'Stingy' Americans and the Charity Racket

Human tragedies and natural disasters often reveal character. In such times, people will blurt out what they truly believe.

On hearing that America’s initial offer of aid to the victims of the South Asia disaster was a paltry $15 million, Ian Egeland, the U.N. coordinator for international relief, spat out, “It is beyond me why we are so stingy.”

Stung, Secretary of State Powell announced a doubling of the U.S. aid offer to $35 million, and made the rounds of the morning shows to defend America’s reputation for generosity.

The New York Times, however, piled on the Bush administration. That $15 million aid offer was “measly,” and the run-up to $35 million a “miserly drop in the bucket,” consistent with the “pitiful” amount we stingy Americans contribute annually in foreign aid.

Both Powell and an irritated George Bush, intended target of the Egeland slur, however, have a compelling case. Of the $6 billion sent out in emergency relief worldwide last year for victims of natural disasters, America contributed $2.4 billion, or 40 percent.

Sensing he had angered the United Nations’ sugar daddy, who pays the lion’s share of his big salary, Egeland backpedaled. He claims his “stingy” remark referred to the tiny fraction of GDP that Western nations contribute annually in foreign aid. In 1970, a U.N. agency said that wealthy nations should yearly fork over seven-tenths of 1 percent of their GDP in foreign aid.

For the United States, whose official aid figure last year was $15 billion, that would mean $80 billion a year in wealth transfers to Third World nations. Norway, whence Egeland hails, gives almost 1 percent of its small GDP to foreign aid.

But this 0.7 percent figure neglects two factors. First is the U.S. spending for defense that provides security for all the Western democracies, plus Japan, Korea and dozens of nations. Defense consumes 4 percent of U.S. GDP. In the Cold War, it was 9 percent under Ike and 6 percent under Reagan. Then, there is the private giving of Americans, who are the most charitable people on earth. Perhaps 10 percent of the $240 billion that Americans annually give to charity goes abroad.

And looking back over the 20th century, the United States has a record that would seem to deserve better than the sneering contempt of a U.N. official. In two world wars, Korea and Vietnam, America bled profusely for the freedom of others. We invented foreign aid with the Marshall Plan. We midwifed the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and its sister banks that contribute billions to foreign nations every year. We opened our markets to the world, beginning with the ravaged nations of Europe and Asia after World War II, at great cost to our own workers. Wherever disaster occurs, as in Asia, Americans are usually there first with the most to give.

Americans also pay up to 35 percent of their earned income to the U.S. government and 5 percent to 10 percent to the state in income or sales taxes. Add to that Social Security, Medicare and property taxes, and some Americans pay half their income in taxes. Yet, they remain the most generous people on earth in annual giving to churches and charities.

So, it is fair to ask: What do Egeland and the U.N. contribute? And the answer is nothing. For the U.N. creates no wealth and has nothing to contribute, other than what member nations provide it. And the most generous of those nations, which pays a fourth of all U.N. dues and a third of all peacekeeping costs, and has made U.N. officers like Egeland the highest-paid and pensioned bureaucrats on earth, is the United States of America.

Thus, what Egeland does for a living is to preside over the distribution of aid and money conscripted from Americans, while denouncing them as “stingy” and preening as a great humanitarian. He is a dispensable parasite who insults the nation responsible for his exalted lifestyle.

FDR warned that welfare was “a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.” Just as it bred dependency, resentment and ingratitude among recipients in America, and moral arrogance in its smug dispensers, the same holds true in the international realm.

As we see the moral superiority of Egeland on parade, so we annually witness the rage and resentment of Third World regimes against America — that we are responsible for their poverty, that we do not give enough to them — in the General Assembly and at U.N. conferences. Recall the one in Durban, South Africa, three years ago, where reparations for slavery were demanded, but only of the West.

One day, Americans will grow weary of this, as they did of welfare, and abolish foreign aid, tell the Third World kakistocrats that the gravy train doesn’t stop here anymore and provide aid directly to people, not governments. For the present, President Bush might solve Ian Egeland’s moral problem by being more generous with the suffering people of South Asia, and taking the money, dollar for dollar, out of this year’s contribution to the United Nations.