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January 16, 2010 – The earthquake in Haiti that has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and inflicted untold misery on the inhabitants of that country has also brought to the fore five superstitions that have inflicted or will inflict even more misery on those poor people.
The first superstition is reflected in the nonsense spewed from the mouth of Rev. Pat Robertson, host of The 700 Club TV show and long-time Christian nutcase. Robertson alleged that the earthquake was caused by God’s vengeance on the Haitians. They had apparently made a pact with the Devil several hundred years ago that allowed them to gain their independence from France. Robertson is known for such ignorant allegations. He maintained that hurricanes are punishments for homosexual activities—though his god uses such storms to indiscriminately kill gays and straights alike. The September 11 attacks by Islamists were punishment for America’s secular sins—even though individuals of all religions were killed on that day.
It’s truly perverse for worshippers to argue that their alleged God of Mercy butchers innocent Haitian children and reaps collective vengeance for the alleged crimes of their ancestors hundreds of years ago. Yet, sadly, even some Haitians are repeating this line.
What is truly dangerous is not that a single individual like Robertson utters such nonsense; rather, it’s that thousands of people send him money to support his efforts rather than relegating him to obscurity, to say nothing of the poverty and misery that he deserves.
The second form of superstition that harms Haiti was expressed by actor and leftist activist Danny Glover, who said concerning the earthquake, “When we see what we did at the climate summit in Copenhagen, this is the response, this is what happens, you know what I’m sayin’?” Actually, we do know.
Let’s ignore the fact that tectonic plates don’t shift because they are dissatisfied with international conferences or a slightly warmer atmosphere (though we haven’t seen the latter for the past decade). What you’re saying, Danny, is that you’re an adherent to the environmentalist cult. You push a moral agenda with alleged support from science, even as it ignores inconvenient science that contradicts your superstitions.
And the core of that agenda is that human beings are pollution on the face of the Earth; that through our efforts to feed ourselves, create industries, and create wealth to make our lives comfortable, we harm this Earth. And thus we must be stopped, not so that we don’t harm ourselves but, rather, so we don’t harm Gaia.
The victims of this superstition who are most seriously harmed are the people in poor countries like Haiti who will not have a chance to rise out of destitution and overcome actual pollution problems through efficiencies and riches produced through industrialization and technology.
The third superstition that harms Haiti is the actual voodoo practiced by many of that country’s inhabitants. Voodoo is not merely a set of silly rituals that might be a waste of time but are otherwise harmless. Voodoo is the view that one’s life, health, and overall fate can be affected in minute detail by various deities.
Of course, most religions have similar beliefs. But voodoo is much more a central part of the culture of the Haitians. This means that rather that partitioning off such superstitions in a little corner of their brains, they let the voodoo worldview dominate. That means that they don’t spend time or effort asking questions like “Why are we so poor? What sort of political/economic regime would give us the opportunity to better our conditions? Can modern science do a better job of treating our ailments than our superstitions?” They ask, “Who’s making us poor?” and “What trick or spell can make me instantly rich?” No problems get solved that way.
The fourth superstition that harms Haiti is statism. It’s no coincidence that Haiti is both the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the least free. Out of 157 countries, the 2008 Index of Economic Freedom ranked Haiti near the bottom at 138th.
Capitalism will not prevent natural disasters, but it will create the wealth needed to withstand their effects.
Economic freedom, of course, means the rule of law; protection of private property rights; some sort of citizen control of the government; and prohibitions on government’s power to interfere in voluntary economic transactions, whether in the name of “the people” as traditional socialists do, or for corrupt, politically connected friends as is the practice of the government of Haiti.
Capitalism will not prevent natural disasters, but it will create the wealth needed to withstand their effects—better-constructed buildings—or to mitigate the harm—better medicine and better emergency response infrastructure. A lack of economic freedom, rule or law, and government accountability more than anything has kept the people of Haiti in destitution and made it impossible for them to deal with the effects of the earthquake.
The fifth superstition that harms Haiti is the notion that America somehow is the cause of most poverty and misery in the world—including Haiti’s—and that even as critics heap scorn on America, that America should be expected to come to the aid of all countries to help in cases of disaster, whether natural such as earthquakes, or manmade, such as poverty.
To begin with, America did not become the wealthiest country on earth by taking from others. Rather, its free market system—see above—allowed individual Americans to create their own prosperity in pursuit of their own self-interest as they produced goods and services with which to trade with their fellows.
Of course, U.S. government does deserve some small blame for world poverty, but this is because of actions normally praised by most people: handing out taxpayer dollars in the form of foreign aid. Aside from the moral problem of forced as opposed to voluntary charity, such handouts often are stolen by corrupt government officials in recipient countries like Haiti. Furthermore, such aid can actually harm local producers who can’t compete, for example, with free food that undercuts their market and their incentive to produce.
Most Americans are shocked by the misery the earthquake has created in Haiti, and it is understandable that they want to help those poor people and expect the U.S. government to lend a hand as well. But it is also important for them to examine the dangerous superstitions that grind down the people of Haiti and anyone else who accepts and acts on them. Few deserve to be killed in an earthquake. But few can truly be helped in the long run unless these superstitious are dispensed with.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.