Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Why Chile's earthquake was not so devastating

A number if people have remarked on the dramatic differences, especially in death tolls, between Chile, which actually experienced a far larger earthquake, and Haiti. Chile had fewer casualties and fewer buildings collapsing -- though it is apparently still experiencing aftershocks. But not many got to the most important reasons. Some cited building codes in Chile, but Haiti could have had the strictest building codes in the universe and they would have been ignored because most people are too poor to build to them. The biggest key is wealth, and Chile is wealthier not only because it has a history of being relatively civilized, whereas Haiti's history is unspeakably tragic, but it had something of a free-market revolution in the 1980s that laid the groundwork for a democratic revolution.

Don Boudreaux at George Mason U also expounded on the differences in property rights. Chile's are relatively secure, while in Haiti property rights are less secure than in almost every country. Who has the incentive to build to high standards when your property can be taken away on a whim?


Anonymous said...

Your saying the right thing here, but for the wrong reason. Yes the difference is wealth. But WHY is Chile wealthier then Haiti? I believe the answer lies in the differences between the people THEMSELVES who comprise the two respective countries. Black poverty and backwardness is universal. Haiti is actually wealthier then twenty-two sub-saharan African countries. I don't think too many Haitians will take up the recent offer to return to Africa (I'm sure they wouldn't mind coming to the USA, Canada or Europe though). The key building block for wealth begins with the people who comprise a state.

Alan Bock said...

Sorry to disagree, but I think culture and institutions are much more important. Black poverty is not universal in the United States, even though some black subcultures in this country are sadly dysfunctional. In fact -- read Tom Sowell's book from the early 1980s. "Ethnic America" -- blacks from the West Indies tend to do better in this country than those from slave background, suggesting that it's culture and institutions that are more influential. Haiti's culture and history are tragic, but if it somehow built institutions of respect for private property, rule of law and and independent judiciary, it would begin to prosper. Of course that's easy to predict confidently since it's so unlikely to happen.