Stop the Beatings
Kevin Salwen on Making a Difference
The self-flagellation over charity in the United States has reached a fever pitch. In the week since the tsunami decimated parts of Asia, the 'Americans-are-self-absorbed-skinflints' charge has been leveled again and again. But can we slow down the beatings for a minute to look at what's really going on?
-- First, the number that is being discussed the most is the federal government's response; that figure started at a paltry $15 million in the days after the carnage began but has risen steadily to $350 million since (and is likely to go higher with Congressional approval). Let's remember what 'federal response' means: Taking our tax dollars and using them somewhere. As for my druthers, I'd rather send money myself than support a federal bureaucracy doing it.
-- Second, none of that includes private funds. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Americans have donated an additional $163 million out of their pockets to aid charities since Dec. 26. One group, Doctors Without Borders, already is saying that it has all the money it needs to handle the Asian crisis and is asking for donations to be directed to more general use.
-- Third, some of the griping about American charity has focused on the fact that more money is going into Iraq humanitarian aid than Asian aid. Sorry, but I'm in the 'we-broke-it, so-we-should-fix-it' camp. We can debate whether we should be in Iraq, but it's hard to argue we shouldn't help the people there now that we are.
Do we ever give as much as we should? No. But a society in which 81 percent of people donate to charity each year and 57 percent volunteer isn't worth all the handwringing we're getting now.