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December 31, 2004

Are We Stingy With Aid?

Following on from the debate in the US about the stinginess or not of aid flowing to victims of the tsunami. Glenn Reynolds links to several pieces (of course!) such as Daniel Drezner’s round up of the main figures, cash amounts, as %ge of GDP, per capita and so on. What you would expect from an academic who specialises in such matters, all the information clearly presented. One of the surprising figures is the position of the UK:

Out of the 21 major donors, we're ninth -- hardly stingy, though not the most generous. One could make the case that comparing large economies with Scandanavia or the Benelux states is unfair, because the bigger economies have other public goods functions to fulfill (see Bruce Bartlett for this argument).  If you limit the comparison to the G-7 countries, only Great Britain is more generous.

The public goods functions referred to by Bartlett are things like defense....it’s easy to send aid if someone else is providing your defense for free....and even after that, the UK appears to be the most generous in terms of aid per capita amongst the G7 nations.

Various commenters at these and other posts make the point that using only the Govt numbers doesn’t reflect reality...some countries provide more in private donations than public ones,or as Chuck Simmins puts it:

We don't need the Government of the United States to take our money and give it away. We are perfectly capable of taking care of our charitable choices ourselves.

As Chuck adds up those numbers to $127 million of private donations he would seem to be correct, that the response of the individual to human suffering is greater than that of the State. But then we knew that anyway.

What fascinates me is that we in the UK appear to be just as generous as the US, despite our higher taxes, more statist mindset, and the usual general accusations of being uncaring materialists. For as is reported in the Telegraph today:

Britons moved by the plight of millions of Asian tsunami victims dug deep into their pockets yesterday, bringing the total raised in only four days to an unprecedented £30 million.
Brendan Gormley, the chief executive of the Disasters Emergency Committee, the umbrella group co-ordinating British fund-raising, said the response had been unprecedented. "This is the biggest response to an emergency appeal," he said. "It is both remarkable and humbling. The British people have been listening to our appeals and, after what I hope was a happy Christmas, have realised they can do something and are digging deep. It must go on."
The committee's 3,000 automated phone lines were taking 890 calls a minute after moving television and radio appeals on Wednesday night. By 6pm last night they had taken 600,000 pledges totalling £25 million. Individual charities have raised an additional £5 million.

It’s easy enough to crow about how individuals are reacting, pushing one’s already known prejudices that people, not the State, make the difference, act better, but what is truly supportive of this idea is the following:


Charities were at full stretch ferrying equipment to the stricken areas.
An aircraft chartered by Oxfam flew to Sri Lanka and Indonesia, carrying 27 tons of emergency equipment.
A Red Cross plane containing 40 tons of logistics and telecommunications equipment left Bristol for Sri Lanka.
The Federation of Tour Operators, which has been arranging for aircraft to be sent to bring back holidaymakers, is organising the transport of humanitarian aid on outward flights.

Note that it is private actors who are actually doing something.....what has been pledged by a Government is meaningless when people require help right now. Help right now has been loaded onto planes by charities, by business, paid for by individuals:

Another £5 million has been raised by individual charities. Oxfam said it had received at least £3 million, while the Red Cross has raised £2 million.
Christian Aid said it had raised around £400,000, Save the Children £130,000 and Cafod at least £150,000.

Making international comparisons in a fast moving situation like this is a mug’s game, time zones and reporting deadlines making any such out of date by the time they hit the ether. Chuck’s figures are from yesterday US time, mine are from the UK paper this morning, yet seem to refer to Thursday’s totals. Still, one calculation for you. That 30 million pounds raised from individuals in the UK is about $55 million at today’s rates. We are roughly 60 million to the US’ 300 million people, so to match us they should raise $275 million.

I have no doubt that individuals in the US will in fact raise such sums and that they will  be despatched efficiently and help to ease some of the suffering out there. I’m still left wondering why, when our own Government has pledged more than that of the US (50 million pounds to $50 million I think), we think that such a massive private addition is needed. It might be that we are simply a wonderful and caring island race and it would be nice to think so. I have a feeling that the reality is different and hope you won’t think me too cynical for saying so. For our experience with bureaucracy, that experience that comes from our greater interactions with an invasive State, well, we probably simply know that whatever the Govt does will be pissed away  in ineffectual nonsense, requiring us to do it all again with our own money.

As for whatever the European Union says it will do, expect that to arrive sometime in 2007...that part of it that doesn’t go via Switzerland.

December 31, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink


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» Tsunami update from No Illusions
According to an ITV report (9:30 GMT today), known deaths top 125,000, but that will be far from the final toll: Over 125,000 people are now believed to have been killed in the Asian tsunamis, with millions left without the resources for daily life. An... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 31, 2004 12:02:13 PM


One of the best win win suggestions I have seen is that the US publically give $1bn in aid to be managed by the UN and then watch them like a hawk. If it gets distributed quicly and effectively then everybody wins. The US is reconciled with the UN and it fills a role as a multi-national body and Muslem indonesia in particular realises that the west is not all evil. If (as is sadly likely) it gets stuck in a mix of bureacracy and corruption then the US has not only the right but also the duty to stand up and point this out (mentioning in passing the history of bosnia, Rwanda, the Congo and oil for food). A wholesale purging of the UN would then be a welcome policy initiative difficult to oppose even for Guardianistas

Tim adds: That sounds like a damn good idea. C’mon Kofi, piss or get off the pot.

Posted by: Mark T | Dec 31, 2004 9:54:16 AM

Americans only donate money to their loony churches. I think our (UK) donations so far make us about the most generous in both absolute and relative terms.

Posted by: Monjo | Dec 31, 2004 11:29:54 AM

"what has been pledged by a Government is meaningless when people require help right now". And governments are giving help *right now*. I know it's fun to crow about your 'already known prejudices', but it'd really be nice if you had the decency to not turn even the most horrendous disaster into just another bullet-point on your well-worn anti-state tirade.

"As for whatever the European Union says it will do, expect that to arrive sometime in 2007...that part of it that doesn’t go via Switzerland."

Oh, I see, it's all a big joke, another opportunity to stick the boot into the EU, eh?

Well, read this link - http://news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=3946605 - , and what do you see? "About £9 million [in EU aid] has already been despatched in emergency humanitarian aid, with another £12 million ready at a moment’s notice." So the EU has already sent its aid, and you've shown yourself (again) to be completely ignorant of the facts.

I'd say you should apologise, but that assumes you meant this whole rant to be taken seriously in the first place. If it is a joke, it's in the worst taste possible. Either way, I suggest you take a look at yourself before ranting about the immorality of others again.

Tim adds: Would be nice if you quoted the whole piece, or at least more of it, for it supports my contention rather well:

The European Commission has a total of about £225 million available to contribute if necessary to the tidal wave relief effort, the EU’s humanitarian aid Commissioner Louis Michel said today.
About £9 million has already been despatched in emergency humanitarian aid, with another £12 million ready at a moment’s notice.
The rest – £49 million in a reserve disaster fund and nearly £155 million in a general contingency fund – would require more formal approval from EU governments and MEPs before release.
In any case, insisted Mr Michel, the EU assistance would be based on requirements and requests: “We have to insist on that: I want to maintain the EU line that we only give money on the basis of demands. My promise is that any money announced by the EU will be spent and not just pledged, and that is not always the case.”
The initial EU response earlier this week was a donation to the International Red Cross of more than £2 million, followed yesterday by about £7 million to provide immediate emergency needs to flood victims in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, particularly water purification equipment, food supplies and temporary shelters.
Now Mr Michel is embarking on a six-day tour of the region to assess the EU’s further contributions.
“I will be reporting back to an informal meeting of development ministers next Friday, by which time I will have attended a donor conference in Jakarta,” the Commissioner told a press conference in Brussels.

Yup, 4 or 5% of the money available has been sent, the rest must wait for MEPs and national governments to agree (after their Christmas break no doubt) and presumably after Mr. Michel returns from his 6 days fact finding trip.
A truly magnificent argument in favour of State action.

Posted by: Jim | Dec 31, 2004 12:54:22 PM

My brother-in-law was at Manchester Airport at 05:00 am the other morning, volunteering in his capacity as a Council employee, delivering clothing and assistance to Britons who had escaped the tidal wave with only the clothes they were wearing. An example of the state giving help right now?
I completely agree with Jim. Your anti-State, anti-EU bias is such that any valid criticisms you may make on such subjects are unlikely to be taken seriously, lost among your endless prejudiced utterings.

Tim adds: A slight disconnect here don’t you think? "Volunteer" does not sound like State action to me. Sounds like precisely the non-state action I praise.

Posted by: Quinn | Dec 31, 2004 1:14:33 PM

Your brother-in-law is to be congratulated for volunteering, Quinn. But the fact that he *volunteered* kind of undermines your argument.

Posted by: Scott Campbell at Blithering Bunny | Dec 31, 2004 1:25:40 PM

"Yup, 4 or 5% of the money available has been sent, the rest must wait for MEPs and national governments to agree (after their Christmas break no doubt) and presumably after Mr. Michel returns from his 6 days fact finding trip.
A truly magnificent argument in favour of State action."

So you've changed your tune. Originally you were complaining that the EU aid would take years to arrive if it ever did. Actually, millions of pounds worth had already been sent, which highlights your complete ignorance on the point. *Now* you're complaining that what has been sent is only a fraction of the potentially available pot - a pot which is as far as I know many, many times more than what the US, for example, has contemplated giving. This is just mealy-mouthed semantics, and I'm sure the people in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia appreciate the aid the EU has sent, even if you don't.

Posted by: Jim | Dec 31, 2004 2:37:53 PM

"Tim adds: A slight disconnect here don’t you think? "Volunteer" does not sound like State action to me. Sounds like precisely the non-state action I praise."

To clarify then, my brother-in-law was acting in an unpaid capacity to work at the airport assisting returning tourists. The action was organised and funded by his employer, Manchester City Council. I mentioned that he volunteered because it is not his usual line of work and he did not have to undertake it; however, it certainly was state action.

Tim adds: I must be missing something or we’re using language in different ways. I simply do not see that an individual, acting in an unpaid capacity, voluntarily, (and yes, I’m with Scott, I think what he did is commendable) is State action.

Posted by: Quinn | Dec 31, 2004 3:02:12 PM

Perhaps we are slightly at cross purposes here. Let's forget for the moment about my Brother-in-law, who he works for, whether he volunteered or if he was paid (although I will pass both Scott and your kind words on!). The point I was making is that here is a small example of the state, in this case the Council, acting immediately to assist the situation. Surely the council, operating at the airport and arranging clothing, transport and locksmiths for people is an example of state aid.

Tim adds: could indeed be called that. I tend to differentiate between different levels of the State...please don’t get my sometimes over the top ranting wrong, I recognise that there are things that only Government can do, I don’t argue in favour of unregulated free markets, only over who should be doing the regulating, well, on and on.
A local council helping locals who arrive home in only what they are wearing does indeed sound like a good thing for them to be doing. I’m also sure that the Sally Army could have done it as well but that isn’t what I was really getting at. My basic political grump is that the further away the State gets from those it serves, the further up the greasy pole of power it gets, the less it does of any value for those it is supposed to serve.
Local councils do a good job on pavements and national govts do a worse one on railways and international bureaucracies...well, you get the picture.

Posted by: Quinn | Dec 31, 2004 4:26:33 PM

Dearly disturbed monjo
Those looney churches in America provide shelters, soup kitchens, clothing and other aid for the poor.without wich the suffering would be even greater.However one must have common sense to reach this point.Jim have you ever heard of the war in Iraq? Look at the total of American money that goes into foreign aid. Astounding huh?

Posted by: Richard | Jan 1, 2005 3:54:21 PM