Saturday, January 01, 2005

The myth of American philanthropy -- Part 1

As much as this thread deserves to die, given the amount of reaction it's been getting, I thought it was worth taking a close look at what has become, quite simply, the myth of American philanthropy. As almost everyone realizes now, after a couple of false starts, the United States has finally ponied up the big bucks.
Or have they? It turns out, it's not as clear cut as you'd like to think.

To begin with, recall that the U.S. first announced an initial aid package of an absolutely appalling $15 million. After a worldwide firestorm of criticism, that was increased to a still abysmal $35 million, and finally cranked up to a more appropriate $350 million. So far, so good? Well, not quite.

As Atrios points out over here, the initial offering of $15 million has simply fallen down the memory hole. While news releases way back on Dec. 28 spoke of "an initial $15 million in relief assistance", only three days later, we now had "the initial American pledge of $35 million." Apparently, the original $15 million offering was so embarrassingly small, well, it just never existed. Does this really matter? In the long run, probably not, but it's just another example of how this administration is so pathologically dishonest, they'll lie about damned near anything, and the MSM (mainstream media) is only too happy to play along. (The so-called "liberal media"? Man, I wish. But let's not tarry here. Onward. I got me some bigger fish to fry.)

Once you get past this really pitiful dishonesty, you can find the good stuff in an NYT editorial of December 30, "Are We Stingy? Yes." Now, in all fairness, that editorial was written at the time of the $35 million pledge, but that's not what I'm talking about. What I'm talking about appears in the part of the editorial that follows that.

First, as the NYT explains, the average American is hopelessly uninformed as to how much the U.S. contributes to foreign aid as a percentage of its GDP:

According to a poll, most Americans believe the United States spends 24 percent of its budget on aid to poor countries; it actually spends well under a quarter of 1 percent.

That's right -- Americans have a grotesquely optimistic view of how generous they are when it comes to foreign aid. As recently as 2001, Americans still had no real idea of the percentage, as you can see here. (Scroll down to the question, "Do Americans understand how much of the U.S. budget goes to foreign aid?" Short answer: not a fucking clue, apparently. And make sure you scroll down to the part that explains how the Netherlands, a tiny country with population only 16.3 million, gave $3.2 billion in 2001 -- a third of what the U.S. provided. You'd think that someone in this administration would have the grace to be at least a little embarrassed. You'd be wrong, apparently. But it gets better.)

The new storyline that you'll find coming out of the administration and reverberating around the conservative echo chambers is that the U.S. is more generous than everyone else put together. Really? Well, sadly, no, as you read even further down in the NYT editorial:

Fuming at the charge of stinginess, Mr. Powell pointed to disaster relief and said the United States "has given more aid in the last four years than any other nation or combination of nations in the world." But for development aid, America gave $16.2 billion in 2003; the European Union gave $37.1 billion. In 2002, those numbers were $13.2 billion for America, and $29.9 billion for Europe.

Whoopsie. More of that gosh-darned pathological dishonesty. One wonders if anyone in this administration could tell the truth at freaking gunpoint. But that's not even the best part. Turns out, it really doesn't matter how much this administration promises if they have no intention of ever actually paying it (again, according to the NYT):

Making things worse, we often pledge more money than we actually deliver. Victims of the earthquake in Bam, Iran, a year ago are still living in tents because aid, including ours, has not materialized in the amounts pledged. And back in 2002, Mr. Bush announced his Millennium Challenge account to give African countries development assistance of up to $5 billion a year, but the account has yet to disburse a single dollar.

So, really, this administration can promise eleventy bazillion dollars for all it's worth, if it's all just air. Big fucking deal. Here's a suggestion -- why don't we all just sit back, take note of the promises, and come back in a year and see if these people can walk the walk. I mean, hell, we already know they can talk the talk. Now we can see if they can do anything other than talk.

Coming soon: the myth of Big Pharma philanthropy.

1 comment:

dabydeen said...

Oh, you're so right. And it's unfortunate -- the US being the richest country in the world has the means to make a difference, but don't. The sad part: the American public gross misunderstanding of their power to give. I believe that the American public sees themselves as good people, and given the chance, will do good things. They're not bad people. But rich, powerful and those in government -- the ones with the means -- continually show themselves to be coldhearted. For a look at private philanthropy, see my post back in Nov. -- and a BusinessWeek article on the ordinary givers.I'm looking forward to your run on Big Pharma ... a quote from U2 comes to mind: "the rich stay healthy, the sick stay poor." Or something like that.