A New Institutional Economics Analysis of Duvalierism
The first half of the 1950s was, relatively speaking, a golden age in modern Haitian history. Tourists flocked to what was still “The Pearl of the Antilles,” among them: Truman Capote, André Breton, Katherine Dunham and a senator from Texas who
thwould later became the 36 president of the United States (Lyndon Johnson). True,
former army colonel-turned-president Paul Eugène Magloire had come to power by force and was a dictator, but this was nothing new in Haiti or the region. Right next to Haiti, in fact, the poster child of “Latin” dictators (Raphael Trujillo) reigned, and across the Wind Canal another stood tall, though he would soon fall: Fulgencio Batista y Zalvídar of Cuba. Like their counterparts elsewhere, Haitian leaders had always preferred the certainty of the bayonet over the uncertainty of the ballot box, even if down the road, they were shred to pieces, literally in one or two cases, by the former‟s blade.
It is equally true that Magloire was corrupt, but this too was not out of the ordinary. The private use of public resources on a most discretionary basis is the hallmark of the patrimonial state, which Haiti‟s, arguably, had always been. But prosperity tends to soften the rougher edges of corrupt rule, as it affords despots the luxury of feeding at the public trough and, at the same time, taking care of the people‟s business. Graft aside, Magloire‟s record bespeaks of a string of accomplishments that is quite unusual for a Haitian ruler: The Peligre Dam, the source of much of Haiti‟s electricity, was begun under his watch (although the project
was financed largely by foreign loans); boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Port-au-Prince‟s main commercial artery, was given a much needed face-lift by Magloire;
Sylvio Cator stadium, Haiti‟s largest sports venue, was built under Magloire as well. In addition, there were Ciment D‟Haiti and Minoterie –– in short, the state-owned,
import-substituting firms that typified the industrialization strategy of Third World countries at the time.
Haiti‟s relative good fortune was due to a number of factors. Thanks to the Korean War, primary commodity prices were up, and Haiti owed practically nothing to foreign creditors (the Americans had made sure of that during the occupation of 1915-1932). The Haitian currency, the gourde, was stable, because of a 1919 agreement with the U.S. that fixed its value at a ratio of 5 to 1 (5 gourdes for 1 USD). International demand for Haitian coffee in particular was high. In the U.S. the post-World War II boom allowed employers to share productivity gains with workers in the form of higher wages. In turn, American workers bought cars, moved to the suburbs, and more importantly for this chapter, traveled abroad.
The Caribbean became a place of destination for Americans, because it was physically close to home, easily reachable by air and sea, and fulfilled northern caricature of a tropical paradise. Travel aficionados favored Haiti, because of urban Haiti‟s blend of African and French cultures and arts scene, especially so-called primitive arts, which American resident in Haiti DeWitt Peters had brought to North American attention through the works of such Haitian masters as Hector Hyppolite,
Philomé Obin and André Pierre, although Peters did not “discover” Haitian art as has been widely alleged. Finally, Haiti had always been seen in North American eyes as “exotic,” and tourists are loathe to rid of their savings on the familiar.
Haiti‟s flirtation with prosperity was rudely rebuffed by Mother Nature in 1954
when Hurricane Hazel devastated the Caribbean. Two years later, Maglorire, having served his constitutionally mandate term, attempted to prolong, by nooks and by crooks, as Haitian leaders are wont to do, his rule. A crippling general strike eventually forced him to resign and leave Haiti for good. After nearly a year of turmoil, during which Haiti had five governments, one serving for only 19 days, elections produced a successor to Magloire. He was François Duvalier, a mild-manered, nasal-voiced medical doctor and amateur ethonologist, who had served as labor minister in the Dumarsais Estimé government 10 years earlier and spent much of the roaring years of the Magloire presidency in hiding. François Duvalier would rule Haiti for 14 years before passing the proverbial torch in 1971 to his then 19-year-old son Jean-Claude. The younger Duvalier would go on to rule for another 15 years, thereby making the combined administrations of father and son the longest dictatorship, and the only de facto dynasty, in Haitian history.
Our concern in this chapter is with this period of Haitian history (roughly 1956-1986). The Duvalier era is significant for several reasons. First, that the Duvaliers ruled Haiti for so long is, in and of itself, a notable achievement, for the feature par excellence of Haitian politics for much of the last 200 years has been its instability, its
chaos. Why were François (Papa Doc) Duvalier and Jean-Claude Duvalier able to
defy the pattern, or did they? In other words, what accounts for the longevity of
iDuvalierism? Why did Haiti “opt” for tyranny over anarchy under the Duvaliers, and what does the longevity of Duvalierism say about tyranny as a regime-type in general?
Second, the Duvalier era is significant because, by its longevity, ferocity, venality and corruption, the Duvalier dynasty plunged Haitian underdevelopment to such (low) depth that it simply cannot be ignored by a serious analyst. Indeed, the Duvaliers made it extremely difficult for subsequent regimes, authoritarian or "democratic," to extricate Haiti from the abyss. To introduce a term to which we shall return to discuss in great detail, Duvarielism consolidates as well as fosters “path dependence,” which makes it much more than an isolated event. Arguably then, there is no more important
thperiod in 20-century Haiti than the Duvalier period, including the American occupation of 1915-1934, which, incidentally, paved the way for Duvalierism in more ways than the Americans would care to admit.
Thirdly, it is under the Duvaliers that the link between the failed state and underdevelopment, and the combined influence of internal and external factors on the failed state, can be most firmly established. These themes are of course at the heart of this book. Thus focusing on the Duvalier period is an effort at thesis substantiation.
This chapter does three things. Firstly, it explains the longevity of Duvalierism. In so doing, it challenges established notions about tyranny. Modern tyrannies are not always ephemeral; they can last for a long time. But longevity should not be confused with regime stability, order maintenance and economic performance. A regime that spans decades may or may not be stable, capable of maintaining order and able to nurture development.
Indeed, Duvalierism presents the paradoxical spectacle of a regime that lasted nearly three decades but was highly unstable, did not have effective control of its territory and had a terrible record at economic management. There are only 8 to 9 years during which Duvalierist rule was not in serious jeopardy and economic results looked generally positive (1971-1979). Much of the reason for the longevity of Duvalierism was due to the Cold War. Thus external institutions, the chapter argues, played a major role in the Haitian failed state. In this regard, Haiti resembles many of the failed states (Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo, etc.) that would come litter the African landscape in the post-Cold War.
Secondly, the chapter demonstrates that Duvalierism represented both continuity and discontinuity in Haitian politics: continuity in the sense that Duvalier père was not the first tyrant and populist ideologue in Haitian history; discontinuity in the sense that the violence of the regime, in terms of scale, intensity and duration, as well as its corruption, represented something “new” in Haiti, which, in turn, made future state failure more, rather than less, likely. Both of these features of Duvalierism, i.e.,
rupture embedded in a logic of habitude are informed, once again, by the concept of path dependence and, more generally, the New Institutional Economics.
Thirdly, the chapter shows how the state underdeveloped Haiti under Duvalierism. In the process, it demonstrates that there is nothing “modernizing” or revolutionary
about Duvalierism at any point during its history. Attempts to separate Jean-Claude Duvalier from François Duvalier, and to turn the former into a modernizer, overlook one important fact: Duvalierism was a manifestation of state failure in Haiti, as well as its intensification. Inasmuch as the state remained unaltered under father and son, in terms of its orientation toward patrimonialism rather than legal-rationalism, and inasmuch as the lot of Haitians barely improved under either one, there are no substantive differences between the two.
This explains the younger Duvalier‟s obduracy in resisting calls for ending the life presidency, as though it were his birthright, when abolishing this anachronism might have gained him a few more years in power. It also explains why “modernization” under Jean-Claude was limited to the creation of a proto-industrial park in Port-au-Prince that provided some low-wage manufacturing jobs to desperately poor Haitians mainly in the garment industry –– in sum, literally a development de pacotille –– but
not an independent judiciary, free labor unions, a less corrupt public administration and social services to the masses. The limits of Duvalierism were firmly established by its patrimonial (personal rule) nature; it could not go past these boundaries without imploding.
For the edification of the reader, we must say a word or two about the analytical orientation of the chapter. Until now our discussion of the Haitian failed state has been largely informed by Weberian discourse on the state, which places the work firmly in the institutionalist tradition. In this chapter we add a new twist to the analysis of the Haitian failed state, without making a complete U-turn. In dissecting Duvalierism, the chapter, rather than using the tools of historical political sociology, à la Weber, relies heavily on the New Institutional Economics, which has given social scientists, if not entirely new perspectives on social phenomena, at the very least, a different vocabulary. For in truth anthropologists, sociologists and political scientists, unlike neoclassical economists, have always recognized the importance of institutions, that is, the panoply of formal and informal rules (or constraints) in any society that are intended to make human relations more predictable, less erratic, and, in the specific realm of economic exchange, less prone to opportunism, or what Oliver Williamson calls self-interest-seeking-with-guile.
By its recognition that institutions matter, the New Institutional Economics has reconciled the field of economics with the other social science disciplines. For neoclassical economic theory, with its emphasis on stable equilibrium, small and multiple sellers and buyers (in other words, competitive markets), identical commodities, zero transaction costs and rational utility-maximizing actors, limited the contribution that economics as a field could make to the “real world.” Markets, for example, may be the most efficient means of resource allocation, but they do not drop from the heavens. How well (or poorly) markets work depend on the larger social
context, that is, the informal norms and the formal rules –– in sum, the institutional
matrix –– that underpin economic transactions and other forms of human interaction. At the same time, we know far less about institutions than we think we know, especially how, say, local structures and norms combine with international forms of domination (imperialism) contribute to state failure in the Third World and underdevelopment.
That the great divide in development studies continues to be between theories that stress the role of internal factors in the poverty of countries (e.g., the overbearing state of neo-liberals) versus those that emphasize the ostensible harm caused by the external environment underscores the work that remains to be done. The rigor of economics cannot but facilitate greater understanding of the very complex mechanisms and processes that underlay our social world. Again, the orientation toward the NIE is more of a twist than a turn away from earlier remarks. Weber, after all, was an institutional economist and economic historian, as well as of course a sociologist. As a young man, he wrote his dissertation on the economics of business during the medieval period (1889), and what else is The Protestant Ethics and the
Spirit of Capitalism but an analysis of how institutions (in this case religious norms)
iishape the (capitalist) political economy?
But we find that the Weberian approach to the state can be overly descriptive and insufficiently analytical. Furthermore, Weber‟s notion of the routinization of charisma strongly suggests that he thought that the legal-rational state was the
inevitable future of socio-political organization. While there is enough in Weber‟s
work to extrapolate the failed state, as we demonstrated in chapter 2, there is also strong evidence he believed that it would eventually give way to the legal-rationalism of bureaucracy. Obviously, we are not so sanguine, hence the decision to seek an analytical framework that explains both institutional change and failure.
Lastly, as historical political sociology, the Weberian model does not account for the behavior of individual actors. Its chief concern is about institutions, not those who create, manage and destroy them. For any theory of the state to be complete, some attention needs to be paid to the behavior of state makers, for a state is as good (or bad) as those who run it and live within its boundaries. Thus in addition to the New Institutional Economics, the chapter uses some elements of game theory to explain Duvalierism, especially its longevity.
Why the NIE, and not neoclassical economic theory, which has been, by far, the most dominant paradigm in economics? One reason neoclassical economic theory falls short, as stated earlier, is that it takes institutions for granted, while the NIE does not. Another is that it assumes zero cost to information. NIE remedies that by assigning a positive value to the cost of information and transaction costs in general, which are any cost incurred in the course of an exchange that is above and beyond the value of the good and service being exchanged.
Transaction costs include search and information costs, such as those incurred when determining whether a desired good is available on the market, at what price, and who the seller is; bargaining costs, such as those required to craft with a reasonable (i.e., mutually satisfactory) agreement; and ex post costs, which are policing and enforcement costs intended to make sure that the parties to a transaction stick to their end of the bargain and specify what penalties are to ensue if they do not.
“Where transaction cost is zero, the efficient competitive solution of neoclassical
iiieconomics obtains.” On the other hand, the higher are transaction costs, the higher the inefficiency of exchange and the lower economic performance will be. Institutions, such as the state, exist to reduce transaction costs, thereby making exchange more efficient and improving economic performance. There is a direct relationship among the failed state, transaction costs and economic performance.
The failed state is, almost by definition, one that is incapable of reducing transaction costs, or chooses not to do so, especially those connected to enforcement. As a result, transaction costs remain high and economic exchange either will be entirely foregone or experience sub-optimal results. The paucity of capital markets in developing countries stems from the fact that transaction costs are high, because there are no market-based mechanisms for turning uncertainty into risk and the state has limited regulatory capability; consequently, savings is not turned into capital investment (hidden, as it were, under the mattress), or is channeled toward the safest, but not necessarily high-return, activities.