Felix Salmon

Using Tyler Cowen to help Haiti

By Felix Salmon
January 20, 2010

Can someone press-gang Tyler Cowen into being a key part of the US government’s response to Haiti? Cowen knows and loves the country, and his ideas about how to help — as well as his grasp of the magnitude and complexity of the problem — have been consistently one step ahead.

In a failed-state system it’s important to get past “let’s give money”, or even “let’s give unrestricted money”, or, for that matter, the wildly ambitious and improbable $10 billion plan of Jeffrey Sachs.

Cowen seems to have his feet planted much more firmly on the ground. He was an early proponent of granting Haitians Temporary Protected Status immediately, and today came up with a list of 13 ideas: his trademark mix of the serious with the not-so-serious shouldn’t detract from the fact that some of them — like repealing tariffs on Haitian sugar and otherwise encouraging what’s left of the Haitian agriculture industry — are smart and timely. Certainly repurposing Guantánamo to help Haiti seems to be a better idea than using it as a prison for captured refugees.

It’s worth noting that few of the ideas that Cowen talks about are his own: rather, it’s his omnivorous reading habits and aggregation skills which are coming into their own in the wake of this crisis. Governments and aid agencies have a tendency to become set in their ways, treating each problem as a variation on the last, and often feeling threatened by, or dismissive of, outsiders with bright ideas.

I see Cowen as being a kind of anti-Larry Summers in the internal government debate about what to do about Haiti. Rather than being the person who throws cold water on promising ideas, he’s the person who holds them up with enthusiasm, finding people who can navigate and solve any flaws in the initial concept. He’s even in the DC area already. Let’s make full use of him!

2 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Sorry Salmon, but after your previous crassly titled effort on Haiti this is not the place i’m going to for moral guidance on this subject.

Posted by ottorock | Report as abusive

Can we give Tyler his own branch of government and talk show as well? The man is an intellectual swiss army knife.

Posted by non | Report as abusive

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