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It Is Our Moral Responsibility to Help Haiti -- And it's In America's Interest

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For those of us who have a special place in our hearts for the long-suffering people of Haiti, the horrific pictures and tragic news reports of the earthquake's devastation seem as though they were lifted directly from the Book of Job.

The people of Haiti have borne so much sorrow, so much suffering. It breaks your heart.

My wife, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, and I were both in Haiti last year. Jan has been there many times before and for a number of years has helped support the work of Dr. Paul Farmer and his remarkable organization -- Partners in Health -- as it has worked with the Haitian government to radically improve health care in our hemisphere's poorest nation.

When we were there, it seemed that Haiti might be approaching an economic tipping point -- that a little ray of sunlight might finally be breaking through the dark years of poverty and exploitation. In addition to the expanding health care system, new highways have been paved. The UN and Haitian government had finally gotten a handle on the security situation. Just the other day we heard about a huge new project to plant millions of trees in this largely deforested land -- a critical component for the country's long-term economic success. Now this.

But one thing is striking. Through it all, Haitians are remarkably resilient and optimistic.

That's why, out of this unspeakable tragedy, the one hope is that this can be the occasion that draws the world's attention to Haiti and creates the resolve to provide the funds to give Haiti a chance -- after all these years -- to recreate itself.

Before yesterday's disaster, Haiti needed $3 billion to execute the development plan that has been designed by the government and international community. That is the equivalent to the price of about ten F-22 fighters. Now, of course, it will need more. But frankly, for the price a few CEO bonuses, the lives of 8.2 million people -- our next-door neighbors -- could be changed forever.

Of course the first priority is the massive rescue and relief effort that is being spearheaded today by the Obama Administration and international aid organizations. But we must hope that the world's concern will not die immediately once the worst of the short-term suffering is ameliorated. And that's not just because helping Haiti fundamentally escape its poverty is the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do.

The world economy is not a zero-sum game. For us to be richer, someone else doesn't have to be poorer. In fact, just the opposite is true.

If you think of the earth as a huge space vehicle -- or a ship at sea -- it just doesn't make sense that a big proportion of the crew isn't able to pull its weight because they are undereducated, unproductive and constantly in need of handouts from the rest of us. The Navy wouldn't tolerate it; neither should the world community.

The more skilled, the more educated, the more productive, and the more efficient every one of us is, the more successful we will all be in our common mission of forging a better life for future generations.

Every kid in Haiti who grows up to be a surgeon or an engineer instead of a stoop laborer contributes to the common store of our wealth. If a girl is sentenced, by accident of her birth, to spend hours each day washing clothes in a Haitian stream instead of going to school, all of us miss out on the possibility that she might contribute to finding a cure for cancer. Millions of minds are indeed a terrible thing to waste.

And the effect of this waste plays itself out in the terms of pure economics. Several years into the Great Depression, the New Deal began to close the gap between supply and demand in the American economy. Roosevelt began to use public sector demand to fill the demand gap, and move the economy toward full employment. But Emperor Hirohito's attack on Pearl Harbor was necessary to give America the political will to fully utilize the tools of the New Deal -- to stop worrying about short-term deficits -- and create full employment. After all, it was do-or-die.

There was great concern at the end of World War II that demobilization would result in a precipitous new economic downturn. One of the major factors that prevented that downturn -- and fueled world economic growth for the next 20 years -- was the Marshall Plan. America invested massively in rebuilding Europe. In the short term, that created huge new markets for American products. In the longer term, it allowed the rebirth of an economically prosperous Europe that contributed to the store of our common productive capacity.

In the same way today, long-term economic growth in the developed world will require a massive investment to jumpstart the economies of countries like Haiti and the entire developing world. And like the Marshall Plan, we will all benefit.

In addition to that, helping countries like Haiti escape poverty is about our own national security. The fact is that an island of at least relative prosperity cannot exist forever in a sea of poverty. Ask Louis XIV of France how that works out.

Kids who grow up in poverty in countries like Haiti don't see the "good life" in American commercials and movies and then resign themselves to suffer quietly. A recent survey showed that 75% of the people in Haiti want to leave the country. Many of them will try, even if they risk their lives in.a leaky wooden boat. Many will try to come illegally to the United States.

People have never left their homes and families to emigrate to foreign lands unless they felt they had no choice. The millions of immigrants at our borders are the waves crashing over the seawalls of our island of relative prosperity. If you want to do something serious about illegal immigration, you need to help create economies in countries like Haiti and Mexico that allow people to believe they have a future there at home. Everything else is simply a band-aid.

Without economic development in Haiti, other children will grow up to join criminal gangs that promise them a relative fortune of a few thousand dollars to transport drugs to the United States.

In other parts of the world kids like them will resort to strapping on bombs in the vain hope of giving their lives some meaning. Or they'll hijack ships. Or they will join revolutionary movements to challenge the wealth and power of those who have it.

A recent report made public by our own CIA described world poverty as the greatest single long-term threat to world stability and our own national security. There has never been a time when the old Catholic Worker slogan was more correct: "If you want peace, work for justice."

And finally, of course, it is our moral responsibility. Well-being is not just a matter of the number of rooms in our houses or the quality of our vacations. People -- especially young people -- want meaning in their lives. They want to commit themselves to other people -- not just for the sake of the other people -- but because it fulfills them -- it makes them feel that their lives matter. Our well-being as individuals and as a people is not simply measured by our GDP. It is measured by whether we can be proud of ourselves.

Right now to be proud of ourselves, we have to step up to help the people of Haiti. Do what you can right now to help the Red Cross and other relief agencies cope with this massive humanitarian crisis. And once that's done, tell your members of Congress that one of the foundations of our own long-term economic security is creation of growth and opportunity in places like Haiti.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.