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

On Sept. 9, Selam Gebrekidan, one among our colleagues on the challenge, traveled with me and Matt to southeast London to satisfy Victor Bulmer-Thomas, a British professional 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 reduction, he enthusiastically authorized it.

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

The work, nonetheless, was removed from over. The problem then grew to become to grasp how paying out 112 million francs over a long time had affected Haiti, and how much loss to its financial improvement that payout represented over time. A technique to take action was to find out how a lot this cash can be value immediately had it remained in Haiti.

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

Utilizing estimates of Haiti’s G.D.P. within the nineteenth century that have been offered 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 fee 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 varied method errors. Matt and I additionally went to current our findings on the Paris College 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 really be increased.

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