Keep the generosity competition going
Yesterday, I was about to post an irritated message, chiding a commenter on another blog for making a misleading comparison between the amount of money the US government had set apart ($35 million at the time) to help victims of the Asian Tsunami, and the much smaller amount pledged by "The EU". The comparison was misleading, I thought, because the EU as an entity is not comparable to the US government: it does not tax citizens directly, does not have anything like the US federal government's budget, and to make the comparison between the US and the EU, you have to look at contributions from the EU member states - that of the Netherlands alone exceeded the US's $35 million.
To do a proper job at fact-checking, I would have had to spend about an hour on New Years' Eve looking up the figures I could find on the internet, which I wasn't looking forward to doing. Then President Bush, bless him, rendered the whole issue moot by making a new pledge of $ 350 million, making the US the most generous donor... until Japan pledged $ 500 million this morning.
This is one pissing contest I would hope nations continue for some time. Thank you, Jan Egeland, for provoking it by calling the rich Western Nations stingy and challenging them to prove the opposite!
That same commenter (who has also posted here, so he'll read this) also pointed out, more correctly, that it's the American way to let the citizens themselves do the giving instead of raising taxes for emergency relief. Without going into the political dimension of that, let's hope that American citizens also choose to outdo their government in generosity, and likewise that EU member nations' citizens do the same. I have donated, have you? (link to Dutch coalition of aid organisations)
It's probably a bit tacky and tasteless of me to highlight this international competitive aspect of the rounds of donations. But to a certain extent, donations from governments are all about looking good, and buying influence. Realpolitik will creep into any country's motivation for giving. We might as well admit it. And if the desire to prove that country X is the best, the nicest and the most generous makes country X do more to help, then I'm all for provoking that desire.
After all, it would be even more tacky and tasteless if someone got the idea of raising money through a charity single. Oh, wait.