Stingy? Us? Bruce …
Stingy? Us? Bruce Bartlett explodes the thought that the US is being too stingy with its money.

The other day, a United Nations official accused the United States of being “stingy” in terms of aid to tsunami victims in South Asia. After criticism from the State Department, the official clarified his position. Americans are not being stingy in helping tsunami victims, only stingy in terms of overall foreign aid as compared to other countries.

This is a familiar attack, which comes up annually when the foreign aid appropriations bill is before Congress. But let’s look at the facts. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, in 2003, the world’s major countries gave $108.5 billion in combined foreign aid. Of this, the U.S. contributed $37.8 billion or 35 percent of the total. The next largest foreign aid contributor was The Netherlands, which gave $12.2 billion, following two years in which it was actually a net recipient of foreign aid.

The claim of stinginess, however, comes from a different calculation—foreign aid as a share of national income. In 2003, U.S. foreign aid came to just 0.34 percent, well below the world leading Dutch at 2.44 percent. Other big contributors are Ireland (1.83 percent), Norway (1.49 percent), and Switzerland (1.09 percent). The U.S. would have to triple foreign aid just to reach the lowest of these contributors.

But, as with most statistics, if you only look skin-deep, you’re not getting the whole picture.

The first thing one notices when looking at the big foreign aid contributors is that they all spend very little on national defense. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in 2002, The Netherlands spent just 1.6 percent of its gross domestic product on defense. Norway spent 2.1 percent, Switzerland spent 1.1 percent, and Ireland spent a piddling 0.7 percent. By contrast, the U.S. spent 3.4 percent—and this was before the Iraq war. It’s easy to be generous with foreign aid when another country is essentially providing your defense for free.

Quite so. Bartlett has further information that shows that we in the US are quite the generous lot, especially non-governmental charity. Charity begins at home, not in Washington, DC.

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