Credit to the BBC
There is a smug view in Europe that the United States is particularly mean when it comes to helping poor countries. Whatever list you make of generosity to those less fortunate than themselves, the Americans will be near the bottom of it.
But it's not quite as simple as that - and certainly not the way the Americans see it.
Evans cites the same Carole Adleman statistics that I highlighted two days ago, and even gives credit to religious organizations. (Although he can't resist the typically BBC-ish backhanded knock on religion, noting happily that much of their generosity even comes without "theology". Is generosity that comes with "theology" somehow less worthy?)Evans points out that:
Americans do not give like other people do. They don't assume the government knows best and leave generosity to politicians and officials. The figures do not show America as the world's most generous people, but nor do they show Americans as the meanest.On that last point, he doesn't cite which figures he is talking about, but he probably means figures based on giving as a percent of GDP, which has become the standard measure of national generosity since the Earth Summit in 1992, at which it was proclaimed that .7% of GDP was the "proper" amount of foreign giving.
Of course, measuring generosity in this way, whether including private giving or not, while ignoring absolute values is fairly meaningless. For example, in 2004, Norway topped the list of Official Development Assistance as a percent of GDP at .87%. That amounted to $2.2 billion. Official US assistance, which was ranked 2nd to last, came in at .16% of GDP, or $18.99 billion. So, which country's (official) assistance is doing more to help the world's poor? Or, put another way, if you were in charge of a foreign aid agency, whose contributions could you more afford to do without? The answer, of course, is obvious.
In any event the BBC deserves credit for taking a look at private American giving in order to give some perspective to the myth of American miserliness. Well done, Beeb.
UPDATE: In the comments, Richard John makes the excellent point that government spending ought not count as generosity at all. Says RJ:
When my taxes get spent on aid I am not being generous as I have not made the decision to spend the money. This is the case for everyone whose vote in the election is not determined by foreign-aid policy (i.e. more or less everyone). Therefore government aid is no indicator at all of a peoples generosity. A figure that may be interesting is the private giving as a proportion of after-tax income. If such tables are worth anything at all then this would be interesting. Of course, this does not measure "time" or other forms of help that goes beyond the placing of money into a tin cup.