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David Brooks on Haiti

Haiti.jpgDavid Brooks takes a look at Haiti, and Third World development in general, in his column in the Times today. He comments:

Third, it is time to put the thorny issue of culture at the center of efforts to tackle global poverty. Why is Haiti so poor? Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. But so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well. Haiti has endured ruthless dictators, corruption and foreign invasions. But so has the Dominican Republic, and the D.R. is in much better shape. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and the same basic environment, yet the border between the two societies offers one of the starkest contrasts on earth — with trees and progress on one side, and deforestation and poverty and early death on the other. [emphasis added]

GoogleMaps offers proof of the latter comment. In the above picture, pale-colored Haiti is on the left and the richer-green Dominican Republic is on the right of the dividing vertical border . (Click on the picture to see it in more detail.)

What Brooks calls the issue of culture has come up repeatedly in discussion groups in the Economics Department. This topic seems vaguely off-limits to everyone because it is imprecise and because we lack any real analytical vocabulary with which to discuss it. Yet at the same time, everyone in the room intuitively knows that human culture plays a significant role in the explication of any situation.

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