More Thoughts on Giving

I’m confused by the issue of what distinguishes an ethical donation from an unethical donation. I believe, like Joe’s last post suggests, that it is the percentage given from one's earnings that matters more than the dollar amount. But even here, it is difficult to clarify what counts as sufficient.

Should we give everything we have so as to compromise our own health? Or should we give everything except what we need to pay our bills and buy groceries? May we save a little bit of money to buy a beer or see a movie, or would that be placing our wants above their needs? Basically, what must we (citizens or governments) sacrifice in order to meet the standards of a morally unobjectionable donation?

lessons about giving from a dead guy

Despite my official abdication of the label "Christian," I do love the Bible. Here's a little classic wisdom from the man, Jesus.

Mark 12:41-44
The Widow's Offering

41Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins,[a]worth only a fraction of a penny.[b]
43Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.”

Amen to that, can I get a halleluia!



A Stingy Primer

If yer curious, here's some frame of reference on the U.S. and it's "stinginess".

The San Francisco Chronicle has a brief, decent article on "How much to give" for tsunami relief. Foreign Policy Magazine and the Center for Global Development ranks the rich for 2004 "on how their aid, trade, investment, migration, environment, security, and technology policies help poor countries". Check here for the nitty-gritty of the study, of which this index is perhaps the best snapshot of the actual rankings. According to the FP piece, the US went up in the rankings 13 places due to a new measure of security, changes in how investment is measured, and a consistently improving migration number. I have no idea how much stock to put in this single source, but it seems to be the most repubidable analysis out there (I didn't see much mention of private donation, but then I just scanned the thing). Overall the US was at 7th. Japan was dead last. Currently, the U.S. government is sending around $350 million to countries affected by the tsunami, around $200 million more is coming from private sources. Japan has pledged $500 million in aid. Australia just pledged $1 billion.

As a matter of comparison consider Spain's $70 million pledge, with strings attached.Oh, and don't forget there's a new power structure to the world and it's being evidenced, at least for now, by generosity. Fareed Zakaria has an article to similar effect. India and Thailand are each saying, "thanks, but no thanks," and are turning away this money, again, for now. And China is making a historic break from "stinginess" and helping its neighbors.

These donation numbers are all going to rise, and many promises made with this money will go broken or prove otherwise flawed. The tally of dead and injured won't be made final for weeks (jeezus, maybe months?) and there's a shitload of work to be done. Giving aid is far from being a cut and dry issue and only time will tell how generous or stingy we are being. Either way, if you're not convinced our country doing you service in it's giving, the answer seems simple enough to me, give more of yourself. There are enough reputable charitable institutions out there that would be happy to make use of your contribution.


U.S. aid?

The U.S. gives way, way more money in foreign aid than any other country, but that's mostly because we are way, way richer than most countries. As a percentage of our GDP, we don't give very much. So, even though we give a lot absolute dollars, we could give a shitload more. On the other hand, we give a lot through private charities (which, of course, makes the conservatives as pleased as punch). I'm not sure if giving money to your church counts as giving money to charity or not, but a lot of charities are church-based.
We are also, to quote Charles Krauthammer (which I am not inclined to do), the world's fire department, in that we bear the brunt of the world's military "peace-keeping" missions. So, some might argue that we give a significant amount if we factor in our non-monetary contributions. That doesn't cut it for me. The accusation of stinginess might have been in poor taste, but it's true. More precisely, because of the weak political will of leaders in Washington, no politican or beauracrat has been successful at conveying the message that international development, humanitarian aid, and other forms of crisis intervention are as important to the interests of the U.S. as fighting terrorism. I believe that George Bush, like most Americans, is a good person whose heart truly aches for the incomprehensible destruction in Asia. But after the shock of this event, after the headlines fade to the second, third, last page, or dissappear, this country will settle back into its blissful ignorance of just how incredibly fucked up this planet is, and we'll feel comfortable about spending our money on bombs and stupid bullshit again.