Haiti: Doing More and Doing Less

Matthew Bishop makes the point that people feeling moved by the situation in Haiti should spare a thought for the world’s other problems:

Yet as we respond to Haiti, we should also remember the less-reported suffering around the world. So why not match what you have given to the Haiti appeals with a gift to help someone facing dire need away from camera lenses? And when you do so, why not pick one of the less supported countries or organizations?

That seems right to me. At this particular point in time, the marginal value of an extra dollar of Haiti-related charity seems low.

But that’s not to say that Haiti doesn’t need more help. The point I would make is that the biggest ways you can help Haiti at this point probably don’t involve texting “Haiti” to some number to give the Red Cross some extra cash. One obvious thing to do is to fire up whatever calendar program you use and tell it to remind you on January 19, 2011 and January 19, 2012 that back on January 19, 2010 you were thinking about Haiti and resolving not to forget the country 12 or 24 months later when the TV crews have moved on. You can bet that by then there will be many worthy charitable organizations that really do need more money.


The other set of ways to be useful involve American politics. There are lots of good policy-related ideas on offer here from Tyler Cowen. Why not eliminate tariffs on Haitian sugar and lift restrictions on the importation of Haitian garments? Why not allow more Haitians to move legally to the United States? Or more to the point, why not ask your member of congress and your senators why they don’t support those measures? Either would be very helpful to Haiti in the medium- and long-run. Earthquake aside, Haiti has a lot of well-entrenched problems, and it’s through increased opportunities to link-up with more prosperous and better-functioning parts of the world that Haitians have their best chance for prosperity.