Another Wall Street bailout . . . for Haiti

By Kevin Clarke| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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The death toll from the Haitian catastrophe is now estimated at a staggering 200,000-almost as many as were killed after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami-with thousands more seriously injured and more than 1.5 million homeless. The earthquake has otherwise dislodged 3 million of the small island nation's 9 million inhabitants. The numbers are certain to rise as the search and rescue efforts which are still ongoing a week after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated one of the poorest and densely populated places on earth moves into the recovery and restoration phase. More than 70,000 bodies have already been removed from the remains of Port-au-Prince; thousands more are still under the rubble where they may remain entombed permanently.

Engineers are estimating it will take 10 years to rebuild, assuming Haiti can count on the attention of the international community for that long. Sadly the nation seems condemned to lurch from catastrophe to catastrophe, natural and otherwise, periodically rising to the acute attention of the world outside of Haiti before eventually disappearing "below the fold" again. Perhaps this time it will be different owing to the rhetoric-defying level of the current calamity.

One creative notion worth exploring was trial ballooned by Juan Cole, president of the Global Americana Institute, who suggests in an opinion piece for NPR a convergence of need and greed . As Wall Street celebrates a U.S. tax-payer bankrolled banner year and Haiti begins what will be a year in hell, Cole says the guys in New York could do a lot to improve what currently passes for their reputations by donating a mere 10 percent of the projected $47 billion plus bonus package being reserved for just the top three big banking firms.

He writes:

Remember that public TARP money that we loaned to the major Wall Street finance firms? They didn't actually use it to make small business loans as we had intended. Consultant Stephen Hall told NPR that "even though firms didn't use TARP funds to make bonuses, Wall Street banks benefited from borrowing funds from the government for almost nothing and then got a favorable return on their investment." Hall says, "It wasn't necessarily innovation or smart individuals that enabled banks to be profitable in 2009." In some cases, he says, "it was 'simple arbitrage' by investing in Treasury bills after obtaining funds at low interest rates. So the supposed geniuses at Goldman Sachs, who helped get us into our current economic mess in the first place, just picked our pockets for no interest and bought Treasury bills? That's why they deserve bonuses?

Cole says they should take that underserved windfall and put it to good work helping a community that, whatever the Pat Robertsons and Rush Limbaughs of the world think (thank you John Calvin), did not deserve to endure such mind-numbing suffering, particularly just as the nation was on the verge of turning an economic corner. It would mean a small investment from Wall Street bankers that could help restore Haiti even as it begins to restore what little remains of their credibility and integrity.