Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Virtue of Sacrifice

It seems that some people are trying awfully hard to prove the stinginess of the United States.

When last I checked, the U.S. has committed $350 million to the tsunami relief efforts. Only Japan, with $500 million, has committed more. But that $350 million figure does not include donations from private citizens which at this point is close to $400 million. Nor does it include the donation of goods and services. (How much does an aircraft carrier cost anyway?)

In spite of this, we're still told that we're stingy because the amount the U.S. contributes to poor nations is a smaller share of our economy than we find in other nations. So says Nicholas Kristoff in this New York Times piece today.

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.

So it's not the contribution that matters, but the sacrifice. A country that contributes less, but whose citizens (mostly by confiscatory taxes) contribute a larger percentage is to be admired.

In other words, sacrifice by itself is a virtue that trumps any dollar amount. If a poor country contributes half its GDP, even if that amount is far less than what is contributed by the U.S., that nation's sacrifice is worth more. Somehow.

But it doesn't matter how virtuously sacrificial someone is if the dollar amount they give isn't enough to help. Yes, yes . . . Jesus praised the poor widow who contributed only two small coins. But he only pointed out her sacrifice. He did not say that she would be able to feed all the poor with those two coins.

Sacrifice might impress the New York Times, but sacrifice for its own sake won't raise anyone out of poverty. This column is just another call for global redistribution of wealth which, in the wake of the tsunamis, is really picking up steam.


At 10:12 PM, Blogger Mark Sides said...

Drew at Darn Floor has been posting on the fictional creature that is the tsunami aid stinginess controversy. He has several interesting posts on the subject.

Why Darn Floor? I thought you'd never ask.

At 10:13 PM, Blogger Mark Sides said...


Three words: Install Haloscan Trackback.


At 10:23 PM, Blogger Drew said...

Yeah, I know . . . I think that's coming soon.


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