Stingy?

Few things make me truly angry, but this one comes close.

In the wake of the rising death toll from the Asian tsunami (currently 60,000 80,000 dead and still counting), United Nations emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland has implied that the United States is cheap because our initial federal aid package is only $35 million.

With all due respect to the United Nations — and I’m not sure much respect is warranted at this point — that is pure bullshit. And it’s made so much worse by Mr. Egeland’s own employment history. He was the head of the Norwegian Red Cross, and therefore must know that his implications are false because the Red Cross gets most of it’s contributions from individuals.

I hardly know where to start in refuting this insanity.

Let’s begin with the fact that the U.S. provides official foreign aid assistance through a government organization called the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID, like every other part of the government, has a budget. They cannot spend money they don’t have. That is illegal. They had only $35 million of uncommitted funds left for the fiscal year, so that’s where the $35 million came from. To increase the funding, USAID will have to receive an appropriation from Congress.

Then let’s look at Secretary of State Powell’s statement that by the time all is said and done, the United States will provide “billions” in assistance. Even if we wrote a check for $1 billion right now, what good would it do? Who can spend a billion dollars that quickly? They can’t even locate all the bodies yet, let alone count them, bury them, and triage the needs of those still living.

Egeland knows this. But he doesn’t care, because this is not about helping the people who are suffering. It’s about making the United States suffer a political embarrassment.

That’s why he and his ilk enjoy pointing to the OECD figures on foreign aid development that are based on gross domestic product percentages. If you look at it that way, Norway donates the most (0.92% of GDP) and the United States is dead last (0.14%). We must really suck, huh?

On the other hand, perhaps we ought to consider the fact that the U.S. has dispatched an entire naval battle group to the region, along with C-130s hauling supplies, and more volunteers than you can shake a stick at. These things are not included in the OECD numbers.

Neither is private giving. Coming from a country so highly socialized that the concept of private giving must be astonishing, Mr. Egeland chooses to turn a deaf ear to the notion that anything significant can be accomplished unless it is done by a large government agency. But if you want facts, how about this one:

Americans last year gave an estimated $241 billion to charitable causes — domestic and foreign — according to a study by Giving USA Foundation. That’s up from $234 billion in 2002.

At a total GDP of $10.9 trillion, that means we’re spending 2.3% of GDP on charitable giving, or $870 per person for every man, woman, and child in the nation.

A quick look at Amazon.com’s site would show that in less than 24 hours, nearly $1,000,000 $2,000,000 has been donated by private individuals toward helping victims of the tsunami. I just donated $1,000.

Churches, synagogues, and other religious groups are raising money all across the country.

Worldvision U.S. has a message on its web site indicating that “due to overwhelming response to the devastation in Asia, you may experience delays making a donation online”. So many people are donating that it’s slowing down computers. Yet Egeland (and I’m sure much of the U.N. agrees) would call us stingy.

When you consider the true per capita charitable contributions of the American populace, I guarantee we will be at the top of the list. By a mile.

What really burns me up about this Egeland thing is that the guy spends a lot of time in New York City, where the United Nations has its headquarters. How anyone in the Big Apple could be under the impression that Americans are stingy after 9/11 is beyond me. Not only did we open our hearts and pocketbooks to those in need, but it’s the first thing we remember when tragedy befalls others around the globe.

You’d think the United States might be worthy of the benefit of the doubt.

  6 comments for “Stingy?

  1. December 29, 2004 at 1:59 pm

    Hey Ron,

    Egeland was mis-represented by the Washington Times. Actually, he didn’t single out the United States. See here.

    The initial package was $15 million which was then raised to $35 million.

  2. Ron
    December 29, 2004 at 2:46 pm

    Was he mischaracterized? The gadflyer.com article you referenced says that Egeland “referred broadly to ‘politicians,’ specifying only a few sentences later that he had in mind leaders ‘in the United States, in Western Europe and even in Norway.'”

    I tend to think this is tough to blame on the Washington Times, not because the WT isn’t biased, but because so many other news outlets with opposing biases (CNN, for example) have picked up on it quite prominently. Even news outlets across the Pond have taken umbrage.

  3. Ron
    December 29, 2004 at 9:37 pm

    I didn’t name the outlet, but linked to it several times in the article. It was CNN. Here’s the direct link. If the quote was mischaracterized, that it was mischaracterized by many different media outlets, government officials, and American citizens.

    I think the United States WAS singled out. He named the U.S. specifically when he said he “had in mind the leaders in the United States”. Unless, of course, CNN is directly misquoting him.

    Egeland also named western Europe, but that is not a country. Finally, he mentioned Norway, but that seems more a dig at the United States because if you use the GDP comparisons, Norway and the United States are on opposite ends of the 30 nation OEDC spectrum.

    Who are these people who thought the United States was going to stop at $15 million when the death toll is approaching 100,000?

    The point is, Egeland knows full well that the U.S. contributes far more privately and via other sources than it does through direct government subsidy. Either he’s trying to embarrass the U.S., or he feels that private money “doesn’t count”, which is ridiculous. An orphan in Sri Lanka who hasn’t eaten in three days doesn’t care where the money comes from.

  4. December 29, 2004 at 9:21 pm

    You said in your piece:

    “United Nations emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland has implied that the United States is cheap because our initial federal aid package is only $35 million.”

    which implies that you may have felt that the U.S. was singled out. I did not see the coverage on CNN, so I’m not certain whether they mischaracterized what he said or not and I’m not certain where you got your own information, but the point is that some media outlets did, in fact, mis-represent Egelands comments and he said as much.

  5. December 30, 2004 at 10:30 am

    I would assume that Egeland mentioned Norway in particular because Egeland is Norwegian and wanted to make sure that he didn’t appear as though he was exempting his own country from anything.

    The CNN article is more about the blowback from Egeland calling the US “stingy”, when, in fact, he only specifically mentions the U.S. with reference to his remarks on politicians being more interested in tax cuts. The gadflyer does link to the video of the press conference and notes:

    Note how ‘stingy’ is in quotes in the first graph and ‘the United States and other Western nations’ is not. That’s because Egeland referred to ‘wealthy states’ and ‘donor states,’ but at no time did he single out the United States. In fact, when a reporter asked Egeland to name the countries he believed to be “stingy,” he pointedly declined to do so (you can stream the 48-minute press conference with RealPlayer and see for yourself).

    As for Egeland’s talk of taxes, that too was generic. He referred broadly to ‘politicians,’ specifying only a few sentences later that he had in mind leaders “in the United States, in Western Europe and even in Norway.” That was the only time he mentioned the U.S.

  6. olt
    February 7, 2005 at 10:04 am

    Anybody who claims the US is stingy over the tsunami relief is either misinformed and should read your blog entry, or is maliciously predisposed to whatever the Bush administration does. They’re also likely to be the people who keep harping on Bin Laden in arguing that we shouldn’t have ever gone into Iraq. But I digress. (I enjoyed the post, obviously.)

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