Here's an interesting article
in The New Republic
on how much America gives to other countries.
After all, not even conservatives who say we're generous bother to deny that other governments donate more foreign aid per capita than we do. Instead, they say that foreign aid is a waste of money, that the rest of the globe benefits from our expensive military might free of charge, that we're generous in our trade policies, that we're privately more generous than any nation in the world--and, incidentally, how dare we discuss such shallow matters when we should be feeling sorry for the victims.
I think only two of those points are even semi-valid, but the article doesn't do a great job of exploring them. On the US military umbrella, the article says:
Bruce Bartlett, writing in National Review, best distilled this line of thinking: "It's easy to be generous with foreign aid when another country is essentially providing your defense for free." Let's sidestep the issue of how much Norway benefited from our invasion of Panama. Instead we'll assume that Norwegians indeed slept more soundly after that unfurling of American power. The question, then, is whether such contributions to safeguarding the world entitle us to call ourselves generous.
There are two main justifications for answering yes. The first is that because the United States uses about 3.4 percent of its GDP on defense, while Norway uses only 2.1 percent, it's "easy" for Norway to be generous in other areas. However, if the implication is that Norwegians are more generous than Americans because it's easier for them, then it's not an argument for why we're generous, but, rather, an excuse for why we're not.
That is interpreting the American military umbrella as not being helpful to any other countries. He brings up the most obscure linkage, Norway and the invasion of Panama, that he can think of. But it would be more helpful to mention, as I did a few days ago, Japan. It costs a crapload of money to maintain a presence there, and in doing so Japan has to worry less about maintaining a massive army to protect themselves from threats such as North Korea. Even so, by the author's own tally, Japan is still further down the list in giving than the US.
The author scoffs at the idea that our military could be thought of as charitable, while of course not mentioning operations in places like Bosnia, Somalia, and Haiti.
This, happily, is almost true. Americans donate over $200 billion to charity each year--more than 1 percent of our GDP--which, according to a study from Johns Hopkins University, puts us second only to Israelis in levels of private philanthropy. (Uganda, interestingly, ranks third.) This means we give more than twice as much as most of our European competitors (although Spain, at 0.87 percent of GDP, is close to matching us).
But, predictably, there's a rub: We are benevolent mainly to fellow Americans, not to foreign countries. By the calculations of the CGD, Americans rank fourth in charitable donations to the global poor, donating an average of five cents per American, per day. Norway outdoes us by a factor of nearly five at 24 cents per day, and Switzerland and Ireland manage to beat us as well, with seven cents and six cents per day, respectively. In other words, factoring in private giving to the global poor only widens the gap between us and Norway, which was already ahead of us in government-sponsored aid.
Again with Norway. So we're 2nd in overall private aid, and 4th in private international aid.
So what's the conclusion?
Whatever. The truth is, when it comes to helping the global poor, we're probably not the most generous nation, nor are we the least. We dwell in satisfying mediocrity and we like it. George W. Bush has increased aid levels somewhat--something Bill Clinton tried and failed to do--but it's still under 0.2 percent of GDP.
"Somewhat"? We're talking about billions of dollars in increases over the Clinton years.
But he's right about this:
In any case, maybe instead of calling ourselves the world's most generous nation, making excuses, and comparing defense budgets, we should simply ask whether America can, and should, give more.
Right...that is the question to ask. And I think the answer is that we should give more, mostly because we can afford to, and it makes a lot of sense from the viewpoint of enlightened self-interest. We are becoming more and more globalized, and by helping others we are helping ourselves. This doesn't just mean giving cash, but hiring or soliciting Americans to go into developing countries and actually build infrastructure and train people.
On the military issue, I do think that Europe and Japan should begin taking more responsibility for their own defense, and we should begin real downsizing of troop levels overseas, something we're already in the process of doing, but one we could do more aggressively.