Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, it's a great pleasure to be asked to come to testify here.
There is one part of my career you didn't mention, and maybe you don't know. I spent the middle year of my graduate education at Queen's University in Kingston. It was actually the most productive year of my graduate career, so I have a special fondness for Canada.
I want to start by saying that I'm here to describe an initiative of the government in Honduras that I've been advising on. The President of Honduras sent a letter, which will be available in the original Spanish, with an English and French translation, indicating how much he appreciates the interest expressed by Parliament in this experiment Honduras is undertaking and how much he values Canada as a potential partner as this project goes forward.
To step back and motivate what they're doing, let me describe for you a more familiar context of domestic unemployment. Suppose you saw massive amounts of persistent unemployment in your society. A natural impulse to deal with that would be the charitable impulse to try to put people on what we used to call the dole, or welfare, to provide income support for people who aren't working. If that's a pervasive problem, it will, of course, be a very expensive program for a government to maintain. And it's actually one that we now know can be quite harmful, since the additional disincentives to work that those kinds of charitable grants can offer can actually end up keeping people out of the labour force, which reduces their skills and reduces their sense of accomplishment and dignity.
In a case like that, we know that instead of that expensive and harmful solution, there's another very low-cost solution, which is to identify the impediment that is preventing people from working, to recognize that every human has the capacity for creating value and being productive, and to remove that impediment so that all those people who were idle can become productive. We get the benefits of their labour, but especially, they get the benefits of the extra skill and the hope and the dignity that come from work.
In the national domestic context, it seems obvious to us that the role of the government is to remove those impediments and to then let people produce as they can. It's not generally the role of the government to provide assistance or replacement income.
We have worked our way in North America through that kind of line of logic in recent decades, but we haven't yet gone through a comparable transition in our thinking about development assistance. When we look at people in poor countries, we still reach too quickly for the solution that involves the gift, the charity, or the aid. There are clearly some circumstances in which this is appropriate. Humanitarian aid in times of crisis can be the difference between life and death, and is something we should certainly stand ready to provide. But it's not the solution when we see chronic, persistent poverty in poor countries, and we see people who are not productive and who are not acquiring skills.
The other thing that is revealing is that this is not something that represents a flaw of the people. For example, when someone from Honduras who was idle or who was working at a very low wage in Honduras moves to Canada or to the United States, the person comes to a new environment and earns much more immediately on arrival. So we don't need to look inside the people for the immediate impediment. We have to ask what it is about the environment that's holding everyone back.
The jargon economists use for the potential impediments is “institutions”. I don't like that language, because I think it obscures. I think the right language to use here is “rules”. Every society, every group of people, follows a set of rules that structure how people interact with each other.
Those rules are partly codified in law, but they're also instantiated in our norms about right and wrong.
The rules that a Honduran can get access to if she moves to Canada involve both the legal requirements for honesty, but also the prevalent social norms about honesty and about trust. The challenge in a country like Honduras that wants to reform is that it can copy the laws of Canada easily enough, but it can't copy the norms of Canada, at least instantly.
Even if people in Honduras know they would all rather live in a society with high levels of trust, where people are more honest and where trade can take place much more easily because of that trust and honesty, they're looking for a mechanism to escape from a set of rules that were bequeathed to them by a history of colonial imposition of near-feudalism in the early stages in Honduras and of persistent fear of opportunism and violence—fear by peasants of landholders who might take advantage of them, might repress them, and fear by landholders of peasants who might engage in land invasions and takings.
What the leadership in Honduras has concluded is that in that kind of circumstance, if the key is to develop norms of, for example, trust and honesty, sometimes a neutral third party can come in as the trusted arbiter and can help create the conditions of safety, which they can then use to build honesty and trust and engage in the process of rapid development, which they know they're capable of. The government has amended their constitution and passed a law to create the potential for what they're calling a reform zone, where in that zone, foreigners could come in and undertake some of these key conditions—create these key conditions that help establish trust and safety and help evolve the norms of honesty.
To go back to the point in the beginning, this is something that doesn't cost the foreigners anything. If anything, I think any foreign government that wants to be helpful in this project should immediately.... Someone asked earlier today: what can donor nations do to help? I said don't be donor nations. Don't think about giving money. That's not what's relevant. We heard in the testimony before that the money here is just a pittance compared to the value that can be created, but things like providing the seed of trust, from which broader social trust can grow, can be enormously valuable.
I'll give you one specific example of how this is playing out, and then perhaps we could turn it over to more general discussion.
The legislation providing for this special reform zone says that courts will be created in this new zone. Right now in Honduras the courts and the police are not trusted, and for good reason. Many of the police and courts and lawyers engage in bribes and do not enforce the law honestly. A lawyer told me once that when he is in a proceeding and the judge doesn't ask for the bribe, he knows he's in trouble because the other side has already bribed the judge and won the case.
So how can you escape from conditions where everyone knows this is wrong, but it's so prevalent and so pervasive and no one knows whom they can trust? One provision in this new reform zone is that it will have its own courts. The judges who staff these courts can be appointed from anywhere in the world, but Mauritius has agreed that its supreme court will act as a court of appeal for the new courts in this zone in Honduras. The informal agreement at this point is that the zone will compensate the supreme court through filing fees or whatever mechanism they work out, so that this doesn't impose any net costs on Mauritius.
But what Mauritius can do then is provide the neutrality and credibility of its legal system as the anchor, through the appeals process, of a new judiciary that can be put in place immediately in this new zone.
You might ask, why implement this just in a special zone? Why not do this for all of Honduras? The answer is that this kind of participation by a foreign body would be objectionable to some people in Honduras. Rather than say this is a measure that will be forced on all people of Honduras, what the government has said is that it will create a new place where this will be available to people, and if you as a Honduran citizen feel comfortable going into that zone and getting matched with an employer who might come and hire people in that zone—you might use infrastructure that is funded by investors looking for a return on their investment in the airport, port, or power system—you are free to go operate in this new environment, but it's not forced on anyone.
That possibility of choice in opting in is important not just for initial acceptability of this kind of change, but also because it means that these new norms and these new rules have a legitimacy that comes from universal assent to those norms that they never would have had if they were imposed on some people who didn't want them—not just norms but legal arrangements. The idea is to create the space and use the resources, which don't really cost anything but which can provide so much as the nucleus for creating the kind of opportunities that people have to move to North America to get now. Create that in the zone, and then as it succeeds, find a mechanism to let that system, if it is judged to be attractive to the rest of Honduras, spread throughout the country and hope it is a model for the rest of the world about how social reform can take place. And incidentally, how we can provide urban environments and opportunity for the billions of people who want to move into urban areas.
That is the venture. The example of what Mauritius has done is an indication of the new style of development assistance that a country like Canada could provide. With that hint of the possibility that things could be very different from what we are used to, perhaps I should turn it over to the members of the committee for questions.