Want To Make Use Of $47 Billion To Spare? Help Haiti

Juan Cole is president of the Global Americana Institute. He is a regular contributor to NPR.

  • Injured people rest in the streets of Port-au-Prince Thursday, two days after the devastating 7.0 quake.
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    Injured people rest in the streets of Port-au-Prince Thursday, two days after the devastating 7.0 quake.
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  • Rescuers carry an injured girl down the street after digging her out of the rubble Thursday.
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    Rescuers carry an injured girl down the street after digging her out of the rubble Thursday.
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  • Virginia Cary, of Cleveland, Tenn. waits at the Port-au-Prince airport in hopes of a return flight to the U.S.
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    Virginia Cary, of Cleveland, Tenn. waits at the Port-au-Prince airport in hopes of a return flight to the U.S.
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  • Fireman attempt to put out a blaze in Port-au-Prince Thursday.
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    Fireman attempt to put out a blaze in Port-au-Prince Thursday.
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  • After 50 hours trapped, James Girly, 64, is rescued from the remains of the Montana Hotel by the French military.  (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
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    After 50 hours trapped, James Girly, 64, is rescued from the remains of the Montana Hotel by the French military. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
  • Workers dig for bodies in a fight against time.
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    Workers dig for bodies in a fight against time.
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  • A woman who lost a hand lies on the ground outside a makeshift recovery ward in Port-au-Prince Friday.
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    A woman who lost a hand lies on the ground outside a makeshift recovery ward in Port-au-Prince Friday.
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  • An injured child waits for medical attention near a damaged hospital in Carrefour, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Friday.
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    An injured child waits for medical attention near a damaged hospital in Carrefour, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Friday.
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  • People line up to for gasoline. Aid organizations are struggling  to get needed resources to survivors.
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    People line up to for gasoline. Aid organizations are struggling to get needed resources to survivors.
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  • People line up to receive water, an in-demand commodity, from a firetruck in Port-au-Prince.
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    People line up to receive water, an in-demand commodity, from a firetruck in Port-au-Prince.
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  • Earthquake survivors use water from a fountain to bathe in the central public garden of Port-au-Prince.
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    Earthquake survivors use water from a fountain to bathe in the central public garden of Port-au-Prince.
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  • People wave at a helicopter in the center of Port-au-Prince. Aid efforts are slow to reach the Haitian capital.
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    People wave at a helicopter in the center of Port-au-Prince. Aid efforts are slow to reach the Haitian capital.
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  • The magnitude of the disaster is overwhelming relief efforts.
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    The magnitude of the disaster is overwhelming relief efforts.
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  • Bolivian U.N. Blue Helmet soldiers stand guard at an aid center in Port-au-Prince as a group of Haitians carries a victim.
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    Bolivian U.N. Blue Helmet soldiers stand guard at an aid center in Port-au-Prince as a group of Haitians carries a victim.
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  • A staff member from the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH, treats an injured man.
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    A staff member from the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH, treats an injured man.
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  • Men carry an injured relative in Port-au-Prince. The Haitian Red Cross estimates that more than 50,000 people may have been killed in the earthquake.
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    Men carry an injured relative in Port-au-Prince. The Haitian Red Cross estimates that more than 50,000 people may have been killed in the earthquake.
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  • A member of the Fairfax Country Urban Search & Rescue Team and her K-9 partner search the U.N. Headquarters for more survivors after freeing a man who was trapped for 40 hours in the rubble.
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    A member of the Fairfax Country Urban Search & Rescue Team and her K-9 partner search the U.N. Headquarters for more survivors after freeing a man who was trapped for 40 hours in the rubble.
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  • Aid trickled in Thursday morning. Here, Maurice Cain, senior airman with the U.S. Air Force, unloads humanitarian supplies from Panama at the Port-au-Prince airport.
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    Aid trickled in Thursday morning. Here, Maurice Cain, senior airman with the U.S. Air Force, unloads humanitarian supplies from Panama at the Port-au-Prince airport.
    Lynne Sladky/AP
  • A U.N. peacekeeper from Chile works in the rubble of the Montana Hotel.
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    A U.N. peacekeeper from Chile works in the rubble of the Montana Hotel.
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  • With thousands missing and the death toll climbing, dazed survivors wander amid the ruins of Port-au-Prince two days after the devastating earthquake.
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    With thousands missing and the death toll climbing, dazed survivors wander amid the ruins of Port-au-Prince two days after the devastating earthquake.
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  • Haitians walk though streets filled with rubble and bodies.
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    Haitians walk though streets filled with rubble and bodies.
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  • Displaced people create makeshift shelters out of tarps and sheets.
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    Displaced people create makeshift shelters out of tarps and sheets.
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  • A woman prepares a bed in the street Tuesday night after the quake.
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    A woman prepares a bed in the street Tuesday night after the quake.
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  • Many Haitians spent a second night on the streets. Here, people gather on a square in Port-au-Prince's Petionville district.
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    Many Haitians spent a second night on the streets. Here, people gather on a square in Port-au-Prince's Petionville district.
    Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
  • Members of the congregation of First Lutheran Church in Duluth, Minn. pray for the earthquake victims Thursday. The pastor's son is believed to have been killed in the quake.
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    Members of the congregation of First Lutheran Church in Duluth, Minn. pray for the earthquake victims Thursday. The pastor's son is believed to have been killed in the quake.
    Clint Austin/AP/Duluth News Tribune
  • Members of Canada's Haitian community comfort each other at the Haitian-Canadian Community Center in Montreal.
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    Members of Canada's Haitian community comfort each other at the Haitian-Canadian Community Center in Montreal.
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There are two big stories in the news, one about disaster and extreme privation, and one about excess. It may seem obvious once pointed out, but there is a way to bring them together that benefits everyone. The Haiti earthquake has affected 3 million of the country's 9 million people. At the same time, there is growing anger among many Americans, on left and right, about the obscene bonuses being given out by the big financial firms on Wall Street. The Tea Party activists are as exercised about them as President Obama.

The Haitian economy was a sad story even before the earthquake. Obviously, the country will need a lot of aid to come back from this disaster.

I have an idea. One of the problems with this year's Wall Street bonuses is that they are particularly undeserved. Remember that public TARP money that we loaned to the major Wall Street finance firms? They didn't actually use it to make small business loans as we had intended.

Consultant Stephen Hall told NPR that "even though firms didn't use TARP funds to make bonuses, Wall Street banks benefited from borrowing funds from the government for almost nothing and then got a favorable return on their investment." Hall says, "It wasn't necessarily innovation or smart individuals that enabled banks to be profitable in 2009." In some cases, he says, "it was 'simple arbitrage' by investing in Treasury bills after obtaining funds at low interest rates."

Juan Cole

Juan Cole is President of the Global Americana Institute. hide caption

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So the supposed geniuses at Goldman Sachs, who helped get us into our current economic mess in the first place, just picked our pockets for no interest and bought Treasury bills? That's why they deserve bonuses?

And what bonuses: The above article reports that Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase combined have set aside $47 billion for bonuses.

$47 billion in bonuses.

Haiti's annual gross domestic product in nominal terms is about $7 billion a year.

So here is a modest proposal: Since public monies clearly were the basis for a lot of the "profits" the banks and finance houses made in 2009, why don't the executives show at least a little common decency and donate 10 percent of these bonuses to Haiti reconstruction and development? That would be $4.7 billion, and it would go a very long way in Haiti.

It might help change the public perception of them.

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