This letter appeared in The New York Times Magazine on March 6, 2005 in response to an article by James Traub, “The Way We Live Now,” which appeared on February 13, 2005.
James Traub is wrong to characterize Americans as myopic and isolationist (The Way We Live Now, Feb. 13). He draws his conclusion from the fact that United States government foreign aid, when compared with that of other countries as a percent of gross national income, ranks last.
United States government aid—$16 billion in 2003—is the highest absolute amount, almost 25 percent of all governments’ aid. This number, however, excludes American private giving of more than $43 billion, more than double the government’s aid in 2003.
Traub’s measure, developed by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, does not fully count the money that foundations, corporations, religious organizations, private charities and individuals send overseas for disasters, schools and health care.
By overlooking such charitable contributions, Traub misses the big idea about America: we generally help people abroad the same way we do domestically—privately. Europeans help primarily through their governments.
Traub implies that Bush ignores poverty by confronting tyranny, but political freedom contributes to prosperity. When individuals are free to use their talents without government interference, wealth spreads quickly among many, not just a reigning few.