Today’s (Friday, January 13th, 2012) Foreign Policy Brief contains a slideshow that aims to show a side of life in Haiti that is rarely, if ever, depicted in the media. It shows a glimpse into the lives of Haiti’s “one-percent”.
As the country marks the second anniversary of a devastating earthquake, while retaining the title of “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere”, these pictures are a good reminder of the importance of local business and commercial interests in rebuilding the Haitian economy. As the piece also notes, however, Haiti’s local bourgeoisie has been labeled among the “most repugnant elite” for its past role in reducing Haiti to its current state of abject poverty.
Particularly in Haiti and other developing countries, the “one-percenters” are the beneficiaries of a system of inadequate and unfair allocation of resources and of wealth. The gaps between the “haves” and the “have-nots” are typically unimaginable to people who have only known life in the developed world. Meanwhile, few persons with real-life experience in a developing country will even raise an eyebrow at the images of a life well-lived among the contrasting images of deprivation that continue to define Haiti.
For the most part, the “one-percenters” in developing countries represent the progeny of a mercantile class that created and benefitted from the importation and resale of products from the colonial and neo-colonial hubs. Few of them have grown wealthy by actually producing anything locally. Meanwhile, they hold most of the available land and other productive resources.
This reality is perhaps one key reason why the services sector represents such an area of growth and innovation for many developing countries. This sector holds the most promise for someone with talent and an entrepreneurial drive but little else; though one still needs access to capital and to opportunity. The Haiti slide show of the “one-percenters” includes pictures of a telecommunications mogul who worked his way up from the middle class, and the two internationally-known singers from among whom emerged Haiti’s current President, Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelli.
This is why trade agreements, negotiations and rules that purport to address development needs are incomplete without provisions that increase the access of developing country service providers to global markets. Meanwhile, the services sectors remain among the most protected in most countries, both developed and developing. Caps on foreign ownership, minimum capital requirements, nationality/residency requirements, or mandatory use of local joint venture partners are examples of these barriers. Removing these barriers and providing access to credit and opportunity for the 99 percent remains one of the primary challenges to addressing these inequalities in the developing world.