Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Just how generous?

I'm sure you can't have missed how the Stateside media, faithfully aping the Bush administration's line, have been banging on about how generous the U.S. government and people are being over aid to the regions affected by the tsunami disaster. After a slow start, so the thinking goes, America is now in the forefront of the relief effort, outshining all other nations. But this line ignores some uncomfortable facts. With the German government's announcement that it is raising its assistance to 500 million euros, or $660 million, the U.S. is now relegated to fourth place behind Australia, Germany and Japan in the world aid league - as can be seen in this handy BBC breakdown. And remember, of course, that the U.S. has by far the largest economy and largest population among these donor nations (Australia, for example, has an economy one-fifteenth the size of the United States). For the record, the British governent also seems a bit stingy at the moment, with only $96 million kicked in, though the government has "pledged to match" private donations (see below). To be fair, you have to admire the massive U.S. military assistance effort, "involving 12,600 personnel, 21 ships, 14 cargo planes and more than 90 helicopters." Nobody else can match that, and thank god we're getting to see the U.S. military involved in a truly humanitarian undertaking for a change. And that costs lots of money - a tab that the U.S. taxpayer will have to pick up. But the bit that bugs me about the media frame-of-the-week concerns the issue of private donations. The media and Bush have endlessly trumpeted the generosity of the American people, as opposed to the government. However, at least according to the BBC figures, U.S. private aid doesn't seem that impressive when stacked up against other rich nations. Here's the figures for private donations (to date) for comparison:

    Britain, $146 million (c.$2.43 per person)
    Germany, $130 million (c. $1.62 per person)
    USA, $120 million (c. 41 cents per person)
    Australia, $58 million (c. $2.90 per person)
    Norway, $30 million (c. $6.70 per person)
    Sweden, $60 million (c. $7.50 per person)

Note in particular the figures when broken down per person (total private donations divided by total national population). Now I'm not criticizing anyone for being stingy, and maybe the BBC figures are incomplete; I'm just pointing out that the United States doesn't look exceptionally generous when compared with other countries, as the media might have led you to believe. Can we rely on the media to provide a reality check? I doubt it. After all, when Americans think that between 15 and 18% of the national budget goes to foreign aid, when the true figure is below 1 percent, the media have a long way to go to correct misperceptions.


Post a Comment

<< Home