How (and Why) We Calculated the Value of Haiti’s Payments to France

On Sept. 9, Selam Gebrekidan, one of our colleagues on the project, traveled with me and Matt to southeast London to meet Victor Bulmer-Thomas, a British skilled on Caribbean economies, and present him the spreadsheet. As I opened my laptop computer in his eating room, I felt nervous, fearing he would dismiss our tabulation as mere guesswork.

To our aid, he enthusiastically authorized it.

I spent the subsequent few weeks sharing my display in on-line conferences with students who’ve studied Haiti’s debt. I confirmed them the spreadsheet and punctiliously detailed, cell by cell, my sources, and I listened to them place our numbers into historic perspective. A complete of six lecturers, together with the Haitian students Gusti-Klara Gaillard and Guy Pierre, vetted our tabulation.

The work, nonetheless, was removed from over. The problem then turned to perceive how paying out 112 million francs over many years had affected Haiti, and what type of loss to its financial growth that payout represented over time. One manner to achieve this was to decide how a lot this money could be price at present had it remained in Haiti.

Some economists had tried to just do that in a research paper printed in August, utilizing a broad estimate of Haiti’s debt, so I drew from their methodology. I assumed that if that money had stayed in the Haitian financial system, it might have, at a minimal, grown at a rate of return equal to Haiti’s actual gross home product progress between 1825 and at present.

Using estimates of Haiti’s G.D.P. in the nineteenth century that have been supplied by Simon Henochsberg, a French banker who studied Haiti’s public debt for his master thesis, I calculated the common annual progress charges, computed them with Haiti’s annual cost flows and located that the double debt may have added $21 billion to Haiti over time.

I spent weeks making video calls and exchanging lengthy emails with economists like Ugo Panizza and Rui Esteves of the Geneva Graduate Institute to check the methodology — and being gently corrected on numerous components errors. Matt and I additionally went to current our findings at the Paris School of Economics, the place researchers grilled us.

We shared our evaluation with 15 main economists and monetary historians. All however one agreed with our $21 billion estimate. Some mentioned that it was inside a suitable vary; others discovered it conservative and mentioned that the long-term losses to Haiti would possibly truly be increased.

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