Friday, January 22, 2010

Haiti Everywhere

"Much was said this night against the parliament. I said that, as it seemed to be agreed that all Members of Parliament became corrupted, letter to chuse men already bad, and so save good."

James Boswell

In my book, The Pathology of the US Economy, I wrote about how I was witnessing the United States following when I called "The Haitian Road to Development." What I meant was an economic strategy based on pushing wages down to make the economy productive.

Over the last two days, I have been thinking about the Haitian Road to Development more broadly. We lost our power. I don't mean political power; I mean electricity that powers our house. Without electricity, the computer was dead. Reading was possible only during particular hours. We were dependent upon a corporation that has been attempting to maximize profits by cutting back on maintenance.

Yesterday I had to ride my bike about 12 miles in a heavy rainstorm with winds up to 60 miles an hour. The rains stung my face. At times, I had to dismount and walk the bicycle to avoid getting pushed into oncoming cars.

Finding myself at the mercy of the elements, for brief moments, I would think about my minor difficulties and inconveniences for brief moments, then imagining how conditions in Haiti were infinitely worse. Everybody who knows anything about Haiti realizes the way that outside forces (largely the United States) have crippled the public sphere. Poor people have no choice but to denude hillsides for charcoal and build shanties that are vulnerable to the inevitable mudslides.

To much of the outside world (well, maybe just United States), the cause of the miserable conditions in Haiti are obvious: the voodoo religion, insufficient markets, ….

In many ways, I was thinking about how the US was coming to resemble Haiti. Of course, the decline in this country is of our own making, wasting our fortunes on wars that have no possibility of a long-term positive outcome -- as if any wars do. But the mudslides in California would be familiar to Haitians. The destroyed houses are more affluent. The missing trees were not chopped down by poor people needing fuel. The inhabitants are not left without water or food. Even so, I suspect that Haitians might have more understanding of the destruction than we do.

The Haitian state is incapable of protecting the people, but it weakness is not self-inflicted. In the prologue to The Confiscation of American Prosperity, I wrote "since the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, every Democratic administration with the exception of Lyndon Johnson’s has been more conservative—often far more conservative—than the previous Democratic administration. Similarly, every elected Republican administration, with the single exception of George Herbert Walker Bush’s, has been more conservative than the previous Republican administration." Obama has done nothing to reverse this destructive trend.

The US state's idea of protecting people is to launch wars elsewhere and collect dossiers on people within the country. In the face of Hurricane Katrina or other disasters, it proves itself totally incompetent. The state is even less capable in protecting the people who fall between the cracks -- a child who cannot study because of a toothache. An elderly person who requires care and home -- care which the state of California keeps restricting. Instead, the state takes on the responsibility of caring for more than 2 million prisoners.

In effect, the state is fast ceding power to the corporate world, which threatens to go much further in Haitianizing our society.


Charley said...

Your connection between the US and Haiti is odd - I had the same flash this morning, in the dark, about 3AM. It suddenly dawned on me that there is a connection between Haiti, the US and Africa.

At the critical moment in their history Africans were subject to the most unrelenting and continuous catastrophe ever witnessed in human history. A sustained and systematic pillage of their human capital, imposed in such a way that literally neighboring related family groups were harvesting their not so distant relatives down the road a bit to supply the prodigious hunger of the new world for cheap labor.

The barbarism of slavery is incontestable, but the barbarism of cousins who descend upon you as locusts on wheat field to drag you off into bondage must still echo in the race memory of every descendant of slaves.

Those people were deposited here and in Haiti - they had no commonality, no kinship, no communal trust, no history, no bonds of affection. They were as victims subjected to the most brutal horrifying rape for years on end - and then being asked to form bonds of affection, to trust, to build a common community.

By some dint of luck and persistence, the slaves of Haiti were able to overthrow their masters. But what basis was there to build a nation?

In some sense, that is America's story as well. I mean, atop the obvious connection to its slave past is its immigrant past - the sudden juxtaposition of tongues and cultures and conventions and mores. No bonds of affection beyond isolated communities of like individuals who looked outside of their small circles on others with some combination of suspicion and avarice.

Here, however, unlike Haiti, a difference: the slave masters were never overthrown - they just became industrialists, financiers, and Senators.

michael perelman said...

Thank you very much. I cannot think of anything here with which I could possibly disagree.

gordon said...

Prof. Perelman has disturbed a hobby-horse of mine; the word "conservative".

He says (inter alia) "...every Democratic administration with the exception of Lyndon Johnson’s has been more conservative—often far more conservative—than the previous Democratic administration".

I'm not an American, but it's easy to see that contemporary US politics is notably lacking in conservatives. What you call "conservatives" are howling radicals, anxious to make big changes quickly.

Trash the regulatory framework which has served well for sixy-plus years; Engage in costly foreign military adventures; abandon the rule of law; trash the US constitution. These are not conservative things, they are Radical with a capital "R".

Call them radicals; call them right-wing extremists; call them Fascists, but please don't call them conservatives.

A.J. Sutter said...

Apropos of ceding power to the corporate world, more evidence is the US Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, handed down on 2010/01/21. This removes limitations on corporate political spending, paving the way to the unfettered Swift-Boating of all aspects of American political and policy discourse. I don't necessarily share gordon's sentimentality for the word "conservative," but "radical" does fit this development.

BadTux said...

One of the issues with Haiti is that it basically has no (zero) natural resources. No decent arable farmland. No mineral wealth. No coal. No rivers that could be dammed for hydroelectric power. Nothing, nada. The land is not even sufficient to produce food for domestic consumption, much less for export, and the local fisheries have been depleted by commercial fishermen from outside the area who have come and trawled every last fish out of their waters after paying off coast guard captains whose leaky scows in any event would hardly be capable of dealing with a 20,000 ton factory fishing ship. Our oligarchs have not turned their eyes towards Haiti because there's no there there -- nothing of any value for them to exploit other than hoards of starving citizens, and they can get that in Mexico without even needing a boat.

What I see, mostly, is that our oligarchs want the United States to basically become Mexico North. More specifically, Cancun is their model. They all went to Cancun on spring break when they were in college. They stayed in luxurious resort hotels with restaurants and white sands. They had servants for their every need. And at the end of the day, the poorly paid servants went home to decrepit shanty towns that lacked even the most basic services, despite the fact that the resorts were charging hundreds of dollars per night. That is our oligarchs' notion of the proper future for America -- a gleaming DIsneyland of luxury for the elites, an impoverished peasantry living in falling-down shanties to provide servants for their every need, and nothing inbetween. Cancun. That's their model.

Haiti? Our Masters of the Universe have never been to Haiti. It's not exactly a spring break destination. A kegger there would be a real bummer, doncha know? But Mexico... ah, Mexico. That, they know.

The only question now, for our children, is whether they will be one of the peasants in the new Cancun North, or one of the masters. Sadly, odds are that 95% of them shall be the peasant servants of our new overlord class. So it goes.