Is U.S. foreign aid adequate?
I left some comments yesterday at Sound and Fury in response to Dan's posts about U.S. generosity and Dan was kind enough to respond with a whole post, so let me do the same.
Dan's right that I conflated the difference between overall foreign aid and official development assistance in my comments to his posts. Compared to most other countries, Americans actually give quite a lot of money in overall foreign aid, even though our official development assistance is not great in terms of direct aid. But, after all, this was the point I was trying to make yesterday: that even though it's great that we provide a lot of emergency relief, that's not enough - we have to provide the kind of aid that helps developing countries stand on their own two feet so that they can modernize and prosper enough not to need so much emergency relief in the future. And we have to give aid to less "glamorous" problems like education, clean water, and infectious diseases.
But the question of whether America is stingy relative to other developed countries is really beside the point. Dan was right to say that it is not my main concern. And I don't think it really ought to be the main concern - even if America were more generous than all other countries, you could still say (and I would say) that even the commendable generosity that we do show is not enough to meet the objective needs of developing countries.
After all, the comment by that UN official that triggered this whole debate about U.S. stinginess referred to all Western countries, not just the U.S. Are we not, all of us in the developed world, stingy?
A final note - Dan remarked that constantly berating Americans for being stingy would make generous Americans feel unappreciated, and thus donate less. Certainly, point taken about using carrots and sticks, attracting more flies with honey, etc. Still, it seems to me that Americans donate money to foreign aid not because this will make pundits praise American generosity, but because donating money to foreign aid is a Good Thing. (Aid by democratic governments sensitive to public opinion is another matter. Thus, we should praise Bush for pledging $15 billion to fight AIDS, but also criticize him for not fully following through on the pledge.)
Update: Thanks to Dan for linking here. He's got an excellent and well-written blog.