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United States Is Not “Stingy” on Foreign Aid

Carol Adelman

U.N. official Jan Egeland recently criticized the U.S. for being stingy in its foreign aid to the Tsunami catastrophe, and in general. Yesterdays New York Times editorial entitled Are We Stingy? Yes cites only U.S. government aid figures. Yet, its news story entitled Tsunami Followed by Another Kind of Flood: U.S. Citizens Dollars cites the outpouring of donations for victims from American charities, churches, foundations, and individuals.

No, Americans are not stingy .We are generous—not only through our government but primarily through our private charities. Using the right measures, Americans are the most generous people in the world.

Americans help people abroad the same way they help people at home—primarily through their churches, philanthropies, foundations, universities, and corporations. They prefer people-to-people programs over government-to-government programs, since they are more direct, nimble and quick.

This type of people-to-people giving was more than three and one-half times U.S. government giving abroad in 2002 (the last year comparable figures are available). Private foreign giving reached more than $35 billion. Even this is a low estimate, for a number of reasons explained in the full presentation of this research, conducted by Hudson Institute and published in Foreign Affairs The Privatization of Foreign Aid by Carol C. Adelman, November/December 2003) and the Wall Street Journal, America’s Helping Hand, by Carol C. Adelman, August 21, 2002.)

Each year the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) measures countries generosity by comparing each countrys official foreign aid as a percentage of GNP. The U.S. ranks last in this because this measure does not encompass the huge amount of international private giving by Americans. Each year, this OECD report results in press releases and statements disparaging Americas stinginess.

But using only government foreign aid is a limited, outdated and inaccurate way of measuring Americans generosity. Given the enormous growth in private giving around the world, donors and commentators should re-evaluate the measure.

And the New York Times editorial writers should read—and heed—news stories of impressive American generosity in their own newspaper.

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