In the wake of the tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean on 26 December, some people have criticised rich countries, including the United States, for being less than forthcoming with their aid. For example, United Nations humanitarian aid chief Jan Egeland called rich countries "stingy" (see "President Bush in storm over Indian Ocean tsunami").
Carol Adelman, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former assistant administrator of the US Agency for International Development, has come to the defence of US aid efforts. In a New York Times article, she wrote:
[The US] government gives the highest absolute amount in foreign aid -- more than US$16 billion in 2003. And this does not include the cost of our global military presence...or the billions spent on developing medicines that save millions of lives in poorer nations.Brad Setser, a research associate at the University College of Oxford, puts all this US aid in perspective.
Most important, however, Americans generally help people abroad the same way they help people at home: Through private charities, religious organisations, foundations, corporations, universities and money sent to relatives.
In 2000, all this came to more than US$35 billion, more than three times what the government gave. And this does not include giving by local churches or by overseas affiliates of American corporations.
The fact is, foreign aid is being privatised...
Is the US a generous country?Americans have a well-known propensity for self-righteousness. A cold look at the facts, however, sometimes exposes parts of their virtuous self-image as delusions.
...I am pretty sure that Carol Adelman did not prove her case in today's New York Times.
Her argument is that aid flows are being privatized, and if you count private giving, the US is more generous than it seems if you look at the $16 billion in official aid the US provided in 2003. $16 billion is between 0.1% and 0.2% of our $11 trillion 2003 GDP -- most governments of large European countries give away twice that in development aid, and some small coutries give away close to full percent of GDP.
By the way, a decent chunk of the $16 billion went to reward our friends and allies, not to the poorest of the poor.
... Assume that [US private aid] grew to $40 billion in 2003. Combined public and private giving -- $56 billion -- would be about 0.5% of US GDP. That's well below the government of Norway's 0.9% of GDP in aid, and not much bigger than the 0.4% that France's government gives away every year.
Don't forget that Europeans give privately too...
[T]he facts are clear: the US is not in Norway's league, or the Netherland's either. Even counting private giving, the US is not a development aid superpower.
Americans are, on the whole, rich. Apart from that, they have the same virtues and vices as the rest of humankind.