“It is beyond me . . . why are we so stingy, really,” said U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland, after the tsunami in southern Asia. ” . . . Christmastime should remind many Western countries at least, [of] how rich we have become. . . . ” And in a statement that might shock defeated presidential candidate John Kerry, Egeland said voters want their taxes increased. ” . . . [I]n the United States, in the European Union, in Norway which is No. 1 in the world, we want to give more . . . as taxpayers. . . . [P]oliticians . . . belie[ve] that they are really burdening the taxpayers too much and the taxpayer wants to give less. That’s not true. They want to give more.”
Actually, Americans do want to give more — with the emphasis on “give.” Indeed, so far, Americans pledged over $200 million in tsunami aid. Normally, Catholic Relief Services’ Web site receives $40,000 per month. Since the tsunami, online contributions are $100,000 per hour. The American Red Cross has received pledges over $100 million, with more pouring in daily. Yet on more than one occasion, former President Jimmy Carter has sounded the America-is-cheap theme. On PBS television a few years ago, Carter said, “It’s all very disturbing to me as a former president that this nation with generous people in it has become by far the stingiest nation on earth.”
Here we go again.
Last year, American government provided 35 percent of worldwide relief aid. In private contributions, American individuals, estates, foundations and corporations gave over $240 billion to charitable causes in 2003, according to Giving USA Foundation. Privately, Americans give at least $34 billion overseas.
Josette Shiner, former Empower America president, points out that more than 80 percent of Americans belong to a “voluntary association,” and 75 percent of households report charitable contributions. Shiner wrote in 1999, “Americans look even better compared to other leading nations. According to recent surveys, 73 percent of Americans made a charitable contribution in the previous 12 months, as compared to 44 percent of Germans, and 43 percent of French citizens. The average sum of donations over 12 months was $851 for Americans, $120 for Germans, and $96 for the French. In addition, 49 percent of Americans volunteered over the previous 12 months, as compared to 13 percent of Germans and 19 percent of the French.”
Of the 184 subscriber nations of the World Bank — which provides financial assistance and debt relief to developing countries for particular sectors or projects with low-interest loans, interest-free credit and grants — contributions paid in by America make up over 17 percent. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) focuses on providing financing for general support of a country’s balance of payments and international reserves. Again, of the IMF’s 184 nations, the U.S. does the heavy lifting, providing 17.5 percent of contributions.
What about debt forgiveness? The United States forgave about $14 billion in foreign debt from the late ’80s through 1995. Since 1994, the U.S. has worked with the Paris Club — an informal forum of creditor countries — to review, negotiate and adopt debt relief programs for poor countries, recently badgering France and Germany into agreeing to forgive 80 percent of the $39 billion owed by Iraq.
America twice assisted Europe in World Wars I and II. America took the lead in defeating the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and continues to provide troops and military assistance to European nations and Southeast Asia.
United Nations’ Egeland brags about his native Norway, which, in giving, he says, “is No. 1 in the world.” Norway gives 0.92 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to foreign aid development, versus 0.14 percent in this country. ” . . . We have . . . no country up to the 1 percent . . . line of foreign assistance in general,” says Egeland, “and we have, I think, three . . . Scandinavians that have exceeded — and Holland — the 0.7 percent line of gross national income for assistance.” Yes, Holland gave $12.2 billion in foreign aid in 2003, but that was following two years in which it received more aid than it gave. Besides, these numbers overlook Americans’ private contributions, which equal 2.2 percent of our GDP. Add the value of volunteer time contributed, and — even when calculated at minimum wage — that gives you another $100 billion.
Add in the amount of money spent to protect other (often wealthy) countries — military spending is 3.3 percent of our GDP, versus Sweden’s 1.7 percent, Denmark’s 1.6 percent, Norway’s 1.9 percent, and Holland’s 1.6 percent — and, as Ronald Reagan might have put it, not bad. Not bad at all.
As to the tragedy in southern Asia, consider other actions taken by the United States so far: providing aircraft carriers, transport planes, helicopters, military support, logistical support, ships carrying food supplies, reconnaissance planes and warships, sending disaster assistance teams, shuttling supplies and advance teams to Sumatra’s northwest coast and sending cargo planes carrying Marines and water purification equipment to Sri Lanka.
Former President Clinton, never missing an opportunity to take a swipe at a sitting president, said a few days after the tsunami, “It is really important that somebody take the lead in this.” Well, Mr. Clinton, someone has — America. Like always.