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Most Generous Nation? No...

When the Bush Administration pledged a paltry $15 million (later grudgingly upped to $35 million), I thought I would not be alone in thinking it tightfisted.

In correspondence to friends, acquaintances, and a couple US mailing lists, I said so (coincidentally, at about the same time of Egelund's statement), and said that I, here in Europe, had not heard any compelling arguments about why the contribution should be so small (on a per capita basis or a percentage of GNP). After all, the upcoming Inauguration budget is $40 million.

The response was so surprisingly, and vehemently against government aid to disaster relief -- that even $35 million was too much -- that I realized just how out of touch I am with Red-State values (I come from the South, so I know a lot of Red-Staters).

The howling fell into four main groupings:

1. The US wasn't affected by this; anyway, we had our own disasters (hurricanes) in 2004.

2. The "UN will waste it".

3. We can't divert funds from the War on Terror.

4. The US Government doesn't have to give foreign aid, because Americans have the heart to give through charity. In other countries, people aren't naturally charitable, and so must be taxed so their countries can give foreign aid.

Holders of deep beliefs are rarely swayed by facts or numbers, so I am afraid I converted no Red-Staters into advocates for greater foreign aid or disaster relief.

But some facts and myths simply deserve to be more widely-known.

Thus:

The US wasn't affected by this; anyway, we had our own disasters (hurricanes) in 2004.

Myth: 4000-5000 Americans are still missing as of this writing. Many, one must hope, will be found. But since many who were in the tsunami are already back home argues that the number of American dead and missing will be high. To say that America isn't affected simply means you don't know anyone who travels in Asia.

Fact: the US was struck by four hurricanes this year. But $13 billion was set aside for disaster relief. Yes, I agree that Florida is closer to home than Sri Lanka. But not 867 times closer.

"The UN will just waste the money"

Myth: While the UN is a favorite bĂȘte-noire of the Red-Staters, no aid money or disaster relief need be channeled through the UN.

We can't divert funds from the War on Terror

Myth: With over $120 billion already allocated to the Iraqi Adventure, no disaster aid contribution is likely to doom the effort. Anyway, the funds don't come out of the Defense Department budget.

The US Government doesn't have to give foreign aid, because Americans have the heart to give through charity. In other countries, people aren't naturally charitable, and so must be taxed so their countries can give foreign aid.

Myth: Americans do give to a lot of charities: $3 billion a year, according to this article.But that amounts to just 0.03 of Gross National Income. In comparison, the US government gives $15 billion, or 0.15% of GNI. Even if no other citizen in any other rich country gave a single dime, the US at the back of the pack of generosity.

Public giving is a public policy decision, ultimately decided by collective public. Personal giving is a personal choice. So if it is the will of Americans to give less, given the country's wealth, through public or private choice, so be it. But, really people, let's stop kidding ourselves that we are the most generous nation on earth.

Update: In the last few days, the Bush Administration either came to or was shamed into its senses. So the disaster relief was put up into the hundreds of millions. Still cheap, but getting there.

I've been wondering how they would justify it to the Red-Staters... who thought $35 million was more than enough. The answer lies in the War on Terror.

Say what you will about Karl Rove, he knows PR.

Allan Jenkins posted this at 18:01. Permalink |


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