Monday, January 25, 2010

HBD Denialism kills: Part 2

But there's hope. David Brooks in his column on the underlying tragedy of Haiti.

The simple fact is that the tragedy in Haiti is a tragedy of poverty. It’s a story about poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services.

So, if the 50,000 dead in Haiti is due to Haiti's poverty, what causes Haiti's poverty?

The first hard truths are universally known but rarely acknowledged among economists:
- the countries that have not received much aid, like China, have seen tremendous growth and tremendous poverty reductions. The countries that have received aid, like Haiti, have not.
- There are no policy levers that consistently correlate to increased growth. There is nearly zero correlation between how a developing economy does one decade and how it does the next. There is no consistently proven way to reduce corruption. Even improving governing institutions doesn’t seem to produce the expected results.
-By some estimates, Haiti has more nongovernmental organizations per capita than any other place on earth. They are doing the Lord’s work, especially these days, but even a blizzard of these efforts does not seem to add up to comprehensive change.

This is Brook's explanation:

Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.

So this is why Haiti is poor, in comparison with Barbados and the Dominican Republic, which have had similar cultural influences.

But there are two serious problems with his piece. He points to "intrusive paternalism" as a potential way to salvage the people of Haiti, pointing to the Harlem CHildren's Zone. But what's the reality?

As Steve Sailer blogged last year about the Harlem miracle, he made a key point:

there's no control group of white students in this study. Nobody bothered to check to see how much white students' scores would go up if a huge amount of money was given to a well-known superstar educator

It's the same situation as the Head Start Program

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, authors of Freakonomics, conclude that Head Start participation has no lasting effect on test scores in the early years of school, based on regression analysis of data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study

So if we give up on paternalism, David Brooks has a quote hidden in his column earlier by the economist Abhijit Banerjee It is not clear to us that the best way to get growth is to do growth policy of any form. Perhaps making growth happen is ultimately beyond our control

The scary thing is that alot of economists are throwing their hands up in the air and giving up. But to do that is to continue to condemn the millions of children who will die this year because of preventable causes. And that's simply not something we should accept.


Anonymous said...

It seems permanent birth control could help in poor countries. People say it is racist, but extreme poverty seems worse. If it is voluntary, where is the harm?

Johnson said...

I've actually seen this idea floated around in even non-HBD privy circles as a way to address resource strains. Possibly it could gain traction. One would hope that it wouldn't only be only conscientious people who take birth control which is the case in the US.