Stingy America

Nicholas Kristoff, the annoying but occasionally right-on columnist for the NYT, tells us why we are indeed a stingy people.

When grieving victims intrude onto our TV screens, we dig into our pockets and provide the massive, heartwarming response that we’re now displaying in Asia; the rest of the time, we’re tightwads who turn away as people die in far greater numbers.

The 150,000 or so fatalities from the tsunami are well within the margin of error for estimates of the number of deaths every year from malaria. Probably two million people die annually of malaria, most of them children and most in Africa, or maybe it’s three million – we don’t even know.

But the bottom line is that this month and every month, more people will die of malaria (165,000 or more) and AIDS (240,000) than died in the tsunamis, and almost as many will die because of diarrhea ( 140,000)….

We gave 15 cents for every $100 of national income to poor countries. Denmark gave 84 cents, the Netherlands gave 80 cents, Belgium gave 60 cents, France gave 41 cents, and Greece gave 21 cents (that was the lowest share, beside our own).

It is sometimes said that Americans make up for low official aid with private charitable donations. Nope. By OECD calculations, private donations add 6 cents a day to the official U.S. figure – meaning that we still give only 21 cents a day per person…

Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia University economist, estimates that spending $2 billion to $3 billion on malaria might save more than one million lives a year. “This is probably the best bargain on the planet,” he said.

Depressing. I believe we have good intentions, but it seems charity has never been a great American virtue, except when a tragedy is well marketed to us.

Via Poor Man.

The Discussion: 19 Comments

It’s only part of human nature to ignore the common everyday occurrences and pay attention only to the big, dramatic and unusual events. Malaria, AIDS, etc is not on our TV screens everyday because these are not news, the tsunami is getting all the coverage because it is something different, out of the ordinary.

January 5, 2005 @ 6:12 pm | Comment

This is, unfortunately, a sad reality of life throughout the world. It’s great to see such a huge response to the tsunami, but it’s a crying shame that it takes something spectacular, shocking, horrific and very sudden, like a tsunami, to wake us up out of our stupors and do something to help those less fortunate. I’ve noticed that conflicts in Darfur, DR Congo and Nepal seem to have vanished from the news for the time being. It would be good if those who could afford it would spend more time and effort helping those who need it.

But when I expressed those sentiments on my own blog, the only reponse was an inane comment from ‘anonymouse’ accusing me of ‘sophomoric politics’ and completely missing the point.

January 5, 2005 @ 6:18 pm | Comment

True enough, Hui Mao; but the really shocking thing was seeing how much (or how little) Americans give compared to certain other countries.

Chris, I’m right with you.

January 5, 2005 @ 6:55 pm | Comment

Top 5 donors from wealthy nations:
(1) Norway – 97 cents per $100
(2) Denmark – 80 to 90 (can’t remember) but you have 84
(3) Luxembourg – 80-ish
(4) Holland – 80
(5) Sweden – 79

3 Sandinavians & 2 Low-countries – is there a message here?

Bottom 5 donors from wealthy nations:
(1) Germany – 30-ish
(2) UK – 27-ish?
(3) Australia – 25 cents
(4) can’t remember but it’s not Greece (not considered a ricjh country, nor France-Canada) – probably could be Italy
(5) USA – 17 but you have 15

Coalition of the Willing (for War but not for regularity of aid) – and, is there a message here?

Though to be fair, Australia and Germany today gave respectively a whopping 763 and 680 US million for the tsunami aid, spread over 5 and 3 years respectively. The Australian donation all goes to Indonesia, its biggest neighbour and a perpetual concern to her.

January 5, 2005 @ 10:31 pm | Comment

Waaaaa, waaaaa. Nice to see the Gulf countries donate jack to the victims. You might have seen THAT NYT article.

I would like to see a comparison of what US-based companies and persons donated versus the rest of the world.

January 6, 2005 @ 12:05 am | Comment


Hmm, I’m wondering what in Nicholas Kristoff annoyed you – isn’t his near-blind idealism? Known as Ji Si Dao to Chinese people, he had been my media hero who chronicled the events finally leading to the tragedy on June 4. But after I read his column some 10 years later, his obvious idealism annoyed me, too. It’s always a pleasure to read his pieces out of naivete and passion.

Don’t be frustrated Richard. American are the most generous people by heart, I assure you. (They are stingy to themselves by shopping in Wal-Mart, that’s true) I’m not saying Kristoff or Jacky is wrong on math. The number is right, but that has a reason. First, it’s out from government, which is theoretically accountable to voters so intrinsically stingy and meanwhile runs an astronomical budget deficit. It does not include Red Cross, CARE, other US-based NGOs and donating companies. Second, most people just don’t travel like you guys and don’t know where the needies are. When the globalizing goes further American people will find them and reach out.

A footnote, if American people are not generous, I won’t be able to write to you today. My education in the states was paid off by a successful women educator’s generous donation, and her name is Pamela Samuelson.

January 6, 2005 @ 6:26 am | Comment

I expect the gulf countries to give nothing. But America is one of the world’s most developed countries, and Kristoff is only comparing it to other countries in that category. In that context, we are very stingy.

January 6, 2005 @ 6:34 am | Comment

I heard today the private sector plus NGO in the US is coming close to the 350m white house pledge. This way the sum is getting doubled. Better – we are only 50% stingy than we once were!

January 6, 2005 @ 6:40 am | Comment

Kristoff can be so self-righteous and even silly — he truly gets on my nerves. When he’s good, he’s totally great. That’s about 30 percent of the time, unfotunately.

There are lots of extremely generous Americans out there. But on average, they’re less generous than other wealthy people in other countries.

January 6, 2005 @ 6:52 am | Comment

Gulf did give a HUGH total of 70, just raised to 85 million after severe criticism.

It’s quite pathetic when Saudi, rich as Midas, raised it from an initial measly single digit million to 10 (Racing driver Shumacher gave US$10 mil) then only after hue & cry to 30 mil (loose change in the Saudi petty cash box). Kuwait went from 1 mil to 10 mil (wow, a 10-fold increase – maybe the world should have left it under Saddam).

The most vocal critics of Gulf States’ apathy have been the Kuwaiti and Lebanese newspapers.

But in that most holy of Kingdom, there is instead a HUGH worry that the next wave of Muslim pilgrims to Mecca from SE Asia (like Malaysia and Indinesia) may bring the “sickness of tsunami-caused epidemic” to Saudi Arabia. Now, isn’t that just sick?

In the meanwhile, the royalty of Saudi Arabia worries that their hunting falcons may ………… sorry, I am drifting into sarcasm, but can you blame me?

January 6, 2005 @ 7:47 am | Comment

Thanks for that information, Jacky! Despite my issues with the Gulf nations, we have to give them credit where due, as well as blame.

January 6, 2005 @ 8:23 am | Comment

Just to add a bit to this, I was reading Danwei and came across this story over at msnbc that lambasts China for not doing enough to assist Tsunami victims (despite providing some 60+ million in aid).

Apparently the author is somehow upset that the Chinese didn’t deploy their naval capabilities in relief efforts.

January 6, 2005 @ 11:21 am | Comment

Last I heard, there was USD4 billion pledged from all donors combined. That’s excellent, I just hope it all gets to those who need it. And I hope that this somehow wakes the world up to all the misery out there, much of which is preventable. If USD4 billion can be donated to the victims of the tsunami, and if so many billions can be spent on weaponry each year, then perhaps a little bit extra can be put into helping those millions of others quietly suffering around the world….

There I go being idealistic again. Oops, sorry.

January 6, 2005 @ 6:22 pm | Comment

Americans have been outstanding in this case (though even here others are being proportionally more generous).

January 6, 2005 @ 7:58 pm | Comment

Today I heard the $6 million daily cost of US navy’s relief effort on striken area, is not included in the government pledge, but out from defense budget.

January 6, 2005 @ 11:26 pm | Comment

America, The Stingy.

Interesting. After US raised its level of support to the Tsunami victims from 15M to 350M plus many more millions raised from the public, charitable and private corporations and all the logistical support now as expected, the typical left anti-us crowd finds with a “new” way to diminish all this effort. When absolute numbers don’t fit with their bias, then next is to base “generosity” on percentage levels. When % don’t work, next is GPD, and then by individual contribution by population. The point is to twist the numbers in a way that America always looks bad This tactic is not new. The same principle was applied to the Olympics Medal Count. So when US won more medals than every other countries, the “population ratio” came in place; when the “population ratio” could not be applied to China or India, then the GPD came to the equation and so on. Finally admitting the truth never came to light, but it is hidden in everyone’s conscience: US won more medals for having the best athletes; US has provided more support because it is a good, generous country that cares.

Someone said, that “generosity” is not measured by absolutes numbers but by percentage and good wishes. Therefore, Denmark has been more generous than US or Japan when it comes to the tsunami. Great point. So I will encourage my fellow Americans to stop sending millions of cash and start sending billions of good wishes.

January 11, 2005 @ 10:05 am | Comment

Vina, Kristoff’s number cannot be argued with. There is no getting around this essential fact: compared with other developed countries, the American government and Americans in general are stingy in terms of what we have and what we give. Period. This is not a matter of left or right ideology. It’s just about the numbers.

January 11, 2005 @ 11:57 am | Comment

Vina: To make it less difficult for Richard to keep on loving America, this is a small price to pay 🙂

January 12, 2005 @ 3:12 am | Comment

Jing: China’s naval capability is reserved for enforcement of the ‘anti-secession law’, a euphenym of invading Taiwan. How can it squander it on relief effort?

Meanwhile, China’s media left no efforts in lambusting ‘stingy America’.

January 12, 2005 @ 3:19 am | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.