The conventional wisdom among economists is that the post-2000 Chinese import boom—which we know rapidly devastated the American manufacturing base—was overall good for the U.S.; that (as I argue) artificial barriers to trade generally make both parties poorer, and over the long run trade ends up lifting all boats. While I think it will always be true that trade barriers increase the price of products, a lot of the other assumptions may not be true.
Ultimately what Haiti most needs isn’t so much aid, but trade. Aid accounts for half of Haiti’s economy, and remittances for another quarter — and that’s a path to nowhere.
The United States has approved trade preferences that have already created 6,000 jobs in the garment sector in Haiti, and several big South Korean companies are now planning to open their own factories, creating perhaps another 130,000 jobs.
“Sweatshops,” Americans may be thinking. “Jobs,” Haitians are thinking, and nothing would be more transformative for the country.
Let’s send in doctors to save people from cholera. Let’s send in aid workers to build sustainable sanitation and water systems to help people help themselves. Let’s help educate Haitian children and improve the port so that it can become an exporter. But, above all, let’s send in business investors to create jobs.
Otherwise, there will always be more needs, more crises, more tragedies, more victims. Back in the cholera treatment center here in Mirebalais, health workers were still disinfecting the bed on which Mr. Merilus had died when, in the tent next door for milder cases, a middle-aged woman suddenly collapsed.
Nurses splashed water on her face but could not revive her. So they rushed her to the main cholera hospital tent to take the newly vacant bed there.
And that is the brutal cycle of poverty in Haiti that only jobs and trade can break.
When economies are struggling, protectionism seems well-intentioned: By “buying American” we can go back that golden fantasy age when everything was American-made and everyone had a decent-paying job and could afford the latest luxuries. I have some examples that I hope can convince you that freer trade benefits everyone. It’s not completely intuitive; we commonly think that one person is always screwed in a deal; if it’s good for [insert foreign country], it must be bad for America.