Sunday, January 02, 2005

Is America Miserly or Generous?

The answer to that question is: It depends on which method is used to measure spending on foreign and humanitarian aid. If you calculate it on the basis of absolute numbers (which is how the U.S. government likes to do it), the United States comes out way ahead of any other country in terms of total dollar amounts. But many people in the rest of the world say that using the context of gross national product to measure spending is much more meaningful, and more honest. By that measure, the United States's spending on humanitarian aid puts it near the bottom of the barrel.

Putting this a different way, the United States spends a very small amount on foreign aid in proportion to its wealth. Other countries spend far more as a percentage of their gross national product than the United States does. Or, as Tim Rieser, an aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) puts it, "Our ability to give far exceeds what we do give."

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