Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Are Americans Stingy?

Within days of South Asia’s earthquake and tsunami calamity, United States officials pledged an initial $15 million in aid (which has since been increased to $35 million, then $350 million). Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland accused the United States and other Western nations of being “stingy” with relief funds. The New York Times and other liberal outlets quickly picked up the mantra.

Is the accusation true? Let’s look. Last year, approximately 40 percent of all government aid to help victims of natural disasters worldwide came from the United States. Such aid must be put in perspective. The U.S. has the world’s largest economy, with a Gross Domestic Product of nearly $11 trillion last year, growing at a healthy 3.1 percent annual rate.

Secretary of State Colin Powell says he expects the official U.S. contribution for the current crisis eventually to hit $1 billion. Of course, that money only accounts for a fraction of the total Americans will give. For example, the government is sending desperately needed military personnel and equipment (including aircraft carriers) to affected regions to assist with rescues and cleanup.

The private sector is also mobilizing, although these efforts will not be on the official ledgers of American generosity. World Vision, the largest Christian relief and development agency, reports that Americans have responded with “unprecedented and overwhelming generosity.” World Vision President Richard Stearns, who himself left a lucrative career in the private sector to lead the agency, says World Vision has already received $12 million in donations as part of its new $50 million worldwide fundraising goal for the disaster.

Seattle-based World Vision points out other encouraging signs of generosity: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $3 million to World Vision and other groups; Seattle-based Tully’s Coffee has pledged to raise $1 million by donating the profit it makes on its house-blend coffees over the next three months; a suburban Seattle boy, 11, and his friends earned $255 for tsunami relief through a hot-chocolate stand. No doubt such stories could be repeated throughout the fruited plain.

“America’s response to this crisis has shown our true character,” Stearns says. “In the midst of tragedy, we care about our neighbors—even those living half a world away.”

Could we do more? Unquestionably. Are we doing a lot already? Yes.


Blogger Stan Guthrie said...

From my e-mail bag:

Wish this could hit the front pages everywhere. How many nations helped us out after 9/11 or even offered? That really bothers me that when we have a tragedy, no one offers a hand, and yet we are stingy?

Also this:

"Are Americans Stingy?"

Yes, very.

We just left the church we had attended 9 years. They designated less than 3% for missions and then all of it got spent on keeping the doors open. An elder today told me that the church doesn't have enough $ to do international missions. Meanwhile, there's at least several luxury cars in the parking lot.

Americans are very myopic. The average evangelical gives something like 2% of his income to the church. There’s no room to pat us on the back and talk about how great we are.

I've found that the poorer the person, the more giving they are.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Bob said...


About the time of the stingy comments, reports began to circulate about the $40 million being raised for the inaugural. That was bad timing, if nothing else. Also, as Patrick Leahy noted, even at $35 million, "We spend [that much] before breakfast in Iraq.” Puts a bit more context.

I'm more worried about the "orphan disasters" in Sudan, Congo, etc. that will be forgotten now that the world's eyes have turned to the Asian tsunami.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Stan Guthrie said...

I don't know whether that is a valid fear, Bob. Probably many people who were giving to help orphans will continue to do so. I suspect that many of those who are giving toward tsunami relief represent "new money." Perhaps many of them will continue on after this crisis fades from the headlines. The bigger question is whether we will stick with reconstrction then.

Leahy is right that we can do more. Let's see him get out there and help!

6:01 AM  

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