The New York Times recently published a series of articles about the history of Haiti. Unfortunately, I'm writing this essay to call them out. They made two errors. And since this is not an isolated incident, I feel the need to write about it. My main argument is The New York Times is trying to expand from the paper of record to the academic journal of record. This is not the first time NYT has done this. The 1619 project had the same ambitions and similarly ignored academic standards. While I am an academic, I don't see this as an existential threat. But I do think it has consequences. The 1619 project is now influencing academic work and school curricula.
As a fellow economist interested in the history of Haiti, I think this is spot on. A few areas I would add are that, even if Haiti had a 2.15% rate of GDP growth during this period, the marginal capital would (likely) have a lower return that the average, thus we would not expect this money to have had the same return if it were retained by Haiti (all else equal). And even supposing these calculations were correct, according to the IMF Haiti's 2015 total capital stock was $61.11 billion, vs. $220.80 for the DR. So while I agree that the indemnity was certainly bad for Haiti (and morally repugnant for France) it can explain only a small part of Haiti's modern economic problems. Of course your advisors would probably not recommend believing IMF capital stock data...
However, I don't think it's clear that Haiti's turn to small farms under Petion was the foundation of its future economic problems (although it may have prevented the country from benefiting from the sugar boom). I would argue that the extremely large gap between Haitian elites and population (racial, cultural, linguistic, urban/rural, etc.) is the driving force, and was even before the revolution. Haiti's development resembles cases in which a small ethnic elite struggles for domination with the rest of the country-- Liberia, Rwanda, etc. Even when the majority group manages to get control (Duvalier, Dessalines) they are so focused on extracting resources from the wealthier minority group that investment suffers radically.
Finally, I thought it was interesting that the NYTimes carefully calculated conservative estimate was *exactly the same* (to the nearest billion dollars) as Aristide's calculation.
One quibble with this piece. It is reasonable to say that Haitian militarization prior to 1825 was because the leaders knew as soon as the revolution was over that France could attack at any time. Yes, the ultimatum may not have *caused* the over-militarization but it certainly validated it.
"But these projects are trying assign greater moral weight by claiming exaggerated economic consequences."
I think instead it is an attempt to attribute underdevelopment to anything else but endogenous factors. You see this throughout explanations for global under-development. The attribution must always lie with the outsider, the Western/global north colonizers and later the Western/global north multi-laterals and their structural adjustment programs. No attribution for under-development is ever permitted for endogenous factors, other than the environmental (e.g. Guns, Germs and Steel). This restricted explanatory framework is also deployed for explanations for minority underachievement in the West. The reasons must always be exogenous - now mostly structural racism - and never endogenous.
this post is garbage. This author clearly has some bias in his articles. Haiti and DR were one country at one point, the French debt forced Haitians to tax Dominicans to help pay off the money. Dominicans ended up fighting a war to separate which resulted in even more money lost. Secondly, the West completely shunned Haiti which is why France was even able to get away with the debt. US didn't want to trade with a country that eliminated slavery and other western countries felt the same. Lastly in regards to America's involvement. Who tf do you think was bankrolling dictator, Duvalier? Oh, that's right, the US. Take a look at Haiti early to mid 1900s to now. There is a stark contrast. The country itself may have not been extremely wealthy, but the image of being the poorest country in the Americas, complete collapse infrastructure destroyed what should have been a thriving tourist industry like other parts of the Caribbean. Instead the primary tourist destination of Haiti is leased by an American corporation. Please post your twitter and stop writing articles of nonsense because you clearly have not much true knowledge of Haiti despite your PHD
I do think events since 1960 do play a larger role in Haiti’s poverty than the article suggests, and I am a second-generation Haitian-American who is well steeped in the sordid history of the country. For instance, I was astonished to learn recently that Haiti was richer per capita than its neighbor the Dominican Republic in 1960, and now the D.R. is 12 times richer. In fact, Haiti has had zero real economic per capita growth since 1960. How? Why? What could have been if the country had had better leaders and more stability, starting just 60 years ago? There are many reasons likely at the root of Haiti’s poverty but to argue just one thing is sufficient seems like a certain fallacy.
"Many journalists and even some historians claim that American economic prosperity would have been unattainable without slavery. If you truly believe that, and you look at the billions of lives that have been lifted out of poverty thanks to this prosperity, then a callous calculus could conclude that the abuses of slavery were a cost we had to pay."
No, that conclusion does *not* follow. For it to follow you would need to to add a premise: "The counterfactual world without slavery perpetrated by America would lack *American* economic prosperity *and* it would also contain no *other* source of economic prosperity *elsewhere* (for example prosperity through the economic work and cooperation by all the people not enslaved and thus never in America) that could *instead* do the job of lifting billions out of poverty equally well or better."
Who are the "many journalists" who make *that* claim?
Excellent write-up, Craig. One typo: "trying assign" should be "trying to assign". Best, David