What to do about Haiti's debt?

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PSD alum Tim Harford links to an article by David Roodman at the Center for Global Development, arguing against the cancellation of Haiti's debt:

The practical question for citizens, officials, politicians, campaigners, and other players is whether to push for that. On a few days’ reflection, I say no. I would go so far as to describe such pressure as harmful.

Why? For starters, the benefits of debt relief over the next few years, however done, will be tiny…That’s why cancellation does little good in the short run. It is not a coherent response to crisis. Meanwhile, there are other ways to help Haiti much more, in responding to the crisis and in rebuilding. Looking at the recent history of humanitarian aid, the people who compile the Humanitarian Response Index judge that many official donors could do a much better job. Isn’t this the time for activists to harvest the lessons of history and hold public and private aid agencies accountable?

Harford offers a different thesis:

An alternative view is that one should seize on a simple focal issue and then once you have people’s attention, broaden the scope of political pressure. This isn’t just relevant for Haiti but also, eg, the Bjorn Lomborg criticism of doing something about climate change - which, put simply, is that it’s distracting because the world has higher priorities.

My immediate response to this debate was to check in with the king of aid skepticism, Bill Easterly. What's the hot topic today over at Bill's blog, Aidwatch?

Turns out, the first post of the day is by David Roodman at the Center for Global Development:

I fear that calls to cancel Haiti’s debt are the old shoes of political activism. Debt relief will hardly help Haiti recover from the quake. And in a crisis, if you’re not helping, you’re in the way. Let us do the equivalent in the policy realm of sending cash, by advocating reforms that will do far more to alleviate the suffering.

What do our readers think about the advantages and possible disadvantages of canceling Haiti's debt? Please use the comments section to chime in.

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