Wednesday, January 05, 2005

America the not-so generous?

The New York Times > Opinion > Kristof: Land of Penny Pinchers
...Americans give 15 cents per day per person in official development assistance to poor countries. The average American spends four times that on soft drinks daily.

In 2003, the latest year for which figures are available, we increased such assistance by one-fifth, for President Bush has actually been much better about helping poor countries than President Clinton was. But as a share of our economy, our contribution still left us ranked dead last among 22 top donor countries.

We gave 15 cents for every $100 of national income to poor countries. Denmark gave 84 cents, the Netherlands gave 80 cents, Belgium gave 60 cents, France gave 41 cents, and Greece gave 21 cents (that was the lowest share, beside our own).

It is sometimes said that Americans make up for low official aid with private charitable donations. Nope. By OECD calculations, private donations add 6 cents a day to the official U.S. figure - meaning that we still give only 21 cents a day per person.

I'd suspected our private donations didn't make up for our limited government donations, but it's good to get the (bad) numbers.

On the other hand ...

The real contributions to eradicating poverty are made through balancing free trade with some measure of support for those dislocated by subsequent changes in economies, and through foreign investment motivated by profit and balanced by some measure of protectective regulation. In that competition America under Bill Clinton, and even under George Bush II, has done relatively well. Since this benefits Americans as well as the impoverished it's an easier sell in some quarters, but since most Americans don't believe it helps them it's also something that's sold silently.

So we should perhaps match France's aid budget (though how much of France's aid is tied aid -- sometimes worse than nothing at all?), but the real battle is fought elsewhere.

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