilized now – we help each other, even when we make mistakes.

True enough. But what about when people repeat their mistakes? And what about when they do things that obviously act against their own self-interests?

In the case of mistakes and warnings as applied to Haiti, I don’t mean to indict those who ignored actual warnings against earthquakes, of which there were many before the recent one. Although it would have been prudent to pay heed to those, I suppose.

Instead, I’m referring to the circumstances in which people lived.  While the earthquake was, obviously, unavoidable, the way in which many of the people of Haiti lived was not.  Regrettably, some Haitians would have died regardless of the conditions in that country.  But the fact that so many people lived in such abject poverty exacerbated the extent of the crisis.

How could humans do this to themselves? And what’s being done to stop it from happening again?

After the tsunami of 2004, the citizens of the world wailed and donated and volunteered for cleanup, rarely asking the important – and, I think, obvious – question: What were all those people doing there in the first place? Just as important: If they move back to a place near the ocean that had just been destroyed by a giant wave, shouldn’t our instinct be to say, “Go ahead if you want, but you’re on your own now.”?

We did the same after Hurricane Katrina. We were quick to vilify humans who were too slow to respond to the needs of victims, forgetting that the victims had built and maintained a major city below sea level in a known target zone for hurricanes. Our response: Make the same mistake again. Rebuild a doomed city, putting aside logic as we did.

And now, faced with a similar situation, it seems likely that we will do the same.

Shouldn’t there be some discourse on how the millions of dollars that are being poured into Haiti will be spent? And at least a slight reprimand for the conditions prior to the earthquake? Some kind of inquisition? Something like this?:

Dear Haitians –

First of all, kudos on developing the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Your commitment to human rights, infrastructure, and birth control should be applauded.

As we prepare to assist you in this difficult time, a polite request: If it’s possible, could you not re-build your island home in the image of its predecessor? Could you not resort to the creation of flimsy shanty- and shack-towns? And could some of you maybe use a condom once in a while?

Sincerely,

The Rest of the World

It shouldn’t be outlandish to hope that we might stop short of the reactionary word that is so often flung about after natural (and unnatural) disasters. That word: Rebuild. Thus, the tired, knee-jerk cycle of aid/assist/rebuild would be replaced by a new one: Aid/assist/let’s-stop-and-think-before-we-screw-this-up-again.

If forced to do so through logic-colored glasses, no one would look at Haiti and think, “You know what? It was a great idea to put 10 million people on half of an island. The place is routinely battered by hurricanes (in 2008, $900 million was lost/spent on recovery from them), it holds the aforementioned title of poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, and it happens to sit on a tectonic fault line.”

If it were apparent that Haiti would likely rebuild in an earthquake-resistant way, and if a cure could be found for hurricane abuse of island nations, then maybe one could imagine putting a sustained effort into rebuilding the place. But that would only be feasible if the country had shown any ability to manage its affairs in the past, which it has not done.

I can tell, based on my own reaction to that last sentence, that it might strike a nerve. The reader might be tempted to think, “We can’t blame the people of Haiti for their problems. Surely it’s someone else’s fault.” A similar sentiment can be found in this quote, from an article on the geology behind the quake:

“Unfortunately, [Haiti]’s government was not in a position to really do much to prepare for the inevitable large earthquake, leaving tens of thousands to suffer the consequences.”

The sentiment expressed is one of outrage at the government. But, ultimately, the people in a country have control over their government. One could argue that in totalitarian regimes, they do not have much control, but in the end, it is their government. And therefore, their responsibility. If the government is not doing enough for the people, it is the people’s responsibility to change the government. Not the other way around.

Additionally, some responsibility for the individual lies with that individual.

A Haitian woman, days after the earthquake:

“We need so much. Food, clothes, we need everything. I don’t know whose responsibility it is, but they need to give us something soon,” said Sophia Eltime, a mother of two who has been living under a bed sheet with seven members of her extended family. (From an AP report.)

Obviously, a set of circumstances such as the one in which Ms. Eltime was living is a heart-wrenching one. And for that, anyone would be sympathetic.  Until she says, “I don’t know whose responsibility it is.” I don’t know whose responsibility it is, either.  What I do know is that it is not the responsibility of the outside world to provide help. It’s nice if we do, but it is not a requirement, especially when people choose to influence their own existences negatively, whether by having too many children when they can’t afford them or by failing to recognize that living in a concrete bunker might not be the best way to protect one’s family, whether an earthquake happens or not.

Ms. Eltime’s reaction helps define what is the crux of my problem with the reaction to this and to other humanitarian crises. I recoil at the notion that I’m SUPPOSED to do something. I would like to help, but only if I feel that my assistance is deserved and justified.  If I perceive that I am being told to feel a certain way, and if I can point to a pattern of mistakes made in similar situations, I lose interest.

When I was young, the great humanitarian crisis facing our world – as portrayed by the media, anyway – was the starving masses in Africa. The solution found, of course, was to send bag after bag of food to those people, forgetting the long-understood maxim that giving more food to poor people allows them to create more poor people. (Admittedly, it’s a harsh truth.) At the time, my classmates and I, young and naïve as we were, thought we had come up with a better solution. “They should just go somewhere else,” we said. Our teacher grimaced, saying, “It’s not that simple.”

It still isn’t. And I’m not as naïve as I once was – I don’t think the people of Haiti have the option of moving.  But I do think that our assistance should be restricted, like it should be in cases of starvation.  It simply does not work to give, unconditionally.  What might work is to teach.  In the case of famine-stricken segments of Africa, teaching meant making people understand that a population of people needs a certain amount of food, and that the creation of that food has to be self-sustaining for the system to work.  In the case of earthquake-stricken Haiti, teaching might mean limited help, but help that is accompanied by criticism of the circumstances that made that help necessary.

In the case of the Haitian earthquake, it’s heartening to see people caring about the fates of their fellow men. What is alarming, I think, is the sometimes illogical frenzy toward casting those affected by the earthquake as helpless, innocent souls who were placed on the island of Hispaniola by an invisible force. In the case of some, this analogy might well be accurate; children cannot very well control their destinies. And as far as sympathy goes, much of it should go to those children.

But children are brought into the world by their parents. Those parents have a responsibility – to themselves and to their kids – to provide. They have a responsibility to look around – before an earthquake happens – and say, “I need to improve this situation, because if a catastrophe were to happen, we’d be in bad shape.”

The people of whom I write are adults. Functional, human adults with functional, human adult brains. It is not too much to ask that they behave as such. That they stand up and say, “Yes, we screwed this up the first time. We are forever indebted to you. Now show us how we can do it right.  So that, next time, we won’t need your help.”

For my reaction to the discussion this piece generated: A Reaction, by Paul Shirley.

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Comments

comments

  1. Dotego Hellsing
    look you freaking twits The man made a completely valid point he isnt racisit nor were his comments invalid they were made from common freaking sense something quite a few of you lack im 16 and even i can see that haiti should be left to its own devices to rebuild else they are going to keep doing the same thing they are literally insane they are the epitomy of insanity i.e. doing the same thing and expecting a different result so how about beofr being critical with someone else you try and look at what he said with some common freaking sense
  2. anonymous
    Other than being completely ignorant, using terrible analogies, and choosing too sensational a manner to suggest oversight of how the US government should spend money in Haiti; who the fuck is Paul Shirley. An NBA player, what's his longest contract, oh yeah he doesn't even finish seasons. He's played for 13 teams in 9 seasons. I mean if the one thing he ever possibly excelled at in life, basketball, can't make him famous maybe being the biggest douche Haiti has seen since Emmanuel "Toto" Constant will be his chance for people to realize that he actually exists.
  3. Ray
    I agree with Darsha. i dont think you were entirely wrong.But seriosly,People are taking this haiti thing a little far fetch.i mean where was our government when Hurricane Katrina came? America wasnt willing as much then was they?We're in a second depression and we're trying to help Haiti when we cant even help ourselves.
  4. Anonymous
    Nice job dumbass. Did you take ethics at Iowa State? You should have stuck to basketball commentary.
  5. Pingback: Paul Shirley Fired By ESPN Over Haiti Comments

  6. Randy
    I agree with about half but i think that while we are sending money their way along with doctors to treat the injured we should send people to give them help with future financial and economic construction. Also a few architects could help them construct new and efficiently resisting buildings. This would benefit for the future and people are doing more than just throwing money their way.
  7. pj
    i think you're right
  8. Rasmus
    good points, i cant say i agree with you a 100 % but more or less. Its the same when anything happens that shouldnt have been, people react and say "we need to do something" and the result usually is very little thought about and destroying something else. I would agree on we have to help people, also i do agree very much on the point that we need to do it with conditions, and alot of places Birth control could help on hunger etc. Great point and a great option to start a debate with the subjects.
  9. You're a moron
    I don't think I've ever been so glad to hear about someone's firing more than when I heard about yours. This article proves that you are the scum of the earth. If someone broke into your house, stole all your possessions, and raped your daughter, is it your fault for not being preventative enough to stop them? According to you, it is. Please get out of America because you're the type of person that is ruining it for the rest of us.
  10. I Agree
    I agree with you. I haven't donated either. I do donate to other causes, but just didn't have it to give this time. I also agree that people who build their homes near the ocean, rivers, etc., should expect that a natural disaster will wipe them out.
  11. MP & DP
    Have you ever heard of ethics or studied the United States' relations with developing countries or the history of colonialism around the world? First of all, Africa is not country, it is a continent. And second of all, we do have an obligation to provide aid to Haiti. Earthquakes are one of the most unpredictable natural disasters and can happen anywhere because there are thousands of fault lines around the world. You make it sound as if because they are a third world country they are asking for a disaster, but natural disasters can happen anywhere and are more common today because of the global climate change by humans not caring for the environment, which is one reason why these disasters are occurring in such high numbers. In this global world that has been created by the developed countries of the world, humans are now citizens of the world who are connected within minutes to people and places all over the world. You make a good point that throwing money at the problem is not the best option, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't help them. The local people are not solely to be blamed; their government, or lack of government, has not provided the necessary needs of the country for the local people to be able to develop like their neighbor. Yes, education is needed and birth rates are too high to be able to sustain a country in a good manner. But, one cannot assume that condoms are widely sold there and birth control is available to all, because most likely they are not. One group that should be blamed for Haiti's impoverished country is the U.S. because of our interference with Haiti's politics. This has regressed their political, social, and economical development. We have throughout history used developing countries' resources for the benefit of our large businesses and government functions. This is why the United States needs to be assisting Haiti in rebuilding, so that they can one day be able to help themselves, like you seem to think is possible now.
  12. wow
    yeah, you're right. most people who are poor choose to be poor. they're probably just lazy and stupid, i mean they'd have to be live by the ocean right? oh wait. could that potentially be because their way of life is facilitated by living by the ocean? perhaps one of their main incomes is tourism and fishing? do you really think that poor people choose to be poor? well i'll inform you. they're are people in poverty because society is structured to keep poor people poor, and to keep the rich in power. go to college. take a class. read a book. or don't ever write a blog again. and you're an embarrassment to iowa.
  13. Someone Trying to help YOU
    Paul Shirley...YOU ARE AN IDIOT....go get yourself educated...start we this link. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/opinion/22danner.html?scp=1&sq=To%20Heal%20Haiti&st=cse
  14. OHIO
    I think Paul is right, and yall need to stop cry becuase this is what he thinks, and im right there with you Paul, keep up the good work...
  15. MW
    Yeah you're probably right Paul, and the rest of the world is wrong. You're the one who's got it all figured out. Is that why espn dumped you? Wait, that doesn't make sense... oh yeah I guess it does cause this is the supidest thing ever written in the history of mankind. Wake up man. Ditch the narcissism and just try for once in your life to see things from someone else's perspective.
  16. shawnna
    I love you!!!
  17. Pingback: The Rookies » Blog Archive » What’s Paul Shirley Up To?

  18. eric lemaitre
    I am french, I am not sure to have understood everything but I think that Mr. Shirley can express his own opinion. He pointed out what the politics are afraid to say and that is a good point. We can desagree about it but when you see the reaction of ESPN, it seems that it is not allowed to be political incorrect. If you watch the situation in Haiti, what Paul means is not stupid on a mid term strategy. And it is not because our governments feel guilty, we should all be guilty individually. I apologise for my poor English Eric
  19. mark madsen
    fuck you paul shirley you fucking fake ass quasi-intellectual, you are a fucking joke. you carry this attitude as if you're a better person than the rest of your basketball brethren then you come off popping this ill informed bullshit. thank you for doing us all a favor by effectively ending your own worthless career. i'm glad i won't have to see your stupid face ever again on espn and even more glad that you'll never come close to returning to the league you never deserved to be in in the first place BIAAAAAATTTTTTTTCCCCCHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  20. home_2468
    Perhaps briefer and more apologetic, next time? Similar to global warming vs Ice ages.....Al Gore's CO2 argument vs. these Variations in the Earth's Orbit: Pacemaker of the Ice Ages http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17790893 Modeling the Climatic Response to Orbital Variations http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17830447 Good luck in your future endeavors.
  21. Judson Bazin
    Are you stupid or insane, keep your money then. When you died you will still be rich with it. you just so insensitive and stupid. We should help one another, money comes and go but your money will stay. So keep it in your pocket we dont need it.
  22. Matthew
    To anonymous at February 11, 2010 at 7:57 PM - Personal basketball achievements and/or lucrative contracts doesn't make that person any more creditable than the next. He’s just a normal human being like you or who is stating his own opinion; anyone can post on a blog you made the choice to read it. To Tech – I thoroughly enjoyed your input, every point you brought up was valid. In the defense of the US government, they only gave $1 out of every $100 to the Haitian government because of how corrupt it is. To Anonymous at February 6, 2010 at 3:00 PM – I also believe you’re correct, as a nation we never address the issues in our own country first and everyday fall further and further behind in debt. Lets be honest everyone in the world views the United States as the “piggy bank” of the world. I’m a school teacher and have been teaching for ten years. I earn approximately $40K annually, paid for my own education, and make my monthly mortgage payments on my less than eccentric home on time. I live within my means and manage my finances relatively well. Just yesterday I saw a student that got dropped off in a late model Cadillac Escalade, yet the student’s family is part of the governments free stipend lunch program. The problem I see is that a majority of the individuals/country encourage frivolous spending and irresponsibility. When our government decides to fund every world crisis that arises with the tax dollars I’m required to donate I’m not the least bit surprised at all. Finally to Paul Shirley, while I thought your article was informative and a fair portion of the points you brought up were legitimate the entire time I was reading your article I thought to myself “Man does this guy have to be such a dick?” Is the Haitian government corrupt, yes. Will sending more money/aid alleviate the pain and fix any of their problems over time, nope. If we as a nation had a natural disaster of this proportion would they come assist us, nope. Those people are still human’s beings, and deserve at least a little bit of sympathy. In close I’m all for assisting people in need but I believe the motto I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine. Personally I feel like my fingernails are gone, my muscles are sore, and my hand are cramped yet I still haven’t caught a glimpse of any signs of reciprocity.
  23. Mary T
    Honestly, the comparison of Haiti and it's own fault for not preventing such a disaster has a few valid points, but has only reminded me of this example (which you might as well have used): A women is at a party, decides to have a few drinks. She is outside with a man, and decides she has had enough to drink- she ends up lying down in a secluded room, and is then raped by the man she was talking to earlier. Was it her fault? According to your logic, yes- she did not prevent herself from talking to the man, she had a few drinks, she lied down in a secluded room. And yet, she did not deserve to be raped. It is NEVER the victim's fault. Think on that.
  24. Mike
    It is pretty hilarious that "ignorance" is claimed by the most ignorant people of all. It's like a catch all for retarded liberals who think with their hearts instead of their brains. It makes me think of the Princess Bride... "You keep on using that word... I do not think it means what you think it means." Colonialism? 200 years ago? Yeah that's why the country sticks their hands out for 40% of their GDP every year from the U.S. and every politician is corrupt and the culture of the country is stealing whatever you can get. They have no way to support themselves and they have no interest in trying. It must be weird for liberals to read an article with logic.... It's my only explanation for their recoiling, chant of "ignorance, ignorance!"
  25. nurtz
    Saying that colonialism in Haiti ended 200 years ago is incorrect. The French demanded payment from Haiti for the "losses" suffered by their poor, oppressed slave-owners. Many other nations jumped on the same bandwagon, and sent gunboats to Haiti to demand "reparations" for imagined slights. Essentially every available dime earned by the Haitian people was paid to other nations until the debt was repaid -- in 1946. That's why other, similarly situated countries (like the Dominican Republic) have been much more economically successful than Haiti. In the 1800's they were building water systems and roads, by the early 1900's they were building sewers and electrical distribution networks, and by the 1960's they were ready for more serious development. Haiti had nothing. And blaming them for having been exploited is like blaming the early martyrs for having been thrown the the lions.
  26. Luke Doyle
    I truly believe we have wasted billions on helping these people. Not only that, but the ammount of money that goes to the corperations that offer so called relief. They take a good chunk of our donations to fund there own lifes here in north america. Hopefully only Cristiens and weak minded people are donating to these lost causes....
  27. Justin
    Dear Paul Shirley, You are a fucking retard. That is all.
  28. Nancy Knopp Daniels
    Dear Paul, I am gratified to know that ESPN didn't think these comments represented their philosophy. It would be sad if civilized society patted you on the back and said, "here,here!" The Haitian people are doing precisely what Paul Shirley and Nancy Daniels do-- what our parents did. You and I won the pre-birth lottery. They did not. Your comments are not far removed from your parents' ideology. You can move away from your parents philosophically, but, like the Haitian people you have chosen to "put your hut by the river" because it is easier. Perhaps I have judged you too harshly-- perhaps you are teaching citizenship classes in your spare time like my friend Ben; perhaps you are visiting Wyandotte County to see what the life a person living in poverty is really like (3 jobs and 7 bus rides) or perhaps you've become a Big Brother to expose yourself and a child to a different way of life. I doubt it. If you had "moved your hut" to expose yourself to other people's reality, you could not have written this article. As for your comment about "using a condom" you should know that the birth rate has never gone down in any country until infant mortality goes down. These women are trying to have enough children to get one to live to adulthood. It is not your reality, but it is theirs and it doesn't make it any less real. Let me know if you want to move your hut. A good place to start is www.results.org.
  29. Hex
    The ignorance is dumbfounding. Shirley gives "kudos" to Haiti for "developing the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere." How about some "kudos" to your own country? The United States has actually played a prominent role in the degradation of Haiti. We destroyed their democracy, for starters. Open a real history book and learn about it instead of writing this insensitive garbage.
  30. Sara Jane
    Thanks Paul, finally someone has said it properly without regard for PC-ness. I appreciate your acknowledgement for realism.
  31. Galina Vladi
    Dear Paul, I am applauding to your courage to be a "black sheep" in expressing a different opinion in response to Haiti's disaster. I agree with you that if we keep blaming everyone and everything else, we never learn the lesson. We do have to start taking responsibilities for the mess that we as a human race had created on this planet. Haiti is just one example of that mess. Thank you for expressing your truth! Galina Vladi
  32. Ward Williams
    To me, even if the Haitian’s were entirely to blame for the damage the earthquake did to their country (I believe luck & history had a lot to do with it), such criticism is missing the point of an urgent relief effort. Mr. Shirley’s criticism is a bit like giving a lecture to a badly injured speeding motorist, as he bleeds to death, on how he should have driven more carefully, rather than taking him to a hospital. I’d prefer to take him to the hospital first, and give him the lecture later. Mr. Shirley also seems to assume that the governmental and institutional failures of Haiti should be reasons to deny its citizens aid. For starters, in no point in Haiti’s history do ordinary citizens appear to have be in a position to build up either the physical or intellectual capital necessary to privately look after their own needs beyond a subsistence living. With regard to intellectual capital, schooling in the local Creole language did not even occur until 1922, less than 90 years ago. (BTW: If I state something unlinked/uncited, it is from Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge.) Haitian civil unrest & violence Mr. Shirley might argue that these citizens who are now victims of the quake are the very ones who caused the violence and civil unrest that’s been the source of so many problems throughout Haiti’s unstable history. I suspect he would be wrong. Let’s look at a parallel case in Afghanistan or Iraq. You could blame the Taliban in Afghanistan for the poor conditions and civil rights abuses. However, the Taliban are estimated to number in the tens of thousands in Afghanistan. Let’s assume there are 100,000 of them. The Afghanistan population totals about 28 million. That means that only 0.36% of the population are Taliban, or 1 in 280. You might counter by saying that yes, 279 out of 280 AREN’T Taliban insurgents, but since they outnumber them, why don’t they revolt and kick them out of the country if they don’t like the conditions caused by the Taliban? I would suspect it’s the same reason I wouldn’t take up arms against the US government if it decided to become a totalitarian dictatorship tomorrow: I’d get slaughtered. The Afghanistan people are poor, like the people in Haiti (who are even poorer.) They lack education and military and financial strength. Similarly in Iraq, there are roughly 100,000 – 130,000 insurgents. If we divide 130,000 by the population of 31 million we get 0.42%, or about 1 in 240 people. My point here is that a relatively small amount of people with guns and resources can control a much large number of people without one or the other. Thus, blaming the typical Haitian citizen for not kicking violent organized groups out of the country is unrealistic. Poverty and lack of financial & intellectual capital “By most economic measures, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas. It had a nominal GDP of 7.018 billion USD in 2009, with a GDP per capita of 790 USD, about $2 per person per day.” However, of that ‘wealth’, about half of it is in the hands of Haiti’s richest 1%. Thus, GDP per capita for 99% of the country is actually $1 per day. “About 80% of the population were estimated to be living in poverty in 2003. Most Haitians live on $2 or less per day. Haiti has 50% illiteracy, and over 80% of college graduates from Haiti have emigrated, mostly to the United States.” So of those folks that DO get access to education (very few), 4 out of 5 leave the country for greener pastures. (And who could blame them? Mr. Shirley certainly wouldn’t, unless they stayed behind to contribute to their home country’s economy and got crushed in the earthquake; then he’d blame them.) Government & Corruption I’ve established why I believe it’s ridiculous to assume that Haiti’s private sector could’ve been expected to prepare for the earthquake, which would’ve been relatively unaffordable, but what about the government? Surely there must have been some capital stored up to build earthquake-proof houses etc for the masses? Unfortunately, that is also not true, in part due to looting of Haiti’s coffers by corrupt officials: “It is estimated that [a former Haitian president, his wife] and three other people took $504 million from the Haitian public treasury between 1971 and 1986.” “Similarly millions was stolen by [former president] Aristide. During the Aristide era, drug trafficking emerged as a major industry. Beaudoin Ketant, a notorious international drug trafficker and close partner of Aristide, confessed that Aristide "turned the country into a narco-country. It's a one-man show. You either pay (Aristide) or you die". The BBC describes pyramid schemes, in which Haitians lost hundreds of millions in 2002, as the "only real economic initiative" of the Aristide years.” Okay, so officials have been corrupt and have stolen hundreds of millions from the government over the years, but what about all the foreign aid that Haiti has received? “Foreign aid makes up approximately 30–40% of the national government's budget. The largest donor is the US, followed by Canada and the European Union. From 1990 to 2003, Haiti received more than $4 billion in aid.” $4 billion might sound like a large amount of money, and it is, until you divide it by population. Let’s assume the aid was spread out evenly over 13 years and that the population was, on average, 7.6 million. That equates to $308 million per year, or $40.50 per person per year, which is about 1 month’s wages for most people in Haiti. Could you rebuild your house on a sturdy earthquake proof foundation for $40 bucks, or even 1 month’s salary? Or how about relocating to what might be a safer place (regardless of whether you can earn a living there)? “In 2005 Haiti's total external debt reached an estimated US$1.3 billion, which corresponds to a debt per capita of US$169. In September 2009, Haiti met the conditions set out by the IMF and World Bank's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries program to qualify for cancellation of its external debt.” So until recently, the government was carrying debt equal to 18.7% of its 2008 GDP. That’s not a very strong base from which to run a deficit with large-scale public infrastructure projects. To put it into comparison, the US’s record-high government debt is around 8% of GDP, only 43% of that of Haiti’s in % of GDP terms. Who should rebuild Haiti? Mr. Shirley states “I don’t know whose responsibility it is [to rebuild Haiti], either. What I do know is that it is not the responsibility of the outside world to provide help. [My note: which is basically saying it’s either Haiti’s responsibility or no one's.] It’s nice if we do, but it is not a requirement, especially when people choose to influence their own existences negatively, whether by having too many children when they can’t afford them or by failing to recognize that living in a concrete bunker might not be the best way to protect one’s family, whether an earthquake happens or not.” On the subject of family sizes in Haiti, for one thing, birth control is likely very inaccessible. (If Mr. Shirley would then urge Haitians simply to not have sex, he would be severely overestimating the will power of all but a special class of human beings.) Secondly, it may actually be in the economic self interest of Haitians to have large families (to say nothing of emotional self interests.) Two thirds of Haitians support themselves by subsistence agriculture. On a farm, more children equals free labor, so it may be rational for individual families to continue have larger families, despite their poverty. Logically I can’t dispute whether or not better off people have a ‘requirement’ do help those much worse off. Morally I disagree. I believe those with way more money than they need to make them happy (the western world) has a strong moral imperative to better the conditions of those worse off. How would you want the world to be if you were randomly placed in it? There is a very simple thought experiment that I find helpful in defending the ideal that those with a lot should help those with a little. Imagine that you were given a chance before birth to allocate all the resources in the world to various countries, regions, and peoples of the world. You can do this however you want. The catch is that afterwards, you will be randomly placed into that world population of about 6.5 billion. Given income distribution in our world (as of the year 2000), you would have a 45% chance of living off less than $3/day (including a 23% chance of living off less than $2/day, the level that Haiti is at.) 2 out of 3 times you would be living off less than $14/day. You would only have a 13% (1 of 8) chance of being relatively affluent & making at least $11,500 per year (1997 data), which is well below the poverty line for a family in the United States. (The US median income per family is about $55,000 per year, making us extremely wealthy by worldwide standards.) We live in a world where the richest 10% of the population owns 85% of its assets, and the poorest 50% owns 1%. Would you choose to distribute resources as they are today, knowing that you’re most likely to live your life in incredible poverty (by US standards)? Or would you choose to move things around a bit, giving yourself a chance to live comfortably no matter where you happen to be born? Two times the wealth doesn’t equal two times the happiness I would choose the latter, and I suspect many other people would as well for the following reason. Pretend someone offers to let you flip a coin for your entire net worth. If the coin lands heads, you double your wealth. If it’s tails, you are utterly wiped out and have nothing: no house, no savings, no clothes/cars/iPhone etc. Would you take the gamble? I suspect 98% of Americans would not. The reason? Having twice as much wealth doesn’t bring us twice as much happiness. The more money we make, the less valuable each dollar is to us. Economists refer to this trait as being ‘risk averse.’ Losing what we already have hurts more than gaining an equivalent amount, so we pay for security in the form of insurance or diversified mutual funds. Of course, in terms of the ‘where would you be born’ thought experiment, the results of birth misfortune are much more dire than simply losing your current wealth. Not only do you have a 7/8 chance of making less than $11,500, you will likely lose your paths of opportunity to a better life: education, health, human rights, and physical security. Incentives One issue I haven’t addressed is the proper incentive system for people, not just “ideal” wealth distribution. If someone does something harmful to themselves, you want to discourage them from doing so again. I’ve already explained why I believe the vast majority of impoverished Haitian’s are NOT very responsible for their fate, thus, it makes little sense to punish them by withholding aid. Where possible to do so effectively, the US & private donors should definitely make an attempt to reform Haiti’s government and provide citizens with better opportunities to help themselves. That being said, we can do a lot in the mean time. Conclusion In closing, I urge thinking people to avoid assigning blame to people in trouble simply because they have had the misfortune to be born in a different part of the world. This is an easy trap to fall into because it absolves the blamer of all responsibility to help. It is also easy to forget how incredibly privileged we are in western Europe & the United States. Fortunately, judging from the roughly $1 billion in private donations from the American charities to Haiti, the vast majority of people are ignoring Mr. Shirley’s callous and faulty reasoning and donating however they can to help the Haiti relief effort. If you haven’t already, I urge you to do the same.
  33. Chloe
    You are absolutely fucked buddy. I suggest you start writing after you actually get an education.
  34. Anonymous
    mr. shirley,you are exactly right.period. i can not understand why all this third world goverments and all these so called help programs,dont give and teach condom use.
  35. Amber
    WE all can say that we should or shouldn't help. But is that the real answer? No I suppose not. Think of our own government in the USA, they do not look after the american people, the politicians are as crooked as a dogs hind leg. If we the people of a country that has freedom and supposedly have the american dream, where is it. We can't control our own government how are we to say or give advice to a country that is poorer than ours control their government. They all are crooked. People have forgotten the Bible. All these episodes and catastrophes are by the act of God. We don't control him. He is letting all things happen to fulfill his word. It is all Bible and it is the end time and it is going to get worse not better. Our own government will fall and we will not be able to control that. This is the devils world, people read the Bible.
  36. k.
    Dear Paul and followers, You and others that agree with you should be ashamed of yourselves. You talk about human rights but, i'm not sure that youre intelligent enough or empathic enough to know the meaning of human rights. Your comments and ignorance to human suffering are embarrassing to me as an American. Youre a disgrace to not only Americans but, human-kind in general. It is not difficult to imagine you as a caveman, because youre ignorance to humanity is so evident that it is not a far stretch to view you as barbaric. Of course you dont have to donate money or time if you dont feel it will help, but your awful comments and inhumane ideals perpetuate ignorance. as a public figure you have used your celebrity to set a poor example and you should be embarrassed and ashamed for what you have said. As a young person in modern American society I can say with full conviction that you are truly cold-hearted and callus and that it is people like you that make me more motivated to help those who find it difficult to help themselves. You may not donate money or give a shit about humanity, but I do and i know others do as well. If you were not born to some sort of privlegde or you were part of a natural disaster and had NOTHING, you would be praying for myself and others like me for help and we would give it to you because no human should suffer like that and be left helpless and it is with that thought that i leave you. Have a nice life you washed-up athlete. K
  37. Craig
    Let me see if I understand this correctly... Two adult can't raise enough food on their farm to feed themselves. However, two adults with an infant are able to raise enough food for the family. Lastly, two adults with a malnourished child helper are able to create a sustainable way of life. Did I get it right?
  38. elsa
    Wow. You really know absolutely nothing about how the world works do you? Go read some actual literature about vulnerability to natural hazards. Or have someone read it if that helps. The only thing anyone somewhat knowledgeable in the field would agree with is that there are social dimensions of "natural" disasters. Blaming the victims was all the rage in the old days. Thankfully, we know better.
  39. Pingback: Next up from Paul Shirley: Why did Polish Jews put up with so much anti-Semitism? : Lawyers, Guns & Money

  40. Brett Stevens
    Dear Paul Shirley, This column is awesome, first because it's all true and second because it says the truths we're socialized to be afraid of. Personally, I dislike fear and taboos on truth (I don't oppose taboos on behavior like pedophilia). But by taking a step into the realist world, you've found that there are many people out there who are threatened by reality and will want to kill the messenger. That seems to me the human problem in America and Europe at least.
  41. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
    The truth will always be to much for some to digest. I applaud you Paul on laying these first stones on the path towards clarity. It is to be hoped that in the forthcoming years the rest of humanity will acknowledge that these stones are level-minded and grounded and will likewise walk this path under the banner of a common truth.
  42. Name
    Paul makes a valid point. What is really entertaining is reading all of the comments from these enraged people who are so engulfed with liberal guilt its sickening. Get over yourselves and get over the fact that others are allowed to have an opinion especially if its valid.
  43. Colin
    Liberal guilt? LOL You don't even know what side you're on! Excuse the mangling, but Pray or get off the pot... Apparently Jesus was a socialist: Ps. 140:12. I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and justice for the poor. Is. 25:4. For You have been a defense for the helpless, a defense for the needy in his distress. Ps. 10:14. The unfortunate commits himself to You; You have been the helper of the orphan... O LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear to vindicate the orphan and the oppressed. Is 41:17. The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst. I, the LORD, will answer them Myself, as the God of Israel I will not forsake them. Luke 6:20-21. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh
  44. Anonymous
    Paul Shirley, many in the past have come forward or have worked in secret to try controlling the population of another nation, especially a poor and oppressed one. And by affliction, I mean victimized by slavery, ignorance, disease and poverty. All these conditions already create a climate that naturally decreases the growth of a population. Science calls it natural selection. In January, Haiti was hit by a natural disaster that claimed the lives of more than 250 000 Haitians. They continue to fear and die every day even after the relief efforts of the first responders. Why is hard for me not to believe that you, Paul and many others would love to see more Haitians dying or stop spreading by using condoms? No one should forget history for the simple fact that it has left written records of the temporal thoughts and ideas of people across generations. Dear Paul and all who agree with you, you share the same “genetic control idea”, which can be achieved effectively on two fronts, increasing death among the living or regulating the birth rate by whatever means. The former black Egyptians who tried to control the Israelite population excelled in such ideas and practices which have been transmitted to you and all who agree with you. The irony of that famous story is the Passover when the situation was reversed by the Hebrew singer, the father of the original black and smooth Israelites. Maybe, if more of you nurture the idea of controlling the population of a small nation like the Haitians, the Hebrew singer might come back and execute a modern Passover where all the Haitian families would be spared and the firstborns of your families and friends would be selectively targeted for signs, wonders and total extermination. I wonder what your kudos would be for the Haitians then. True justice and equity would be served when something terrible you wish for your neighbor comes and knocks at your door. On behalf of the Haitian people, I want to express my sincere thanks to the ones who participated and supported relief efforts for Haiti. You were able to show that you have a common bond with the Haitian population which is basic humanity, the idea that naturally drives one to help someone else in crisis and understand the right of people to live and be happy. I appreciate your opposing viewpoints although I feel embarrassed for your lack of compassion, equity and righteousness.
  45. Cardboard King
    Way to much politics at play here instead of plain ol' truth. What Paul Shirley did was tell the TRUTH; no politics involved. Since I've read a few analogies (incorrect I might add) that correspond to the Haitian tragedy, allow me to offer my own based on what I know about Haiti. Imagine that you have yourself (America) and a acquaintance (Haiti). You have noticed his obesity (Haiti's problems) and sometimes try to help him through by watching his diet and making sure he gets enough regular exercise (American Relief Efforts, Military Aid, etc). However, after all of your help, you notice he doesn't give a damn and resorts to his old lifestyle; becoming more obese. Against your better judgment, you continue to help him, and he is continually unresponsive to all of your efforts. Now imagine one day he is involved in a car accident (Haiti Earthquake, OUT OF HIS CONTROL), and since he is so obese it takes longer for the authorities to rescue him because they must pry him out. Due to the delay in their rescue efforts, he loses both legs because of a lack of blood flow to his legs. Now, you (America) come to his aid and offer him a wheelchair that supports his weight, and he can continue to live his lifestyle on cheetos and cake (no thanks to you). Think about that, either you are an amazing friend with unconditional love or some stupid patsy. Let's hope that it's the former, because if YOU (America) had any common sense you would have dis-associated yourself from him a long, long time ago.
  46. matthew
    I agree with you if anyone here has been to Haiti then you would know what he is talking about. The country is very and i mean very poor. I do know that our government does have some blame about this. But he is right why give away money when they really need a proper education? Intelegince is priceless and people need to know that. "Plan for the worst hope for the best." Its a great quote some of yall should look into it. I really believe the country is so poor because they have a poor education what Sophia Eltime said really proved my point how do you not know who's fault it is? You should as least have some form of regulation set in place for building buildings! We do need to give them food and water but what we really need to give them is not money but education. And that is what Paul was saying.
  47. nun yah
    u suck!! LOL!!!this rite here is not awesome or cool u dnt have to be so mean to them wat if we had an earth quake u would want pople sending money to u would u nt so dnt say things like this u retarded stupid little boi ya douch omg u have no feelilngs for no one wat so eva i knt even stand to look at ya nam ani mor jus gt off dis page man
  48. Aaron
    Why it is so easy for people with privilege to forget that only a tiny portion of the world shares it? That others actually have to worry about the estranged concept for us of "surviving", or of feeding one’s children, before such things as "condoms." Are you kidding? For those who want to keep it "real" and scorn political correctness--this isn't about jumping on the "pity" bandwagon, believe it or not our pity is worthless to everyone but possibly to ourselves"--it is about realizing that our privilege and the privilege we take for granted as we go to school, as we eat 3 daily meals, as we go to the gym, as we drive on paved roads, as we drink potable water, as we turn on the light switch every night, as we purchase clothing at Wal-Mart or Dolce and Gabbana, means that many, many others are left with nothing.
  49. Anonymous
    I want to join. Please send me a letter at 4628 w. 88th place, Hometown, IL.
  50. Daniel OConnor
    I want to join