“For example, in Why Is Haiti So Poor? Acemoglu and James Robinson dismiss all non-institutional reasons for why Haiti is poorer than the adjoining Dominican Republic, such as that Haiti has a more African culture (voodoo, zombies, etc.) that the D.R. (And of course, that almost all the white people in Haiti, men, women, and children, were systematically massacred in 1804 might have something to do with Haiti’s subsequent lack of economic dynamism, but that’s the wrong kind of institutionalism for Acemoglu to even mention.)”
Why is Haiti so poor? This is a question that has a very simple answer.
(1) The incredible wealth of Saint-Domingue was produced by slave based plantation agriculture. French planters relied upon African slaves to grow valuable cash crops (sugar, coffee, indigo, cotton, and tobacco) for export to European markets.
(2) From 1791 to 1804, the Haitian Revolution destroyed slavery, white supremacy, and French colonialism in Saint-Domingue. Jean-Jacques Dessalines executed the remnant of the French population on the island. More importantly, Europeans were banned under the Haitian constitution from owning property in Haiti.
(3) The ban on Europeans owning property in Haiti lasted from 1804 until 1918 when a new Haitian constitution was passed under the American occupation.
(4) Because of its unique status as an independent black republic (after the abolition of slavery, Jamaica and Barbados remained under British rule until the 1960s, and Martinique and Guadeloupe are still overseas departments of France), Haiti was the first country in the Caribbean in which the “counter-plantation system” arose.
Basically, Haitians rejected the plantation system, which had been the sole source of Saint-Domingue’s immense wealth. Starting with Touissant L’ouverature, Haitians began to resist working on the sugar and coffee plantations as “cultivators,” preferring instead to grow subsistence crops on their own land as a free black peasantry.
(5) L’ouverature, Dessalines, Henri Christophe, Pétion and Boyer all tried and failed to preserve the export based plantation system and halt the return to “40 acres and a mule”-style subsistence agriculture. The reason that Haiti is so much poorer than other African countries in the Caribbean is because emancipation in Haiti was more radical than anywhere else in the Americas.
In Dixie, slavery was abolished in 1865, but there wasn’t a redistribution of property to freedmen, and white supremacy was restored by the 1880s. After the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies, Chinese and Indian coolies were imported to work on the plantations in Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica, and British Guiana.
In the British West Indies and the French West Indies, slavery was abolished, but white supremacy and colonialism remained intact, the plantation system was crippled by emancipation, but export based plantation agriculture did not entirely disappear.
In Haiti, the free negro was socially, politically, and economically ascendant, which was not the case in Dixie, Jamaica, or Barbados.
(6) So what happened?
After the abolition of slavery in Haiti, the demise of white supremacy, the end of French colonialism, the political ascendancy of the free negro, and the ban on European investment, the French planters who had fled Haiti shifted their operations to Cuba, Jamaica, Louisiana, and Guadeloupe and Martinique.
The sugar industry died in free labor Haiti while igniting a boom in slave labor Cuba. The prosperity in Cuba that followed abolition of slavery in the British West Indies and French West Indies led to a massive influx of Spanish immigrants which is why Cuba is so much whiter than its neighbors.
(7) In 1833, the British made the foolish decision to abolish slavery in the British West Indies. The sugar industry in free labor Jamaica was instantly destroyed by the competition with slave labor in Cuba and Brazil. The final blow to Jamaica’s prosperity was the rise of free trade in Britain.
Why is Haiti so poor?
It is because of abolition and the ascendancy of the free negro. There is no other explanation. As far back as 1804, Haiti embarked on the course of Africanization (by executing Whites and banning European investment) which didn’t triumph in Jamaica and Detroit (to a more limited degree) until the 1970s.
The Haitians exercised their freedom to choose Africanization, the counter-plantation system, and black subsistence agriculture over European-style export based plantation agriculture. Jamaicans would make the same choice from 1833 to 1863 which is why the blacks there were replaced by Chinese and Indian coolies and were reduced to near starvation by the time of the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865.
The assumption that freedom and equality could compete with slavery and inequality, that black supremacy could compete with white supremacy, and that the combined free negro/free labor model could produce the same type of civilization and level of economic prosperity as its slave based predecessor turned out to be grossly unfounded.
Note: In Guadeloupe and Martinique, slavery and white supremacy were overthrown under the Jacobins in 1794, but whereas Napoleon failed to restore French control in Saint-Domingue with the Leclerc expedition, he succeeded in Guadeloupe and Martinique.
200 years later, Guadeloupe and Martinique (where slavery, white supremacy, and colonialism were restored) are the two of the highest ranking black countries (they are overseas departments of France) on the U.N. Human Development Index.