I’m a poor substitute for Tyler Cowen, but since Sonny Bunch is soliciting comments on this post, I thought I’d chime in. The argument Bunch links to is pretty simple: We should think twice about giving foreign aid to Haiti because charity breeds dependence and deters self-sufficiency. I’m sympathetic to the dependency thesis, but even foreign aid skeptics make a pretty big exception for massive, unpredictable natural disasters (like, say, an earthquake that registers a 7.0 on the Richter Scale – “the most powerful to hit the Carribean republic in 120 years”).
The author compares foreign aid to giving change to inveterate panhandlers, but a better analogy is rushing someone to the hospital after they’ve been struck by lightning. The earthquake in Haiti is a singularly disastrous event. Anyone lucky enough to survive has undoubtedly realized that the generous outpouring of foreign aid is the result of a freak natural occurrence, not some never-ending international gravy train. The idea that receiving aid after a massive disaster conditions people to passively rely on outside assistance ignores the fact that they’ve just endured a massive disaster, which provides a unique, one-time justification for international generosity. The distinction between the charity of exigent circumstances and the charity of ongoing welfare payments strikes me as a pretty intuitive point in favor of doing everything we can to alleviate human suffering after natural catastrophes.