Welfarism is often given a bad name but it’s worth thinking about, especially when low-income countries like Haiti ponder the benefits of ‘investing’ in tourism and suchlike. These are supposed to be get-rich-quick schemes but the truth is Haiti – or at least most of its people – will not get rich quick through tourism. (Though there might be a slight trickle-down effect, only the usual suspects will benefit in any substantial way).
For a rising tide to lift all boats, the sea and moon must be conducive. Haiti would have to be a veritable tourist magnet, a solid draw, to return to an earlier age, when Club Med was here and the Clintons honeymooned on the island. But then it would be a different country and the whole discussion about abject poverty and welfarism would be pointless.
Anyway, right now, with all its problems, tourism can’t do more than create enclaves of wealth and walled-off resorts in Haiti. Something like Labadee, up in the north. Or the busy resorts in the neighbouring Dominican Republic. Or in Jamaica.
But urban extreme poverty is falling in Haiti, according to figures quoted by the World Bank. Part of the reason is diaspora remittances. It’s a reminder of the enormous power of migrant wages, just as in the southern Indian state of Kerala. But, there’s a limit to the magical abilities of the diaspora’s dirham or dollar, dutifully despatched to the old folks at home.
Kerala has invested heavily in social welfare measures and it shows in its low urban and rural poverty rates (compared to India’s national average). As well as excellent social indicators, not least education, which empowers the many – not just the few.
Welfarism has its reasons – and some very good ones at that.