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Monday, March 01, 2010

More Aid Overseas

It seems the disaster season is upon us again. And whenever other countries are hit with a disaster, we gleefully saddle up and ride to their rescue. When we get there, we spend money like drunken sailors on shore leave and finally retire, happy with our emotional excesses and indulgences.

A little while ago, we enjoyed the tragedy in Haiti. Now we get to revel in the earthquake in Chile. I wonder how much money we'll spend this time?

The truth is that people love a good tragedy. The history of mankind proves this; Shakespeare's dramas, soap operas, the nightly news, court TV.

But we still feel a twinge of guilt: If we're going to watch the disaster unfold, blow-by-blow, perhaps we should do something to ameliorate the guilt. So we send money, which gives us the excuse to self-righteously proclaim that we "care", which in turn allows us to enjoy the disaster from the comfort of home.

The problem is that we are currently in great distress, a vast number of us are unemployed, homes continue to go into foreclosure, and there's no end in sight.

This is certainly no time to send money overseas.

20 comments:

Ed said...

What I'm really interested in is how many people will come out of the woodwork insisting that the United States hasn't done enough for this one like they did for Haiti? How many of those who privately donated (the proper way in my opinion) to Haiti and then pretended to be so righteous afterwards because they did, will step up and do the same for Chili? I'm guessing not as many in both cases.

There is always a disaster happening somewhere and we as the United States can't save everyone from themselves.

Kathleen said...

The truth is that we "ugly Americans" are the most generous people in the world. We give more per capita than any other nation...BY FAR. We even answer the call for help when our least friendly nations face horrible disasters. What does it say about us? I tend to believe that our history of giving precedes the media hype you discuss here so I don’t agree that it is the primary motivation. Are we foolish with our giving? Sometimes. Are we recognized for our generosity? We are the first to be called upon when money and resources are needed…we deliver big. Then, usually while we are still trying to save the day, we get excoriated for not giving more. If we were motivated to give by external gratification or adoration, we clearly have been chasing our tail. I think that we have this trait because we as a group are very independent minded. With independence we are required to have problem-solving skills…we are problem solvers. Oddly, our independent nature actually requires us to become more dependent on the “individuals” within our community to ride through hard times. Most Americans help their neighbors with the understanding that it is voluntary. They choose to. Just a side note…I’m not sure how much longer we will keep the problem-solving side of our character.

Interesting post.

Angela said...

I don't think I have ever donated money to a charity that helps people, I have donated my time. My main focus is donating and supporting causes that support animal welfare. I find it much more rewarding to help animals than I do people. Their love in return for my help is unconditional.

You could see with some of the food supplied for the Haitians, some were bitching that the food had expired, when in fact they were reading the labels wrong. Don't bitch over a free meal, be thankful for it!

Gary Baker said...

Personally, I think that it's always the right time for giving if you do so with the right motives and do so wisely. It's unfortunate that some people don't realize that unwise charity (e.g., handing an alcoholic standing outside a liquor store a $10) is worse than no charity at all.

Having children was excellent training for this kind of situation in that I learned to not give in due to guilt. I don't really think I can come up with a scenario where that leads to wise giving.

Scott said...

As always, you know my opinion so I won't focus too much on it. But the need for relief is Chile is not and will not be the same as for Haiti. Hundreds of thousands died in Haiti which is the poorest Country in our hemisphere. The deaths in Chile are of course very sad but nowhere near the scale that Haiti had. Also, Chile is quite a stable country who has a functioning government and the means to work through the tragedy. Should governments help? Absolutely they should, should it be on the same scale? Probably not.

One thing that does surprise me is the responses that say almost presume that the US is the only Country that gives. That is just a ridiculous notion. Countries big and small from all over the world help when disasters strike. I don't know if Americans give more per Capita than anyone else but if they do I would think that is because the US is also the richest (or was) Country in the world and that the economic problems in your Country have nothing to do with the aid you send overseas but rather the wild west approach to banking you seem to have adopted.

Scott said...

And just to let you know Kathleen the US is about 20th in the World in per capita aid.

Gary Baker said...

Scott,

"And just to let you know Kathleen the US is about 20th in the World in per capita aid."

A highly subjective estimate. A search of the net shows that estimates are all over the place, based on what is and is not counted as foreign aid. For example, the huge expenditure that the US has made in maintaining a military force is never counted as foreign aid, but has benefited any number of countries. This is particularly true of our NATO allies who have been able to limit themselves to a token military force. If Europe had to count on defending itself from threats, I think that many would be astonished at how much of their discretionary funds would disappear. Likewise with Japan. It's a relatively rare occurrence where any ally contributes more than 10% of the manpower and equipment that her allies do in a NATO operation. The recent problems with Somali pirates are a small fraction of the losses that would occur in international shipping if the US didn't maintain a dedicated Navy.

And your assumption about relative wealth being an indicator of charitable donations is seldom correct. Often it is those individuals closest to the poverty line that give the most, at least in terms of percentage of their income. It's an interesting phenomena.

Charitable giving is also a matter of spirit. Back when the US experienced it's worst day in modern history on 9/11, the messages were decidedly mixed. There were great outpourings of sympathy from some quarters. Others had quite the celebratory mood. At any rate, I've certainly seen nothing in the operation or attitude of the other developed nations that makes me feel morally inferior.

Scott said...

Gary,

I am not asking you to feel morally inferior in any way, I am just saying that it is pretty difficult to say that the US are the number one givers of foreign aid, especially for humanitarian efforts. I think it is pretty difficult to say that military spending should be factored into that equation in any meaningful way. Norway and Sweden are amongst the largest givers per capita, it just happens that they are not really on anybodys list to attack. I am not implying that there is a causal relationship there at all, just making the point.
You are very right that individuals and their giving habits. I was only referring to a Country's wealth. Private giving is another matter altogether.
As for 9/11 I think that the vast majoriy, in fact the massively overwhelming sentiment as I remember it was that of great sadness and sympathy. The outpouring came from across the globe. Sure there were some areas where there was jubilation but that was hardly the norm. Most were there to offer their help and support.

Gary Baker said...

"I think it is pretty difficult to say that military spending should be factored into that equation in any meaningful way."

I agree that the factoring is difficult. It is nonetheless significant. For example, during the Tsunami that hit Indonesia, President Bush dispatched a carrier to the area. At the time he received ridicule from international quarters. Very few took into account that a carrier is not simply a combat ship but a portable city providing hospital service, fresh water generation, rapid transportation services, electrical power generation, and a compliment of several thousand men and women available for search, rescue, construction, etc. While we can debate indefinitely just how much America's military assistance factors into the aide equation, I don't think a lot of people would be happy if it suddenly went missing. You commented that Sweden and Norway just aren't on anyone's list to attack. I seem to recall that being part of their logic prior to WWII. It didn't work out well. It's easy to say "No one is planning to attack us" as long a very strong ally is present. The world looks a good deal more dangerous when that's no longer the case.

Anonymous said...

Katherine,

I agree w/ your basic sentiment that America gives much more to the world in blood and treasure but... we don't give more to charity per capita. I think that's a misnomer there.

--Matthew Mientka

Kathleen said...

This is an interesting paper on private giving and the percentage of the GDP.

http://www.cafonline.org/pdf/International%20%20Giving%20highlights.pdf

Kathleen said...

My statement was not specific to foreign aid. I should have been more clear in my post.

Uncle Joe said...

It's only going to get worse I'm afeared.
The beginning of birth pangs perhaps?

Ed said...

Scott - The United States does not have any provision in our constitution allowing the government to provide aid for other countries. Any time we have done so has been unconstitutional. Perhaps the governing documents in Norway and Sweden have provisions and there in lies the difference.

Scott said...

Ed,

I don't know about the Constitution but I do know that Countries around the world, including the US agreed to provide foreign aid at a specified rate at a UN conference. Now I think only one or two countries have ever actually lived up to what they agreed to, but committments have been made. As to their legality/constitutionality, well that I can't comment on.

Question though: If something is not in the constitution does that mean that it does not happen, or should not happen in all cases? I don't know all that much about the subject and am curious about the answer.

Gary Baker said...

Scott,

"Question though: If something is not in the constitution does that mean that it does not happen, or should not happen in all cases?"

When the US Constitution was first ratified, it was accepted that the Federal government had specific powers, called the enumerated powers. Theoretically, the Federal government had no authority to pursue actions outside of those powers subject to the interpretation of the Supreme Court or as modified by amendments to the Constitution. The 10th amendment specifically said that all powers not given to the Federal government were retained by the states and by the people.

In practice, the Federal government is now regulating areas far beyond it's assigned role. This includes such items as schools under the department of education, social security, medicare, voting rights, and any number of powers not originally delegated to the Federal government. In fact, I would opine that differing philosophies over the role of the Federal Government are the basis for most of the political unrest in our country right now. In general, conservatives believe that the government should minimize it's role to that of guaranteeing liberty and providing essential services, such as national defense, that no state or locality can handle. Liberals in general believe that the Federal government should take all applicable steps to protect the public from unnecessary risk and guard the public interest against competing values such as private companies. This a "broad strokes" assessment. There are a lot of gradients along the way.

Ed said...

Gary - As usual, well said.

Scott said...

Thanks for the explanation Gary. I appreciate it. I don't agree with the stance so I guess that means what I really don't agree with is the 10th Amendment.
My stance is that it is reasonable for a government to contribute humanitarian aid to countries in need. I see that as the burden of wealth, or relative wealth if you like. It is, of course, my opinion but one that I believe pretty strongly in. Our respective governments spend all kinds of money in so many ridiculous ways that I don't see an issue with helping out those in need.

Gary Baker said...

Scott,

"Our respective governments spend all kinds of money in so many ridiculous ways that I don't see an issue with helping out those in need."

Your answer contains the major reason why I am such a big supporter of the 10th amendment and the original intent of the Constitution. Government spends money on ridiculous things. I've heard of studies that show that only about 30% of the taxes collected for aid to the poor actually make it to the poor. The bulk goes to the government bureaucracy. There's also the fact that a great many "charitable" causes are little more than political patronage. And finally, and most importantly from my standpoint, government has nothing that it hasn't taken from someone else. Any time it gives to "charity" it has made a judgment that one group is more entitled to what you earned than you are. I don't think that any government instituted of men is wise enough to make that choice fairly. Neither did the framers of our Constitution.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Everyone: A truly WONDERFUL discussion. Thank you all for contributing.

Scott, Thank you for continuing to poke your head in over here, to give us an opposing viewpoint. I know of some blogs where you're run out of the camp when you disagree, and I think it's horrendous. I'm proud that you still feel comfortable coming back here, and you are always welcome.

Gary, As usual, I agree with you 100%. Thank you for doing my job for me here.

Ed, Thank you for your thoughtful contributions as always.

Kathleen, It's always a treat to see you here!

Matthew, Thank you so much for dropping by!