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Out of Our Minds
Tuesday, January 04, 2005 11:25 AM
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.


Shane - 1/6/2005 2:27:59 PM
I was not disagreeing with you, Kevin. I agree with you. Private donations from Americans have exceeded 200 million dollars to date. That number is not counted in the above figures. For that matter, neither is the money spent on deploying U.S. military personel and aircraft carriers to the region. Already, there are some charity organizations stating that they have received more than enough money for the time being.
Kevin - 1/6/2005 12:25:13 PM
Again, Shane, those numbers represent federal donations (i.e. tax dollars used for aid), not private donations from individuals or corporations.
Shane - 1/6/2005 11:18:39 AM
Keep in mind, these numbers change:

Australia, $764 million
Japan, $500 million
United States, $350 million
Norway, $180 million
Britain, $96 million
Italy, $95 million
Sweden, $80 million
Spain, $68 million
China, $61 million
France, $56 million
Denmark, $55 million
European Union, $40 million
Netherlands, $34 million
Canada, $33 million
Germany, $27 million
Switzerland, $23 million
Ireland, $14 million
Portugal, $11 million
South Korea, $5 million
Taiwan, $5 million
African Union, $100,000
Qatar, $25 million
Kuwait, $10 million
Saudi Arabia, $10 million
Algeria, $2 million
Bahrain, $2 million
Libya, $2 million
UAE, $2 million
Turkey $1.25 million
Lee Wilder - 1/5/2005 12:04:32 PM
I, too, have been horrified by the devastation caused by the tsunami in Asia and recognize that there will be significant long term needs. But, I have not sent any money to assist with the recovery. Why? Well, the groundswell of news, attention and celebrity support appears to be attracting a tsunami of dollars. I have to remind myself that there are plenty of people who live day-to-day in wretched conditions... but not as a result of a single event. Many of these people and regions will never receive the media blitz and outpouring of concern. So, I continue to support organizations such as Heifer International which has long worked all over the world to build sustainable communities and local homeless shelters. Disaster relief is worthy of charitable giving but so is non-disaster relief.
Jeffrey - 1/4/2005 10:52:26 PM
If anyone was really paying attention, the original comment from the UN rep did not single out America and did not refer specifically to this tragedy. He spoke in general of rich nations not giving as much as they probably could/should.
Robert - 1/4/2005 4:59:16 PM
I agree some of the handwringing is unfair and misguided. But we Americans are sometimes slow out of the box. I'm not sure how it played in the rest of the country, but on Monday evening, the day after the tragedy, I was disappointed to see some local news programs in the New York market devoting as much if not more coverage to the post-holiday retail shopping patterns. But they seem to have come around.

I think the key issue is not necessarily how much we give, but that it truly is incremental to existing charity and aid efforts. If I write a check for $100, and take that out of my own food and clothing budget, that's a good thing I hope. But if I write a $100 check, and to compensate, I donate $100 less than usual to a university or a kids organization or to another worthy cause, it's kind of an questionable gesture.


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