Mark Steyn’s ruminations on Western culture and its variations are always worth reading. Here’s a teaser from a recent effort:
…it’s routinely accepted in Canada and Europe that America gives less foreign aid than other wealthy countries. Americans are famously “stingy,” to use the word chosen by Jan Egeland, the UN humanitarian honcho, in the wake of the tsunami. Unlike virtuous Canadians and Scandinavians, stingy rednecks save it all for the trip to the mall. But what does American stinginess actually boil down to? Carol Adelman, head of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Prosperity, ran the numbers. In 2003, the U.S. government gave US$16 billion to foreign aid–which made it the highest donor in absolute dollars but the lowest among developed nations as a percentage of gross national income.
Sounds pretty stingy, right? But, as Ms. Adelman points out, this number does not take into account private U.S. aid. In 2000, for example, Americans gave US$35 billion through various foundations and other bodies–which works out at three-and-a-half times U.S. government aid for that year. And even that figure doesn’t take into account local church missions, donations by overseas units of U.S. corporations and various other elements.
Canadians and Continentals, by comparison, give far less private aid–for many European countries, private donations are insignificant. I happen to think that donating as an individual or through a private company is, in fact, more virtuous than leaving it to the government to write a cheque from out of the general fund: for one thing, a private source is more concerned about how well the money is spent rather than how much–which would seem to be Mr. Egeland’s priority. But put that argument aside. The broad reality is that Americans provide their foreign aid privately and Canadians and Europeans leave it to the state, just as Americans provide their health care privately and Canadians and Europeans leave it to the state. My point is that Americans get no credit for this because in transnational-speak there is literally no way to express it. By transnational definition, “aid” is statist: only governments can do it. So, in the international league tables, no matter how generous Americans are their form of generosity is, by definition, inadmissible. Indeed, as Mr. Egeland sees it, “aid” is defined exclusively as cheques made payable to his office.
This is a remarkable state of affairs. The UN and other transnational agencies were mostly designed by America at the dawn of the American era and continue to be funded principally by America to this day. Yet they’re such an explicit rejection of American values that their language can’t even embrace such routine American activities as private philanthropy.