Caribbean Project: Who Is Mats Lundahl?

Swedish development economist Mats Lundahl has spent more than 40 years researching Haiti
Swedish development economist Mats Lundahl

Haiti

There comes a point in every critical investigation when you either admit failure or strike pay dirt.

In the course of OD’s Caribbean Project, we have drilled through the leftist apologies, the pop histories, eye witness accounts, regional histories, and academic sources in an attempt to figure out why Haiti is “the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.”

It won’t suffice to say that Haiti is poor simply because it is black – the Caribbean is now the richest region in the developing world, and Haiti is surrounded by other sovereign black countries (the Bahamas, Jamaica, Barbados, etc.) and European or American dependencies (Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, etc.) which are significantly better off. In the Caribbean, Haiti is the only country in the region which is classified by the World Bank as “low income.”

The fact that media favorite Jared Diamond admitted in Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail or Succeed that Haiti chose the path to failure while the Dominican Republic chose the path to success ought to arouse our suspicions. This suggests that Diamond has seen something that has convinced even him that environmental determinism can’t explain the poverty and backwardness of Haiti.

This something can be found in his sources:

“Three books by Mats Lundahl will serve as an introduction into the literature on Haiti: Peasants and Poverty: A Study of Haiti (London: Croom Helm, 1979); The Haitian Economy: Man, Land, and Markets (London: Croom Helm, 1983); and Politics or Markets? Essays on Haitian Underdevelopment (London: Routledge, 1992).”

Mats Lundahl is a Swedish development economist at the Stockholm School of Economics who has written about Haiti’s economic history for more than 40 years. I’ve already seen his name pop up in several of the sources which I have already reviewed.

I don’t have the fortune to buy Lundahl’s books myself (they average over a $100 each), but I have been reading excerpts from them through Google Books and Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature. Fortunately, I have access to a university library which has most of them in stock, so I will soon be able to read them in their entirety:

Ever want to know why Haiti is so screwed up? Mats Lundahl is your man. You will save a lot of time and money by going straight to the horse’s mouth.

Lundahl on “the predatory state” in Haiti:

“Have Hallward and Concannon never been to the Haitian countryside and seen what is taking place there? The population pressure has forced cultivation up the mountainsides. The soil must be laid bare precisely when the tropical downpours set in. This inevitably leads to erosion. The destruction of the soil is the fundamental mechanism pushing people from the countryside to the cities, and it has worked, slowly and inexorably, for a hundred years, probably even longer. Does the neo-liberal violence stimulate the Haitians to make children, or is the precipitation the result of a neo-liberal rain dance of some kind? It would have been interesting to get to know the fundamental chain of causation. Exactly what does the conspiracy look like?

Peter Hallward does not say anything about the catastrophic political tradition of Haiti, a tradition which has left the masses to their fate, created by the very Haitian politicians. In Haiti, politics has always been a concern solely for small cliques who have attempted to wring private incomes out of the population, through control of the state treasury. Between 1843 and 1915, the country had 22 presidents. All of them were predators. Four of them died during their presidencies. A single one managed to finish his term. The remaining 17 were deposed, more or less violently. During these 72 years, Haiti experienced no less than 102 civil wars, revolutions, coups, attentats … The United State must certainly have had busy days, if Hallward is to be believed.” (Mats Lundahl, Poverty In Haiti, pp.221-222)

Of these predators, the Emperor Faustin I Soulouque was our favorite.

It’s considered “racist” to point this out, but in Haiti there was a “technological retrogression” after independence. Sugar production collapsed entirely and the techniques used to harvest coffee became less sophisticated:

“A technological retrogression seems to have taken place after independence. Whereas the French colonial cultivators had introduced new techniques of pruning, drying and separating good from bad beans, once coffee became a peasant crop any technical advances that had existed were lost. By and large, nature was allowed to have its course, even when it came to the reproduction of the coffee trees. Only in the harvesting and drying did the peasants interfere.” (Mats Lundahl, Politics or Markets? Essays on Haitian Underdevelpment, p.111)

What’s more, the techniques that are used to plant and harvest food crops in Haiti – in the 21st century, in spite of population growth from around 350,000 to nearly 10 million – haven’t changed since the nineteenth century, and may have even declined from the technology that was used during the colonial period.

In 1872, the American traveler Samuel Hazard visited Hispanolia on the behalf of the US government, which at the time was debating in Congress whether to annex the Dominican Republic, a pet project of the Grant administration.

Here’s an excerpt from his 1873 book, Santo Domingo, Past and Present, With a Glance at Hayti, about the state of the Northern Plain outside Cap-Haïtien:

“It required no great stretch of the imagination to picture this section of the country before the Revolution, when this whole plain, with its handsome houses, superb plantations, and well-kept hedges, presented the appearance of a vast and beautiful flower garden.

I found the country well cut up by good roads, that originally appeared to have been solidly constructed with stone, and ditches were in many places dug on each side, while stone culverts and drains gave evidence that at one time civilisation had had some share in the improvement of this country.

I was particularly interested in seeing this; for often I had thought that it would be impossible to make roads or keep them in order in a country such as Dominica, and here I had new evidence that it was not only possible, but easy to make and drain good roads.” (Hazard, p.412)

Just as there is nothing in Detroit’s environment that stops the use of electricity and streetlights, there was nothing inherent in Haiti’s environment that prevented Haitians from maintaining and constructing roads and bridges – or public schools, or sewer systems, or later a national electric grid, or later hydroelectric dams, etc.

In the 19th, 20th, and early 21st centuries, the rest of the world advanced while Haiti sunk back into the Dark Ages. Rice and cotton farmers in the Mississippi Delta now use air conditioned GPS guided tractors to grow rice and cotton that compete in a free market with products grown by Haitian peasants using 18th century technology. Already in the 19th century, Cuba’s sugar plantations were linked by railroads to Havana and the coast while Haiti was losing the capacity to build roads and bridges – Haiti’s railroad system ceased operations in the 1970s.

What’s the difference between blacks in Haiti and the Mississippi Delta? In Haiti, the blacks overthrew slavery, slaughtered the Whites, and redistributed the land. In the Mississippi Delta, slavery was abolished by the federal government, but the Whites weren’t slaughtered, and they remained in control of the land, and through various means in control of the labor of blacks, and through segregation laws in control of their own public institutions. So while there is still enormous poverty and inequality in the Mississippi Delta, agriculture there is thoroughly modern and fabulously productive.

The “legacy of freedom” is the reason why Haiti is Haiti, not the Mississippi Delta, Barbados, or the Dominican Republic.

14 Comments

  1. It won’t suffice to say that Haiti is poor simply because it is black – the Caribbean is now the richest region in the developing world, and Haiti is surrounded by other sovereign black countries (the Bahamas, Jamaica, Barbados, etc.) and European or American dependencies (Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, etc.) which are significantly better off. In the Caribbean, Haiti is the only country in the region which is classified by the World Bank as “low income.”

    I suppose it’s a form of simplistic racial determinism to blame all of Haiti’s problems on its “blackness”. They clearly weren’t anywhere near ready for independence two centuries ago, and it’s been all downhill for them ever since then. In Haiti freedom really did fail.

    But there actually is a major racial divide between Haiti and every other Caribbean nation. Haiti is at least 95% pure, unadulterated sub-Saharan African, far more than any other place in the West Indies. I don’t care if 93% of Bajans claim to be ‘black’; they’re lying. Most of those ‘blacks’ have at least some white ancestry, which makes a big difference when comparing them with the real blacks of Haiti.

    Similarly, 97% of Argentinians claim to be white. Does anyone seriously believe that Argentina is whiter than, say, Vermont? Genetic testing has proven that a large percentage of Argentinians are part Indian; they just claim to be white to differentiate themselves from their neighbours in the rest of South America. I would love to see similar genetic testing done throughout the West Indies. I believe it would prove beyond a doubt that Haitians are, on average, far blacker than any of their neighbours.

    The “legacy of freedom” is the reason why Haiti is Haiti, not the Mississippi Delta, Barbados, or the Dominican Republic.

    I think that’s half-right. The other half is the profound genetic distance between the population of Haiti and that of those other places. Together they explain why Haiti is Haiti.

  2. Here’s an alternative explanation:

    The Bahamas and Barbados are 90 percent and 93 percent black, but they only achieved independence in 1973 and 1966. Unlike Haiti, the Bahamas and Barbados benefited from over 150 more years of white supremacy and colonialism.

    By the late twentieth century, the economy of the Caribbean (outside of Haiti) was being transformed by the rise of offshore banking and tourism. Thanks to the preservation of colonialism and white supremacy, these countries had the infrastructure in place to take advantage of these trends which did not exist when Haiti won its independence in 1804, massacred the Whites, and banned foreign investment until the constitution was changed in 1918.

  3. The Bahamas and Barbados are 90 percent and 93 percent black

    Sure they are. And Argentina really is 97% white, right? Wrong. These self-reported racial statistics contradict what we can plainly see with our non-lying eyes: That typical Bahamians and Bajans are not nearly as black as typical Haitians, just like typical Argentinians aren’t nearly as white as typical Vermonters.

    The average IQ in the Bahamas and Barbados is about 15 points higher than the average IQ in Haiti. That speaks to the racial differences between the former (largely mulatto) and the latter (almost wholly African). In the same vein, the average IQ of a white (pure or almost pure European) American is about 10 points higher than that of a “white” (partly mestizo) Argentinian.

    I think you’ve made a good case for the disastrous “legacy of freedom” in Haiti vis-à-vis the rest of the Caribbean, but I don’t understand why you continue to deny the obvious racial differences between Haitians and all other West Indians. It smacks of a dogmatic historical determinism while ignoring the 800 lb racial gorilla in the room.

    • Re: jeppo

      1.) The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are mixed race societies. The Bahamas and Barbados? That’s a stretch of the imagination.

      2.) I’m sure it is because nearly 100 percent of Bajans and Bahamians are literate. Around 50 percent of Haitians are literate. IQ scores in Haiti are obviously depressed by the environment. Haiti’s economy is depressed relative to its neighbors by the lack of tourism.

      3.) Racial determinism makes little sense because economic success is a mixture of causal factors. As I said above, GDP per capita in China in 1970 was nearly on par with Haiti. Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic were poorer than Haiti in the 19th century. The Dominican Republic only pulled away from Haiti under the Trujillo dictatorship. In 2014, 37 percent of Puerto Rico is on SNAP EBT because it is a US territory. Puerto Rico’s manufacturing sector is driven by US tax loopholes.

      Are we supposed to believe that race is why the Caymans Islands has a $43,800 per capita income while Jamaica has a $9,029 per capita income? The Caymans were part of Jamaica until 1962. The difference is caused by offshore tax centers. Similarly, Guadeloupe and Martinique were populated by the same slave ships that serviced Saint-Domginue. The difference between Guadeloupe and Martinique and Haiti is mainly due to the fact that both are part of France and benefit from the French welfare state.

  4. Hunter, why all this attention on your great website to Haiti? We all know it’s a failed state and why..so why keep harping on it??

    • Reynauld,

      Ever read SBPDL.com?

      Paul Kersey has written books about Detroit, Birmingham, Atlanta, and Chicago. He’s writing two more about Philadelphia and Baltimore.

      Why does he do this? Obviously, it is because he wants to establish himself as an authority on the subject and sell his books on Amazon to expand his influence and audience.

      I have a book about Haiti by Lothrop Stoddard on my bookshelf. What is Stoddard remembered for today? Mainly the books he wrote.

  5. I’ve seen genetic studies showing that the average Puerto Rican is about 60% European (Spanish), 30% African and 10% Indian. The DR has a similar mix, maybe a little blacker. Cuba is probably a little whiter.

    The Bahamas and Barbados have a similar genetic profile to the average African American: about 80% African and <20% European (British), with a little bit of Indian thrown in the mix. The other English-speaking islands are roughly the same, with Jamaica possibly being a little blacker and the remaining colonial outposts like Bermuda and the Caymans being much whiter.

    The genetic profile of the typical Haitian has got to be at least 99% African, with 95% of the population being 100% black. Haiti is like a little piece of the Congo transplanted to the West Indies, as you've pointed out. Most of the population don't speak French, they speak a mutually unintelligible Africanized Creole (Krio), which probably explains their massive illiteracy rate. And while they might claim to be Catholics, 100% of the population practice Voodoo (Vodou), a polytheistic/animist African cult.

    In the rest of the West Indies the people speak Spanish, English, French or Dutch, and they practice real Christianity. They may also speak patois dialects and dabble in Africanized cults like Santeria and Rastafarianism, but for the most part they are fully Westernized in terms of language and religion. Unlike the Haitians, who remain fully African genetically and culturally.

  6. Excellent article! I’ll be using this in a post at my site! As an America with full blood Haitian parents, I will go one step further!

    Haiti has failed because of governmental corruption! They have bought the lies of progressivism and have removed reason from them because of people enjoying the dream of prosperity while living in squalor!

  7. It’s an interesting mirror-image of the U.S. and other places. The people who do not consider themselves “Holy Immigrants” seem to thrive on freedom (and without using other peoples money via “programs” and socialized (welfare-warfare paychecks) economy. For them, freedom, it’s not a CUE to do degenerative things. U.S. used to be full of the kind of people who would USE their freedoms to invent stuff in their basements, learn new tasks, take some classes, get yet another degree, write books as Hunter is doing with his time, experiment with new techniques with plants in their personal gardens, study books of wisdom, etc…

    Other people —it has been shown— do not use “freedoms” the same way.

    Eventually, the productive group will become so demoralized they will no longer try…and that seems the shame.

  8. HW- I made a joke in my comment earlier today, and yet it did not appear.

    Now, either we admit that higher IQ, civilization (including the Wheel) and culture are marks of a superior Race, or we just are playing at this entire field.

    Granted, my comment smacked of something reminiscent of 1930’s Germany, but I’m no longer afraid of the bogeyman of acknowledging that which you, Kevin MacDonald, Wilmot Robertson, et al. have been writing about for the last forty five years….

    But my joke must have scared you! Or was there another reason my comment was not included in the mix?

    Thanks.

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