Port-au-Prince isn’t a war zone, the way it is often represented. There’s a lot of rubble and houses sheltered by USAID/U.N./Canadian tarps, but the image of armed gangs running amuck is overstated. I have seen zero guns so far ... which is infinitely less than Noel spotted in rich northern Mexico last month. The image of Haiti as chaotic and violent (which I’ll admit to having bought into before I knew anything) is remarkably akin to how people perceive Africa. “Tch. Those chaotic disordered black people.” (Or maybe used to perceive Africa? Calling Chris Blattman.)
The only aid-funded construction project I’ve seen so far is a detention center for minors. Sigh.
Caveat: I haven’t been here very long (hitting my 24th hour) and people say that last year’s retreat was held with the sound of gunfire in the background. Still, that particular sound can be heard in wide swathes of major American cities. I could occasionally hear gunshots outside my apartment in the Mission in San Francisco, yet only eight blocks over the streets were filled with yuppies eating peacefully at gourmet restaurants.
There’s a potential research project on applying methods developed to measure statistical discrimination in the labor market to measure investment and travel decisions across countries. Much of the research on labor market discrimination uses panel data to see whether the penalty of being black goes away as employers learn about true worker productivity. The hypothesis is that if employers are using broad stereotypes as a proxy for ability, then the effect of those stereotypes on individuals should wane as they reveal information about their actual ability.
Could you do a similar exercise with firm-level investment in countries? What is the economic impact of country-level racial perceptions? Does being a “black” country penalize you in the market for global capital and tourism dollars? If so, how much of the penalty is driven by perceptions of disorder? It might be that countries (like, say, Mexico) which already have well-formed reputations are less hit by increases in disorder.
An interesting follow-up story: INURED’s institute is in Delmas, a historically high crime area ... thus the stories of weapon discharges. But due to its community work, INURED has enough local contacts to guarantee their safety. That allowed it to rent a building that they could afford. The earthquake, however, appears to have caused the local crime rate to crash, so the newly arrived NGOs and aid agencies would pay an arm and a leg for the place, but INURED gets to keep it at a fraction of the market rent. For once, a first-mover advantage that helps the good guys.
Which leaves us with the question: why did crime crash in this neighborhood after the quake, and is that something generalizable across the city and country? There is some evidence that it is not, and crime may have risen elsewhere, but we don’t yet know. More as I find it out.