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For Haiti, A Modest Proposal
George Hunsinger and Michael Kinnamon
A headline ricocheted around the Internet this week, requiring no further comments. It read simply:
"GDP of Haiti: $8.5 billion. Goldman Sachs bonus pool: $20 billion."
Even before the recent earthquake alerted us to Haiti’s misery, Goldman Sachs was uncomfortable about the attention its bonus system was attracting. Last September Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, acknowledged that "Compensation continues to generate controversy and anger." "In many respects," he added, "much of it is understandable and appropriate." The New York Times reported (October 12, 2009) that Goldman Sachs has considered improving its image by making a sizable charitable donation.
Now Haiti's disaster, on the front of every newspaper, has given Goldman Sachs an unequalled opportunity. A simple act of generosity could bring it front-page publicity, one that would do much to allay the controversy on everyone's lips. By donating just half of their bonuses to Haitian relief, they will outmatch the Haitian GDP, and improve not only their image but their tax liability. Church World Service, an efficient and experienced relief organization, for example, administering the Goldman Sachs billions, could ensure that reconstruction is not just a return to pre-earthquake squalor, but an enduring monument to the bankers' unprecedented liberality. In this simple way Goldman Sachs alone would surpass the $100 million that President Obama has pledged to Haiti, by a monumental factor of 100.
What the Haitians obviously need most is massive humanitarian relief. They need food, water, medical supplies. They need shelter and physical reconstruction. Over the longer term they need renewed and expanded educational facilities; and not least, indigenous control over their offshore oil and other mineral riches.
In Haiti 300,000 are feared dead, and 1.5 million are homeless. The death toll continues to climb. A major fuel shortage is looming, while people unreached in the countryside fare even worse than those in the cities. Over half of Haiti's population are children, 15 years old or younger. Many were already hungry and homeless before the earthquake hit.
Relief for Haiti needs to come in the form of grants, not loans. The last thing this stricken nation needs is more debt. According to a report from the The Center for International Policy, "Haiti spent $57.4 million to service its debt [in 2003], while total foreign assistance for education, health care and other services was a mere $39.21 million." Haiti needs outright grant money to rebuild its public sector. It needs the opportunity to stand on own two feet so that its hard-pressed citizens can receive basic public services.
One last point. Humanitarian aid must be directed particularly to women, children and the elderly. As MADRE, an international women's human rights organization, has observed: "Women are the poorest of the poor and often have no safety net, leaving them most exposed to violence, homelessness and hunger in the wake of disasters." Despite their disproportionate need for assistance, women "are often overlooked in large-scale aid operations."
The crisis facing Haiti today goes beyond anything yet thought or imagined. "I think it is going to be worse than anyone still understands," says Richard Dubin, vice president of Haiti shipping lines. Without a major upgrade in the global response, future generations may look back with horror. Ten billion dollars could make an inestimable difference. So could eight billion—half of the recently scaled-down bonus figure. A golden opportunity is knocking for Goldman Sachs.
Dr. Hunsinger is the Hazel Thompson McCord Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. Dr. Kinnamon is the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches.
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