Cool-Aid

In the spirit of the tsunami aftermath in December (here and here), The New York Times Op-Ed column has predictably scorned the United States' "crumbs" of tax dollars for African Aid.

Bush ... told the world that the United States would now get around to spending $674 million in emergency aid that Congress had already approved for needy countries. That's it. Not a penny more to buy treated mosquito nets to help save the thousands of children in Sierra Leone who die every year of preventable malaria. Nothing more to train and pay teachers so 11-year-old girls in Kenya may go to school. And not a cent more to help Ghana develop the programs it needs to get legions of young boys off the streets.

[...]

As Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia University economist in charge of the United Nations' Millennium Project, put it so well, the notion that there is a flood of American aid going to Africa "is one of our great national myths."

[...]

This should not be the image Mr. Bush wants to project around a world that is intently watching American actions on this issue ... The American people have a great heart. President Bush needs to stop concealing it.

(bold added)

Is President Bush stopping the columnist from donating money for mosquito nets and teachers in Africa? What is Mr. Sachs doing to dispel that great American "myth"?

I mean, some way and somehow, Americans were able to privately provide $241 billion in total aid - domestic and international - in 2003, $12 billion of which came from corporations. Private charity to developed countries was $33.6 billion in 2000, well more than half of the total assistance to these countries. As the USAID report points out, "the United States is the clear leader in all measures of private assistance to the developing world" and "international giving by corporations has expanded to include cash and non-cash giving, cause-related marketing, and employee volunteer programs."

That said, monetary foreign aid – be it private or forced – will have limited effect so long as there are corrupt dictatorships, a lack of civil liberties, and shady governments that disallow free-market principles (and misuse/mishandle said aid provided to them). But at the end of the day, the blame for international poverty will still be placed at America’s doorstep.

Condemnations from Bono and Chris Martin on our penny-pinching ways expected soon.

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Doug, I find the sentiment

Doug, I find the sentiment that our private contributions should be respected to be perfectly understandable. But really, how do you know that even that our private donations are that much? For Tsunami donations, a random Google finds:

http://nation.com.pk/daily/jan-2005/3/international1.php

which mentions early private contributions of $110 million from Britain, $60 million from Sweden (in U.S. dollars). The private contributions from the U.S. at about the same time were mentioned in

http://www.newstarget.com/003391.html

as $337 million. That's not very generous, per capita, in comparison to Britain and Sweden.

Contrary to what you see as a lack of acknowledgement of our private generosity, what I see is a planned political campaign by the Bush administration touting that generosity, without much to back it up. That's why I referred to that USAID report as "notorious"; people have been through it, and there's a reason why it includes all those immigrants sending money home to their families as charity. I'm happy to hear your assurances that you're not a bad guy yourself, but you really need to be more cautious about picking up ideas from the zeitgeist and running with them.

Lastly, the generosity of a people must surely include its official governmental aid. That money doesn't come from "the government"; people vote to spend their taxes on it. Including governmental *plus* private aid has not been done to my knowledge for a range of countries, but the governmental amounts sent by other countries are so much higher per capita than ours that there is no way that our private donations could make up the difference. America really isn't that generous.

Oh, and I missed your

Oh, and I missed your citation of all of the different newspaper columns that cite the same $241 billion charity amount. They are all referring to the same study, the Giving USA 2003 survey. This study actually exists, and it actually does have a $241 number in it. But, as I explained, that $241 billion has nothing to do with aid, as you stated that it did. Not unless church dues are "aid".

Rich, The links were to show

Rich,

The links were to show that Americans were overall very charitable and more than willing to open their wallets, regardless of endpoint, period.

Just for kicks, here is a list of columns that cite the same $241 billion charity amount: USA Today, CNN Money, US News, Washington Times, and MSN Slate.

Whether you feel warm n' fuzzy about that figure or not, it's been sourced by plenty of reputable, mainstream media outlets.

But let's cut to the chase. Regardless of how we both agree to define "charity", the final point (although it wasn't so clear) is that government should stay out of the business of "foreign aid".

First, it's clear Americans are philanthropic people, no matter how we want to slice n' dice the data.

Secondly, it should be up to the individual as to how much, where, and when to donate. The NYT's assertion that Bush is somehow "concealing" the revelation that Americans have a great heart is laughable, at best. I regularly donate to causes that provide relief overseas, but I won't advocate a government agency to force you to do the same. Deal?

Thirdly, if you really buy the notion that if enough currency is thrown at developing countries' governments, long-term prosperity will bloom... well, I don't know what to say to that. Believe what you want to believe.

FWIW... In essence, the gist

FWIW...

In essence, the gist of my original post was that America rarely gets a nod of acknowledgement for her private contributions outside of government channels. This was particularly evident after the tsunami disaster, and is evident again in the New York Times piece.

The bolded part of the NYT column is what I had most issue with: It implies that it is up to Bush, and only Bush, to 'display America's heart to the world'. Ergo, what is managed by the government is indeed the "image projected around the world." If true, that's a shame. It seems our compassion is globally measured by what Washington DC taxes and subsequently doles out, with little recognition for the additional cumulative monetary (and non-monetary) compassion shown at the grassroots individual level. Agree with me or not, but that's just my impression. Our individual actions aren't being noted, and this oftentimes goes beyond the topic of charity.
I believe this quote is quite applicable here.

In hindsight, the widely-disputed paragraph with the charity numbers should've been left out of the post altogether. It was not important and distracted from my main message which - I admit - was not very clear. These data, contested as they were, actually had little to do with the point I intended to get across.

by the way, I bring this up

by the way, I bring this up not because I think it's what's at stake on this issue (I think Rich has demonstrated pretty well that the argument doesn't depend on the one I'm making.) I bring it up because this sort of thing does come up (regarding the United Nations, for example, to which the US is heavily indebted) and it's an issue worth covering.

Tangentially related to this issue is the idea that inequality can be excused because everyone's standard of living is increased by some degree (the [in]famous rising tide argument) which someone should post about so we can discuss it.

-Matt

I think it false that to

I think it false that to make a claim such as "Americans are a charitable people" you need another country as a standard of comparison. One could just as easily make a comparison to a culture from the past, say the Americans of ten years ago. That would suffice. Indeed, I see no reason why one couldn't simply compare the current American populace to some platonic ideal of the term "uncharitable" and decide Americans were charitable by comparison.

I'm a bit perplexed by the

I'm a bit perplexed by the focus from both sides on charity, whether public or private. Sure, giving stuff is good, but ultimately what's really needed for lifting third-world nations out of poverty is mutually beneficial trade, foreign investment, and technological advancement.

Where are the critics of US "stinginess" when the unions are spouting their chauvinistic slogans about saving American jobs for Americans? The US, by not imposing price controls on domestic sales of pharmaceuticals, is subsidizing R&D for the rest of the world. Where's the credit for that? And why talk down remittances? They may not be pure charity, but they do help the world's poor. Good works are to be measured by how much they help, not by how much they hurt.

Matt:
Our shrinking middle class gives the largest percentage of income out of anyone; a larger percentage than the rich, even though their opportunity cost is greater.

Aside from your dubious mention of a shrinking middle class (whatever that means), what's your source for that claim? I did a bit of research on this once, and the only data I found were for Oregon, in which the wealthy gave about twice as much, as a percentage of their incomes, as the middle class.

Rich:
Lastly, the generosity of a people must surely include its official governmental aid. That money doesn’t come from “the government"; people vote to spend their taxes on it.

The problem with that line of reasoning is that in most countries, a small percentage of the electorate pays a significant majority of the taxes. So it's not that people are voting to give their own money to others; what's actually happening is that the lower and middle classes are voting on what to do with the money earned by those in the upper classes.

Also, good catch on the part about the main category of private donations being to religious organizations. But they do use a significant amount of that for charitable work, don't they? I'm not familiar with how churches do business, so I'm not going to hazard a guess as to how much they spend on what, but it doesn't seem fair to write it all off to building churches and paying the clergy.

"Lastly, the generosity of a

"Lastly, the generosity of a people must surely include its official
governmental aid. That money doesn’t come from “the government"; people
vote to spend their taxes on it."

Rich,
Government aid is a highly imperfect metric of generosity of a people, especially when compared to private donations. First of all, in representative governments, the electorate doesn't agree with or support all of their government's policies, even when it generally supports the government. Even if there was complete agreement about aid policy between the government and the majority who elected it, there could very likely be a large minority which is strongly in opposition, but is forced to pony up the money anyway.

Rich, I don't think his 3rd

Rich,

I don't think his 3rd point is a strawman. Doug's not referring to any "theory of development", he's referring to what the average NYT reader believes.

They aren't very smart, but there are LOTS of people I know and talk to who think throwing currency IS an effective solution to world hunger, if only we threw more of it.

The links "were to show that

The links "were to show that Americans were overall charitable"? The links do no such thing.

In order to say something like "Americans are a philanthropic people", you need a standard of comparison. All peoples are charitable to some extent. But what the NYT op-ed said is that the American people are being relatively stingy. So you can only disprove that by comparison with other countries.

So, how charitable is Europe, by comparison? We don't know. If you are looking at the $241 billion number, that includes church giving. The Europeans generally do that through governmental set-asides of some sort. Naturally, you have to include those in your comparison, since Europeans obviously vote to continue them -- they just have moved the money from a private to a public channel. How much are they? We don't know. Or let's look at the $33 billion number. How much does Europe provide in "aid" in similar terms, if you count e.g. "aid" from individual remittances from guest workers in Germany to Turkey? We don't know. You can't start with numbers that don't say what you claimed that they said and arrive anywhere. We do know that when we compare apples to apples, in terms of governmental aid that is actually for development, Americans are indeed relatively stingy. So your first claim fails.

Your second claim is just restated libertarian dogma. Naturally you believe that it should be up to the individual, and that we should make no communal decisions about purchasing public goods other than defense and a legal system. So what? People who already believe this will believe it, those who don't, won't.

Your third is a straw man. I don't know of any theory of development, libertarian, socialist, liberal, or conservative, that advocates just throwing money, or that hasn't considered the hazards of corruption and of reinforcement of existing power structures. But your argument says nothing about which approach at evading these problems actually works better.

So what's left? Just some sloppy and deceptive uses of numbers.

Naturally you believe that

Naturally you believe that it should be up to the individual, and that we should make no communal decisions about purchasing public goods other than defense and a legal system.

You're one to talk of strawmen.

Yes, this is a site administered by and often frequented by people who promote individual freedom on all levels, but that doesn't mean we're all cut of the exact same cloth. We all don't have sworn oaths and secret decoder rings. I'm actually quite relatively moderate when it comes to "communal decisions about purchasing public goods other than defense and a legal system".

This is the same type of prattle seen in the global warming thread. Assumptions were immediately made about my overall viewpoints of environmentalism without the benefit of doubt. (BTW, I didn't realize there were only five scientists who oppose/question global warming data).

So what is this? Just some sloppy and deceptive comments.

the age-old question about

the age-old question about aid. The US is most miserly of all the developing countries, clearly. But, the defenders retort, we give more total than the other countries!

Well, since we've already had one side let's have the other:

Whom do we admire more: the king, who with a callous flip of his head spares someones life or the nun who desperately slaves in order that she can save but one person from imminent death? Clearly our intuitions favor the nun, and that's because it's important to consider the level of power each actor weilds. The King, because of his great power (regardless of whether it's just) has a responsibility to be just and help, especially when it costs him so little. The Nun has a lesser responsibility and yet sacrifices more, hence our admiration.

Our shrinking middle class gives the largest percentage of income out of anyone; a larger percentage than the rich, even though their opportunity cost is greater.

-Matt

Doug, you stated that you

Doug, you stated that you donate, but that "I won’t advocate a government agency to force you to do the same." That's a direct quote. Then you say that I'm making assumptions about your willingness to communally purchase public goods? Let's hear it then -- in what particulars do your opinions on communcal purchase of public goods differ from standard libertarian views? That should give you a graceful exit from being caught fudging numbers, at any rate.

Doug, thanks for telling me

Doug, thanks for telling me more about your views, and I agree that I was wrong to write "other than defense and a legal system". But really, your opinions don't strike me as being that unusual for a libertarian. You might have been a David Friedman machinery of freedom person and disputed me about the defense and legal system part.

Foreign aid can be a public good, by the way, since it can directly substitute (to some extent) for defense. The opinion of other countries about your country, and their degree of poverty and desperation, does affect your own welfare. I don't think that it is as individual as "send[ing] money overseas to such-and-such a cause". Certainly foreign aid money can be wasted, but military defense money can certainly also be wasted.

Rich, additionally, you may

Rich, additionally, you may find it surprising who I actually voted for in this past presidential election.

Yes, the .16% figure seems

Yes, the .16% figure seems to be a percentage of the federal aid given, not private aid.

See: http://www.globalissues.org/TradeRelated/Debt/USAid.asp#Sidenoteonprivatecontributions

Interesting facts from that site:

The US's federal aid is more percentage-wise than Italy, but ranks behind twenty other countries.

As an absolute amount, the US is the highest contributor of federal aid, giving double that of its nearest competitor, Japan.

Quote: "Nonetheless, it is interesting to note for example, per latest estimates, Americans privately give at least $34 billion overseas — more than twice the US official foreign aid of $15 billion at that time."

That figure is, as Rich mentioned, criticized for including remittances.

Ah, registered, and have now

Ah, registered, and have now read the article.

Query: Does anyone know from whence the .16% figure comes from in the editorial?

If it excludes private aid--which I get the feeling it does--then Doug's post seems to pertinently address that.

I'm afraid without a Times

I'm afraid without a Times subscription I can't verify that. Regardless, I withdraw my objection.

Apologies.

Rich, I really don't have a

Rich,

I really don't have a problem with police departments, fire departments, interstate highways, garbage collection, snow removal, water and sewage treatment, and some other services, etc. Things that are tremendously difficult to privatize and - generally speaking - we all can use. Hell, I don't even mind the public city park. Libertarians of many stripes would disagree with me on these things.

Where to send your money overseas to such-and-such cause seems relatively easy to allow the individual to make his/her choice in that regard.

If you're looking for me to toe a black & white die-hard line, I won't.

I also disagree with many libertarians on abortion.

I also disagree with many libertarians on the War in Afghanistan.

I also disagree with many libertarians on some environmental regulations.

I also disagree with many libertarians on some safety regulations.

I also disagree with the extent of the LP's hard-core platform, including some views supported by presidential candidate Michael Badnarik.

I'm for low taxes, limited spending, and personal responsibility. Conservative in a fiscal sense, more progressive in a social sense. I know that my Catallarchy cohorts and I don't see eye-to-eye on every issue.

You can argue with me all you want. I've never said that I couldn't be swayed to accept an opposing viewpoint on a specific issue, and I've never said that I couldn't be corrected. You're a smart guy, I can see that, and I actually do enjoy reading opposition. But a little more civility and a little less of the pompousness would go a long way.

Scott, I didn't say that the

Scott, I didn't say that the standard of comparison must be another country. But Doug's reply wasn't some platonic comparison, it was in response to an op-ed. Here is what I wrote:

"In order to say something like “Americans are a philanthropic people", you need a standard of comparison. All peoples are charitable to some extent. But what the NYT op-ed said is that the American people are being relatively stingy. So you can only disprove that by comparison with other countries."

The op-ed that Doug was replying to made explicit numeric comparisons between the U.S. and others, citing $80 billion as what the U.S. had promised as the amount that would be the same percentage as that sent by other rich countries. That's the context of Doug's $241 billion number.

doug , you stated that you

doug , you stated that you donate, but that “I won’t advocate a government agency to force you to do the same.” That’s a direct quote. Then you say that I’m making assumptions about your willingness to communally purchase public goods?

Yes, you are.

"Donations" are not strictly the same thing as "public goods"--one can, presumably, donate to a private good, in the economic sense of the term.

Doug, you've said before

Doug, you've said before that you actually read your links, so I don't know why you thought that these weren't deceptive.

OK, the top of your article is about African aid, which you generalize the international aid in general. So what numbers do you quote? First, a "$241 billion in total aid, domestic and international." That figure is not total aid. It's total charitable giving under U.S. tax rules, and includes, as its largest category, all money given by U.S. church members to their churches. In no way can you characterize giving and tithing to churches for purposes of organizational maintenance and evangelism as domestic aid, unless you also consider the money that I send to the Democratic Party to be "aid".

Your second number, $33.6 billion, comes from a rather notorious USAID report. If you look at the actual numbers in this report, you'll see that $18 billion of this "aid" is individual remittances -- that's right, when an immigrant from Mexico takes his or her hard-won earnings and sends them home to support their family, this has been classed as "aid". There is nothing charitable about this, unless you adopt a paternalistic attitude that we are somehow providing this money to people by letting them work in the U.S., and that their work somehow isn't worth the money that we pay for it. I don't understand how any libertarian could go in this direction, so did you just misread it? The other categories are similarly bogus. I don't even want to try to get into what kind of corporate merchandising activities are covered by "non-cash giving". Free infant formula samples?

You end with a bromide, which, well, if you already believe it, you'll believe it. But your attempts to marshall actual evidence in support of it are very, very bad.

What I think would be really

What I think would be really interesting is data on how per capita charitable giving breaks down by political persuasion - haven't been able to find anything via Google so far...

this is true (i briefly

this is true (i briefly reviewed the site) but the context in which he says makes it clear he using hyperbole.

Besides, I think it's worthwhile having someone around who thinks like that.

A small bit of research I am

A small bit of research I am embarrassed to admit I conducted reveals that our friend Rich here simply loathes libertarians. He wrote a "FAQ for Prospective Libertarians" which asserts, among similiar claims, that libertarians support shooting and killing protestors. I would not expect civility from him, that is not why he is here.

So it’s not that people

So it’s not that people are voting to give their own money to others; what’s actually happening is that the lower and middle classes are voting on what to do with the money earned by those in the upper classes.

To clarify, I'm not saying that those who are footing the bill are necessarily opposed to sending it overseas. I'm just saying that the election results cannot be taken as evidence that they support it.

Jazzy J, you're a model of

Jazzy J, you're a model of civility. I don't really think that's it's worth commenting on my supposed super-troll powers to destroy entire blogs, but I do think that you're talking through your hat about comments on UO.

Matt and Daniel, thanks. I do think that, not by my choice, this discussion is indeed being redirected towards "my agenda" (actually, towards me personally, but close enough). That's to some extent my fault; I've been posting too frequently. I'll give it a rest for a bit and look in later.

okay, it's pretty clear that

okay, it's pretty clear that they guy defends his positions well. From one perspective he may "destroy" a blog in that he may able to systematically expose falacious assumptions shared by all on here. That would be a reflection on you guys though, not him.

I don't agree with him on all issues (he seems to be religious according to his site which doesn't make any sense to me) but nevertheless it seems clear that he's not just flaming- he's offering reasoned responses and he's pretty methodical about it. There are very few instances of ad hominem (in fact, the one he mentioned as being ad hominem was more like a whimper than a roar.) We all know who doesn't belong on a board- someone who offers no argumentation, or someone who redirects every discussion toward his own agenda. Serpent is a great example of the latter, turning every thread into a discussion of free will, and I could see an argument for banning him. I don't see one for banning rich, aside from the protection of a narrow ideology.

-Matt

"I hope Rich will stay. His

"I hope Rich will stay. His posts are educated and well-expressed. He can be on the aggressive side, but he certainly doesn’t stoop to the level of flaming like John Emerson did over in the Sweet, Snowy Irony topic."

I don't think you guys know what you're getting into. You're talking about one of the biggest trolls on the internet. Saying he's better than John Emerson isn't much of a defense. He has singlehandedly destroyed entire blogs till he has gotten kicked off. Based on his comments at UO, I've concluded that he actually hopes the same will happen here. Just a warning for the wise. You have no idea what you're dealing with. This place used to have a very congenial tone, especially amongst dissenters, till he arrived. It's not very enjoyable anymore.

The sad part is that in his mind, he thinks he is "kicking butt" and actually refuting arguments. There are none so blind as those who refuse to see..

I hope Rich will stay. His

I hope Rich will stay. His posts are educated and well-expressed. He can be on the aggressive side, but he certainly doesn't stoop to the level of flaming like John Emerson did over in the Sweet, Snowy Irony topic.

Just the two cents of a newbie...

Rich: "The actions of a

Rich:

"The actions of a democratic government are widely taken to be reflective of its people..."

Too widely, I'd say. Obviously there is some level of feedback going on in representative government. But it's a highly distorted reflection at best. The actions of a market offer a much more accurate reflection. The "people" you want to measure are a group of individuals. An advance to individualism (I wouldn't call it a retreat) does make sense, because the aggregate of the decisions freely made by those millions of individuals (the people) measures their values better than the actions of whatever government a possibly tyrannical majority has elected.

podraza: "A small bit of

podraza: "A small bit of research I am embarrassed to admit I conducted reveals that our friend Rich here simply loathes libertarians. He wrote a “FAQ for Prospective Libertarians” which asserts, among similiar claims, that libertarians support shooting and killing protestors. I would not expect civility from him, that is not why he is here. "

Why be embarrassed, podraza? I always write under my real name, so in addition you can find a long history of my comments on talk.politics.libertarian through groups.google.com. If you like to spend your time searching through my old stuff, go to it!

I really do think you haven't read the FAQ correctly, though. I thought it was clearly intended to be a satire on how the old-time Libertarian principle of "initiation of force" didn't say anything about what kind of force was appropriate or what constituted retaliation in a world where casual chains can be traced ever-backwards. I didn't mean to seriously imply that Libertarians in general think protestors should be killed. Here's a link, decide for yourselves:

http://rpuchalsky.home.att.net/libfaq.html

You''ll see that contrary to your contention that "nobody here resembles [my FAQ's] characterization", there are several of the old standards still going around. For instance, the upper paragraph of the section "What is the Libertarian Position on Anti-Discrimation Laws?" might have been taken directly from a thread here from this week. I find this stuff to be as silly and unprofitable now as I did a decade or so ago. Even on this thread, we're now leading up to the "poor people vote to spend rich peoples' money" and the horrors of democracy one.

As for why I am here, I freely admit that I am here to amuse myself, just as everyone else is (or so I would guess). I haven't even really commented with strictly ideological disagreement; most of my comments have been at the level of criticizing pseudo-science, poor economics, revisionist history, and misuse of numbers. I think that my standards of civility are well within the boundaries set by others on this site. However, if the managers of the site ask me to leave, I will.

Brandon Berg, your assertion

Brandon Berg, your assertion about the lower and middle classes voting to spend the money of the rich doesn't hold up. Here is a sample article referencing a study that shows that in the U.S., the top 20% pays something like 63% of Federal taxes. That doesn't mean that the middle class can blithely vote to spend money and have it not effect them. In European countries, with their flatter income distributions, this is even less so.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A61178-2004Aug12.html

But even though your assertion is wrong, there's still something strange about it. Let's imagine that you're right. If you assume that people are voting to spend other people's money, why not spend it on themselves? They could just as easily vote for more bread and circuses at home rather than sending money overseas. The amount that could be gotten from the upper class is limited, so if you assume that it really is "stolen", then giving away the proceeds is still a form of generosity.

Daniel, your objection is nore sensible, in that Western democracies are repsentative rather than direct. But tax revolts occur often enough in the U.S., and if the amount that European governments spent on foreign aid was objectionable to their people, the matter would become important in elections. I should remind you that Doug phrased the question in the first place as the generosity of a *people*, so a retreat to pure individualism at this point doesn't make much sense. The actions of a democratic government are widely taken to be reflective of its people, even though there is always a minority that does not agree with any particular decision.

I agree, and I enjoy it when

I agree, and I enjoy it when liberals and conservatives (do we get any conservatives?) come here and challenge the conventional wisdom.

There are millions of libertarian blogs out there as we all know, but what I love about THIS site is that the level of debate is usually elevated above flame wars and yelling past each other. There have been some terrific debates between the Catallarchs and Joe Miller over the last few months, for example, all enjoyable reads.

Rich has this site confused with others he has visited. Nobody here is a dogmatist. Nobody here thinks protesters should be killed. As far as I know, nobody here ascribes to an absolute non-aggression principle. Nobody here resembles his "FAQ for Prospective Libertarians" charactorization.

The Catallarchs have been patient with Rich but it is clear by now that he is here not to debate but to irritate (rhyme unintentional). His points are valid, and his knowledge and points of view are accepted and appreciated, but why all the cheap shots and accusations?

Nobody is asking you to

Nobody is asking you to leave, I am asking you to be less hostile in your comments. You clearly have a lot to share, so share it.

I didn't leave, podraza, no

I didn't leave, podraza, no need to worry -- I just decided to not post quite so frequently. I'm not planning on changing my commenting style either.