Conservatives exaggerated foreign aid to declare U.S. "most generous nation in the history of the world"

››› ››› JEREMY CLUCHEY

In the wake of the catastrophic December 26 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 150,000 people in Southeast Asia, some conservatives have attempted to defend the Bush administration against criticism that the United States hasn't committed adequate funding to relief efforts by inaccurately claiming that combined public and private contributions per capita from the U.S. far outweigh those of other nations.

On the January 1 edition of CNN's The Capital Gang, panelist and National Review Washington editor Kate O'Beirne falsely claimed that "[w]e give, as a country and citizens together, billions more than any other countries per capita, far more than any other countries." Washington Times senior White House correspondent Bill Sammon wrongly declared on the December 28 edition of FOX News' The O'Reilly Factor that "if you look in the aggregate of what we're giving through our tax dollars and what we're giving privately, we're giving more per capita than the Norwegians." And many media conservatives have stated broadly and without evidence that America is the most generous of all nations in terms of foreign aid; they include FOX News anchor David Asman's statement on the January 3 edition of FOX News Live that "Americans are by far the most generous people in the world" and syndicated columnist and FOX News contributor Charles Krauthammer's assertion on the January 2 edition of FOX Broadcasting Company's FOX News Sunday that "[w]e are the most generous nation in the history of the world."

A December 29 article in the Los Angeles Times titled "U.S. Aid Generous and Stingy" explained the misleading nature of these claims. Though the United States government provides more total money in foreign aid than any other nation, the article reported, "when aid is calculated per U.S. citizen or as a percentage of the economy, the United States ranks among the least generous in the industrialized world." The article cited a 2004 study from the Center for Global Development and Foreign Policy magazine that "ranks 21 of the world's richest countries based on their dedication to policies that benefit the 5 billion people living in poorer nations worldwide." The study ranked the U.S. 19th out of 21 countries in terms of foreign aid. This measure combined public aid with private contributions attributable to tax breaks.*

According to the article, the study "upended the commonly held view that shortfalls in U.S. government aid for the global poor were made up by private American contributions." In its description of the aid component, the study found that "[i]ncorporating private giving turns out to have marginal effects on the scores," even for the U.S.

And contrary to Sammon's specific claim, according to the 2004 study, Norway contributed more than the U.S. in both public and private giving on a per capita basis. Ranking fourth among the 21 richest nations, Norway was in fact just one of 18 nations that gave more per capita in public and private contributions combined than the U.S. Also, according to the Los Angeles Times' citing of 2002 data from the Center for Global Development, Norwegians gave an average of $0.24 per person privately (compared to the U.S.' $0.05) and $1.02 publicly (compared to the US's $0.13). The 2004 study, which combined many factors including trade, immigration and environmental policies, ranked America's "commitment to development" in 2004 seventh overall.

The article further reported that Patrick Cronin, President Bush's former assistant administrator for policy and program coordination at USAID and a senior vice president for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that "[e]ven using the American view of largess, the United States comes up short compared with other nations."

*The Center for Global Development Study explains on its site that its evaluation and ranking of nations' development assistance "rewards countries not only for the quantity of their development assistance, but also for the quality." The explanation continues: "It subtracts development assistance that comes right back to donors as debt payments. It penalizes donors for 'tying' development assistance -- requiring that it be spent only on goods and services from the donor country -- or funding many small projects that can overload the staff of poor-country governments. It rewards selectivity -- giving development assistance to countries that are particularly poor and particularly well governed. New in 2004, the index rewards tax incentives for charitable donations." We should have noted in our original item that the study weights its data based on these factors. Thanks to readers for pointing out this omission.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, International Aid
Stories/Interests
Natural Disasters
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.