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A Tale of Two Entrepreneurs

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NPR’s Morning Edition had a touching piece the other day that illustrated how great a blessing business can be, and just how terrible things can be when there’s no freedom to innovate, produce, and create wealth. Chana Joffe-Walt and Adam Davidson of Planet Money put together the narrative of George Sassine of Haiti and Fernando Capellan of the Dominican Republic, “Island Of Hispaniola Has Two Varied Economies.”

Both men shared the same dream: to open up a T-shirt factory. Sassine has had to struggle through all kinds of adversity in the attempt to realize his dream. And just as it was about to take off for good, to really get going, the earthquake hit. Says Sassine, “I’ve had a coup d’etats. I’ve had hurricanes. Now, I have an earthquake.” The “simple cut-and-sew factory” that Sassine had managed to put together lies in ruins.

Cappellan, on the contrary, started with a simple cut-and-sew operation, but in the interim has enjoyed great success; “His business now is, as they say, several steps up the value chain from the dream he started with.”

Sassine puts his finger on what differentiates him from Cappellan. It’s not ability, or ingenuity, or diligence. What has really prevented Sassine from doing for Haiti what Cappellan has done for the Dominican Republic?

Sassine asserts assuredly of Cappellan, “fortunately, for him, his country, his government was behind him. Me, I’ve been having governments against me all my life.” Political instability, corruption, and tyranny are what kill dreams like Sassine’s and Cappellan’s.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • I heard that segment, too. Both remarkable and moving.

    I was reminded of the comparison that Daniel T. Griswold makes of the alternative fortunes of Madagascar and Mauritius in Wealth, Poverty, & Human Destiny. From the 1970s through the 1990s, Madagascar followed a path its government described as “Christian Marxism.” Though 40 years ago the two nations had similarly poor living standards, in 2009 Mauritius enjoys a per-person income of $12,400, compared to just $1,000 in Madagascar.

  • Bridgett Wagner points to Heritage’s Index of Economic Freedom, which is another data point. Haiti is ranked #141, Dominican Republic #86.

    The difference in ranking is similar historically, too, at least as far back as the Index has data for them (ca. 1995).

  • In tomorrow’s Acton News & Commentary (subscribe here), Kevin Schmiesing looks at how the Index of Economic Freedom has direct bearing on a nation’s ability to alleviate poverty and care for the environment. One of the “biggest losers” in this year’s ranking: The United States

  • Steve Schaper

    Haiti won its independence before its population had been converted to Christianity. The Dominican Republic, afterwards. It isn’t that the Dominicans are thoroughly Christian, but there is less corruption, and less bondage to unclean spirits. There is a better understanding of the worth of the individual and the family, and of human creativity, being made in the Image and Likeness of God. Haiti remains a pagan country with some highly otherworldly Christians who do not often understand the implications for this life of their beliefs (source, Vishal Mangalwadi)