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September 04, 2005

Quick Followups

A couple of quick follow-ups to posts from earlier in the week:

* First, someone might want to show FEMA director Michael Brown this article from the Washington Post" "Living Paycheck to Paycheck Made Leaving Impossible." It explains some of the economic realities of the people who stayed behind. Pay attention to the sums of money these people have and recall Cherie Priest's comment that if most of these folks had had $300 and a car, they would have been out of there. Ms. Priest's comment, it seems, was spot on.

* Second, CNN pair-growing continues, as you can see here:

Defending the U.S. government's response to Hurricane Katrina, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff argued Saturday that government planners did not predict such a disaster ever could occur.
But in fact, government officials, scientists and journalists have warned of such a scenario for years.

I like that the press is beginning to remember that its role is not merely to reprint the mouthings of people in power. An adversarial press is exactly what we need now -- and what we need, in fact, all the time.

* The response to "Being Poor" has been both phenomenal, in the number of links and visitors, and humbling, in the additions that people have added to the original list, most of which it's clear come from personal experience. I will have more to talk about with my experience writing and posting the piece, but that will be for later. For now, I'll note one thing: Some folks out there have pointed out the being poor in America (and the first world in general) is a different proposition to being poor in the third world: There's Nick Mamatas' pungent commentary, which I linked to in the original thread, and also this piece, which I found earlier this morning.

My response to this is: Of course. As Nick points out, there's "relative poverty," which is by and large is what we have here in the US, and "absolute poverty," which is what you get in places where the vast majority of the population could live immensely comfortably on $300 a month (individuals in the population, mind you, not the entire population itself). The latter link in the last paragraph is written by someone who seems to be angry at the American poor for not knowing how good they have it, and with me for suggesting the American poor are genuinely poor. I don't want to address that in any extended sense, since I think having a "poorer than thou" pissing contest trivializes the plight of the poor, whether they live in the first world or the third. I will suggest that going hungry feels the same wherever one might live. But by all means, follow these links and get a perspective on what being absolutely poor entails.

* Given the volume of posts in the last few days that are explicitly or implicitly political in nature, and the sheer volume of recent comments, this is a good time to remind people that a) I actively moderate comments, b) I'm not shy in expunging ones I don't find appropriate (this is manifestly different than expunging ones I disagree with), and c) I'm also not shy expressing my opinion when I respond to comments.

All of those being the case, I heartily encourage everyone here, both long-time residents and brand-new visitors, to examine both my site disclaimer and my comment thread rules. In them you will discover that in regard to this site, I am indeed a petty tyrant, but generally a tolerant petty tyrant. Have fun.

Posted by john at September 4, 2005 12:35 PM

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Aaron Haynes | September 4, 2005 01:45 PM

Totally agreed about (and similarly impressed by) the new adversarial press. The administration and the people in power it's best friends with have gotten a relative free lunch for so long now that I expect they'll be rather shocked when they finally notice that their statements are being checked and criticized. If they ever do. Here's hoping CNN holds onto said pair.

JH | September 4, 2005 02:51 PM

Well, looky here: http://business.bostonherald.com/businessNews/view.bg?articleid=100857

3³ | September 4, 2005 03:11 PM

I'm surprised at how many people don't understand being poor, or thinking someone's not poor just because they're not as poor as someone else. That makes no sense to me. It's always relative to the system you live in. Hunger, ill-health without access to treatment, all those kinds of thing feel the same no matter which continent you live on. As long as life is a struggle and you have to worry in any sense about how you can still be living your life next week, instead of coasting on by without noticing, you're poor in my book.

It's like saying Donald Trump isn't rich because Bill Gates has $60 Billion more than him, and that's rich. To me, being wealthy is when I have enough money to be put in the unenviable position of deciding in which direction I can get the bus today, if I want to treat myself. Being poor is lack of choice, and the system you live in dictates the total range of available choices.

Oh yeah, am I wrong in thinking that CNN used to have a pair when they were founded? I always thought they were supposed to be bit hitters, but then I live somewhere else so I might be wrong, but it's nice to see news outslets finally doing their jobs properly... it's just a shame it takes such tragedy and outrage to bring it out.

Matt McIrvin | September 4, 2005 03:43 PM

It's like I've been saying: a lot of being poor in America is about risk. You can maybe buy some cheap consumer goods; you've got a TV and a microwave oven; but if you get sick, you're screwed. If you get hurt, you're screwed. If you get a toothache, you're screwed.

Michelle | September 4, 2005 07:31 PM

A book documenting that people were talking about what would happen to the Mississippi delta in a hurricane is An Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans From Nature, by Craig E. Colten (ISBN 0807129771). Unfortunately, I can't speak to its merits, having only just found it on Amazon. The same guy wrote Transforming New Orleans and Its Environs: Centuries of Change for a historical look at the geographic changes made to New Orleans over the years (082295740X) which seems like it would also be interesting given the circumstances.

There's another book, that I actually ordered to read, called Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America (0684840022). As someone educated in southern school systems, I was surprised I'd never learned of this particular natural disaster that displaced a million people from their homes and made refugees of tens of thousands (but of course, it happened after the War of Northern Aggression, and we never really learned anything about stuff after that. Except for the carpet baggers, of course.). I asked my cousin, born and raised in Mississippi, if she'd ever even heard of it. She hadn't.

From Rod Martin's comment on Amazon:

In telling the story, he shows how a heretofore anti-socialist America was forced by unprecedented circumstance to embrace an enormous, Washington-based big-government solution to the greatest natural catastrophe in our history, preparing the way (psychologically and otherwise) for the New Deal. He shows how this was accomplished through the Republican (but left-wing) Herbert Hoover, who would never have become President without the flood. Most importantly, he shows how Hoover's foolish, all-encompassing arrogance single-handedly drove the backbone of the Republican Party -- African Americans -- away from the GOP and into the arms of the segregationist, generally pro-KKK Democrats (a truly amazing feat).

I'm looking forward to reading about that.

Bernita | September 4, 2005 08:40 PM

You were mentioned by a poster on Miss Snark's blog.So I came to look.
If I didn't despise politics with an enduring passion, I would beg to stay.
The Condi/Imelda discussion was excellent.
My daughter is on stand-by for DART.
Thank you.

Pearl Reed | September 5, 2005 12:47 AM

I think your article hits the nail on the head. The leadership of this country has gone to the dogs and our leaders think more of other countrys problems than our own. The government needs to start helping the citizens of these United States and forget about all ot he foreign aid they are giving. There are to many Americans in dire need of help and are falling through the cracks. I wish people would open their eyes wide and see what is going on. Keep up your comments and I hope they help.

Dale Morris | September 5, 2005 04:32 AM

Hi Pearl (Pearl Reed, above)

I work in Development Aid in sub-Saharan Africa (Mozambique, Angola, Botsawna etc). I am directly involved in sourcing and deploying funding, so I can help clear up some misunderstanding.

Your government gives the least foreign aid of any developed country in the world. People in the US aren't poor because your government is giving money away to brown folk in other countries, and don't you fool yourself about that, ok?

People in the US are poor because your government is giving away money to whoever the president's friends, family and backers are in any given administration, and has been for more than 30 years.

People in the US are poor because your government rewrote the laws that protected their jobs, slashed their protection from unscrupulous corporate practices, and then when they got fired, cut their unemploment benefits to nothing. People are poor because all the money that was 'saved' by this was pocketed by your government, which redirected those funds into your 'defence' budget, and then handed it over to friends and family as 'contracts'.

Your government doesn't give a damn about other countries' problems (as you claim) other than to routinely be the cause of them. Learn some history.

Your government is currently freezing out AIDS education by internationally working to have intelligent education stopped, and replaced with religious instruction - it's also slashing assitance to, and actively hindering, aid organisations that do not preach abstinence as the preferred reponse to the HIV-AIDS epidemic.

(Your government feels the need to remind poor people that sex is a privilige due only the well-off.)

Your government's postion with respect to other countries is not causing your problems. Your government's ongoing plunder of your society is the cause of your problems and no amount of blaming brown folk elsewhere will change that. Have the intellectual honesty to focus clearly.

You have no-one to blame but your government. Get on with it, blame them, hold them accountable. This way you may actually achieve something for the poor in the US, and incidentally, for the poor all over the world.

Dale | September 5, 2005 05:02 AM

Sorry, about the extra-large paragraph breaks, John. I didn't read your notes below, and put my own in.


Open Source | September 5, 2005 08:00 AM

I totally agree with the poor issue. This is the epitome of idiocy.
Now I'm just getting started with my vast viscous verbal catalog here

We have to go back to a merit based system and not depend on a central government. It creates bias and acrimony.


Now I'm sure Bush will want us to feel 'sorry' for the poor when he screwed it up in the first place and then throw more money away to 'fix' it instead of using finances with brainpower. Get your richboy asses out of my country! They are the illegals with terrorist hurricane attack!

I now name Bush “Slick Bushy.” because this might be a whitewash like the 9/11 committee.

Just imagine Bush greased up sliding sown a water slide smiling.

Impeachment time. Cheeny wont be as bad as he's more tractable. He defended his daughter that one time and Bush didn't really help out as usual. I think he might get us out of Iraq and let them have their theocracy because democracy didn't work there since the clerics override any decision making now. Democracy is not for everyone! It's not a perfect system. If we weren't there you wont have the 'insurgency,' They are attacking Iraq because they don't want a democracy which they don't have anyway. The attacks have slowed down because of the Clerics taking power recently. Bush is only satisfied with that particular democracy because it is overridden by a theocracy and he himself is theocratic to a fault. The Democracy is just a wrapper a feel-good facade. But he is not satisfied with a communist democracy.

The democracy isn't working so why stay? Just stay at home and use counter measures. We will need a Shwarzenegger, McCain or Obama in office to do this though or anything more hands on would be better.

Come home and actually defend the 'real' borders like the minutemen


Caroline | September 5, 2005 09:22 AM

I've found myself reading this and the other being poor piece with so many mixed emotions. Being poor is all those things mentioned. Being poor is scrabbling in the dust for the maize someone just threw at you from out of an aeroplane, and not even caring that you're being filmed doing it, for the rest of the world to feel good.
Being poor is being told that you don't deserve help - you should be helping yourself.
And being poor is not having a bigger picture and not being able to tell that its not a question of stopping giving to others in order to give to our own...
Thanks Dale - I live in South Africa and work in HIV/AIDS - and my programs have been directly affected by some of the policies you mention.

Mike | September 5, 2005 12:03 PM

I'm relieved (from my perspective in frozen Canada) to see the US media becoming more adversarial. And not being tarred as un-American for it. During the Gulf War, and the initial stages of the Shock and Awe War any dissenting voices were muffled by all the flags being waved, and most of the front-line journalists were cleverly embedded "where the sun don't shine". They saw what they were allowed to see, wrote what they were given. But once the people back home saw realities of body bag flights being snuck back in, and returning planeloads of National Guard weekend warriors, and blogs from the front by actual combatants - the cat was out of the bag and coverage shifted. Thankfully I don't get Fox News, but I was still glad to have other choices like BBC WorldNews and the growing Blogsphere to add a balance.
Now, with the mess of Katrina, the press is calling government to task. When a spokesman claimed they hadn't known the levees had breached, the reporter (ABC I think) asked didn't his people watch TV or listen to the radio? Because the rest of the world sure knew it had happened.

| September 5, 2005 02:02 PM

Now that I've re-learned how to spell and then type what I mean to say, I thought you might find this interesting. From the BBC: "Has Katrina saved US media?"


pet Campbell | September 5, 2005 03:53 PM

As I write this its 92 degrees outside, hot and heavy air thick with humidity,
mosquitos making even being outside miserable...
and I think about Katrina.. the power, of that storm..
I think about wondering a week ago.. if it would be us.. and
knowing that if it all came apart.. we could start over.
This is my home, I choose to live here, just as the people
hit by that damn hurricane live there....
Have you ever stood in your home.. knowing that everything you treasure, every
thing you cherish may not be there when you come back..
time after time..4 times,in 6 weeks we were either "warned" or "advised" to evacuate.. and just like thousands of others we
Because you rationalize.. well it missed us the last..however many times...
well guess what .. that doesn't make us bad, evil uncaring folks.. life does have to go on..
and we are ...
I have given of my time, committed to more volunteer work..and given money.
I have cried, and prayed.. and now..when I think that my guts have been ripped out for the last time.
I see again the pictures of
families.. our sisters ,our brothers, mothers, fathers,our children
dying in the mud, in my south..
and I am outraged.........
a friend wrote a few days ago.. how the sun had come out in the south and people were feeling blessed by living through Katrina...
today some of those people are dead..
from the storm? No.
From neglect.. and all to soon.. I'm afraid that relative poverty is going to be a hell of alot more relative..

J | September 5, 2005 05:46 PM

"George Bush Declares War on Hurricanes"

(from RPGPundit's blog):


Jeff Funk | September 5, 2005 06:13 PM

I'm going to give to the Red Cross. I gave a small donation this weekend while I was out with my friend, Sara. The bar we were at, Babylon, was selling Jell-o shots & Mardi Gras beads to help raise money. I've been glued to CNN. And I've taken a couple days off from blogging because I almost feel guilty writing about my love life when so many people's lives have been shattered.

Mike Cane | September 5, 2005 06:31 PM

Having been classified as a rabble-rouser, Commie, class-warfare-baiting ratfinknik, let me post the post that got "flypapered away" (and rightly so!) in the other thread --

Having let this simmer a bit, let me clarify my position. Class warfare? No.

God bless the rich doctor; he went through hell to get that degree, to obtain that knowledge, and performs a task squeamish me could never, ever do. And especially God bless the rich doctor who performs work for free, out of the generosity of his heart (there are such organized doctors out there; but I can't name the orgs, they slip my mind). Similarly, God bless all those whose specialized real-world knowledge earns them fat incomes.

But God damn someone like former Sunbeam CEO "Chainsaw" Al Dunlop and his ilk --


-- whose psychopathic adherence to an abstract anti-life philosophy of Dollar Uber Alles has impoverished this nation both monetarily and (without any specific religious connotation) spiritually.

And God damn the politicians who cater to such people. But this should be no surprise. For they recognize their brothers-under-the skin --


And I have come to think this now explains New Orleans --


My beef is not with my everyday fellow citizens, most of whom are appalled by the shape we're in. They are still generous people who would have no one suffer, even at the hand of their own bad choices made when younger (for aside from being generous, we are also merciful). My target is the entrenched Oligarchy and Plutocracy who don't give a damn for us.

You may trim this for controversy as you see fit. Or even delete it.

| September 5, 2005 07:21 PM

I know, I'm commenting way too much in one thread, but,


There's a site from bbc monitoring which looks at news stories from around the world, translates them and gives them to me (yes, just me.) I hope it's a nice and representative snapshot of how the world is viewing the situation. I mean, it might be completely biased since I haven't read everything said in those countries, but I trust the BBC.

Janet | September 6, 2005 12:38 AM

I would like to know the actual source of the "America gives less than any other industrialized nation" info that I've been seeing crop up lately. I hear lots of people saying it, but I've never come across actual proof of it.

Soni | September 6, 2005 02:21 AM

USA foreign aid numbers:

Download 2004 Word doc "Putting food aid in perspective" (quote below reflects total aid, not just food aid)

We may give a lot in dollar terms, but it’s not so much relative to our economic size. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 2002 figures for member countries’ spending on foreign aid as a percentage of gross national income shows that the United States ranks last: 0.13 percent of national income. We’ve come in last place since 1993. At the high end, the Netherlands donates 0.81 percent of national income; Sweden 0.83 percent; Norway 0.89 percent; and Denmark the most at 0.96 percent.

Janet | September 6, 2005 03:19 AM

Soni: I cannot get your link to work. Does this amount quoted also include all the private and corporation donations we give? Also - I have not heard of this organization. Who runs it? Where do they get their figures? Do they access records of tax-payers to find out individual donations? I keep seeing this kind of stuff but no real documents to back it up. I'd like to see actual records, not just the findings of an organization I don't know. Because this means little to me as is without actual proof. I once read in a Canadian newspaper that per capita, if you include ALL donations Americans make, not just the US gov't's monies, we give way more than anyone else in the world. And this was printed in a Canadian newspaper by a Canadian columnist who was simply tired of hearing things like what you have quoted - and he admitted to not particularly being a US fan, just someone who wasn't "blindly quoting the US bashers" because while he might not approve of the current US administration, he knew Americans have always "been the people who will give you the shirts off their backs and do it with a smile."

Also, I find the countries on the "high end" of giving interesting. What are their rates of poverty? How many indigent poor and immigrants do they have to take care of withing their own borders on top of trying to help other less fortunate countries? I would imagine it would, as a gov't, be easier to give more to other countries if you had less than at least 12.7% of your own nation in poverty. What are the Swedish and Norwegian poverty rates? Do they compare to the US?

Brian Greenberg | September 6, 2005 03:57 AM


I would suggest checking out this site. It does a pretty good job of explaining the issue. It claims to source it's info from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, but I find the info easier to read on the first link.

Quick summary:

In 2004, the US gave around $19B in foreign aid to other countries. Japan was second, with just under $9B. In terms of % of GNP, though, the US comes in at 0.16%, as compared to Norway (the leader) at 0.87%. This puts the US second to last in terms of GNP (ahead of Italy @ 0.15%). Interestingly, Japan is third to last at 0.19%. In fact, all of the countries at the top of the curve in terms of real dollars are in the bottom of the curve in terms of % of GNP.

Unfortunately, this leaves the door open for many who want to criticize the US as "giving less than everyone else" to do so without telling the whole story.

Dale | September 6, 2005 06:09 AM


I can point you in a hundred directions for source material, but I think auto-didactic discovery has a better retention. Nevertheless, I've appended some links throughout. They’re not sufficient, and they’re not intended to be. They’re intended to spark research by you. Please don't just go there. Do the research.


Swedish, Dutch, Norwegian and Danish poverty rates are low compared to the US. That's because they retained those social programmes that the US abandoned in order to make corporate profiteers better off. Thank you for making my point. The countries that give massively, do so *because* they have been able to care of their own poor. All you're saying is that the US is failing on both counts.

These countries that give a lot, by the way, are busy dismantling those social programmes, under pressure from international corporations. Their poverty rate is rising proportionately.


If I understand your implicit argument, the US might give less, because it has more poor at home to attend to? Am I right? (If not then just ignore this paragraph.) It has more poor at home, because it doesn't attend to them and slashes social spending. The money's *NOT* being spent on them. Hence the rise in poverty. So the argument is circular: the US can't spend money overseas because it has to spend it at home. It has to spend it at home, because the number of local poor is rising. The number of local poor is rising because the US stopped spending on poverty alleviation. See?

The other leg of this argument of yours implies that the US has to take care of so many immigrants that it has no funds for international aid. This is false. Firstly, many migrants to the states are illegal. Thus they cannot access many of the programmes remaining in the US for the poor. That already reduces the potential spend on migrants, before we even go the numbers. Secondly, some numbers from various sources, including the AILF and the Dept. of Homeland Security. See also the end of the post.

a) The majority of documented immigrants to the US are Asian and they traditionally rely on extended family and cultural groups for aid and assistance, further reducing the burden on the state.

b)The majority of immigrants do not use social services. Less than 10% of Mexican immigrants, for example, sent their children to a public school, despite 66% paying for the privilege by having deductions made from their pay check.

c) Immigration is circular - most migrants leave again, which means that the immigration figures don't show a rising population of domestically housed and serviced poor, but probably a steady population, with a steady input and output stream.

d) Whatever your stance, independent and partisan think-tanks agree that immigrants contribute significantly more in taxes than they use in services. If you think about it, it's obvious - as an immigrant you can't complain, and you don't want to get noticed. So you let them take money, and you stay out places requiring paperwork.

An Urban Institute paper on immigration drew the following conclusions, amongst many others:

"Tax collections from immigrants are understated. Service costs for immigrants are overstated. Benefits of immigrant-owned businesses as well as the economic benefits generated by consumer spending from immigrants are ignored. Job displacement impacts and costs are overstated. Parallel computations for natives, which would show that natives are also net tax users, are not done. The size of the immigrant population, particularly the undocumented immigrant population, is overstated."

You're welcome to go read the information. Your poor aren't migrants, they're Americans. So see my first rebuttal of your circular argument above.

http://www.urban.org/ (look under Research)

In 2000 CEO's at the top companies in the States earned 531 times what the average householder earned, in take home cash.

You can read more here:


and plenty of other places.

That means, for every thousand dollars the average person took home, they took home half a million. If your salary was $2000 per month, theirs was a million. In 1980, that ratio was 42 times. That may have something to do with your poverty problem. Which brings us to corporations.


There is no such thing as a corporate donation. Corporations, American or otherwise, receive tax breaks for donations. That makes this an exchange, not a donation. Furthermore, their contribution to communities, measured against what they take out of those communities they operate in is negligible. If corporate trade wanted to aid suffering people, it would be simple for them to take less profit and make their factories in third-world countries liveable and usable, or some similar action. They don't. What they do, is toss back a little cash, in exchange for further trade benefits. Whatever, you feel about this, relying on corporate donations to make your argument that Americans are super-dooper charitable is weak.


Food aid is predominantly what the USA gives. In almost all cases, this is excess from the corporate agribusiness sector, subsidised and paid for. The food aid is monetized in the target country and mostly destabilizes that country's agricultural sector. The USA is aware of this, but refuses to adopt a better system. The motivation for dumping the excess is not aid, it's profit otherwise alternatives to recklessly endangering the economies of developing countries would be sought. (I'm not talking about the highly public musician+politican+hamburger+somali child programmes that make the news. I'm talking about the daily traffic in the US's excess produce, that third world countries are asked to carry the can for. That’s your aid.)

The World Trade Organisation (that bastion of left-wing thinking) discusses food aid here:


The Institute for Science in Society discusses it here:



I personally don’t think that vague anecdotal evidence and wish-fulfilment fantasies about how charitable Americans are genetically count as valid. If you have stats, bring them. I’ll also look. I think you’ll find they’re the same as everywhere else, which is a bitter pill to swallow for someone who’s been told their whole life that their way of life (and by extension their beliefs, character and person) are just super-goody-good and way far out groovy.

But that’s just me. Hope all of this helps.

Kind regards


abi | September 6, 2005 07:10 AM


Google is your friend here - there are a number of sites that will give you this sort of information. A few footnotes and caveats to keep in mind:

For comparability, we would have to ask what the private and corporate giving rates are in the other countries...there is an implication in your question that only Americans give money privately. My experience, living in both the US and Britain, is that individual charitable giving is higher in the UK, and that a larger proportion of the charities people give to work overseas rather than domestically. But anecdote is not the singular of statistic - I don't know how it compares on the larger scale.

As for the poverty rates, this is another difficult area to compare. Poverty rates are often based on median income for that country, so "poor" in one country may not be poor in another. In addition, countries with substantial levels of social support for the lower-income members of their society will be spending more of their GDP on social costs. This simultaneously raises the floor (and thus the median) and drains money otherwise available for overseas aid.

The immigration question is also tangled, partly by issues of how and when immigrants are counted, and whether they are eligible for the same social supports as citizens (which would tend to understate their economic impacts.)

In short, though we can dig into the figures, don't assume that all of the elisions and assumptions will somehow make the US look any better. I wish they did.

Daniel | September 6, 2005 07:15 AM

Janet: I tried to find the information you were looking for, but not all of it is readily available. I checked the United Nations Common Database, the World Bank's World Development Indicators Online database, the data available at CountryWatch.com, the Wikipedia, and Google, but could not find specific data on poverty rates in Sweden and Norway. Most of the available data on poverty deal with lesser-developed countries. I might be looking in the wrong places.

However, I would point out that it is almost guaranteed that Sweden and Norway have less poverty than the U.S. Both countries spend considerably more money on public aid and the "social net," with the objective of keeping people out of poverty. Saying that they only give more to aid because they have to give less to their own citizens is as logically invalid as saying that we can't spend money on Americans because we're giving so much in foreign aid.

Here are the specific data on aid from Norway, Sweden, and the U.S., taken from the U.N. Common Database ("ODA to LDCs, net, as percentage of OECD/DAC donors' GDI," as reported by the OECD):
2001: Norway, 0.2777%; Sweden, 0.2183%; U.S., 0.0205%.
2002: Norway, 0.3319%; Sweden, 0.2657%; U.S., 0.0298%.
2003: Norway, 0.3603%; Sweden, 0.2721%; U.S., 0.0407%.

It should be noted, however, that those percentages come out to vastly different amounts of money ("ODA to LDCs, net, US$," as reported by the OECD):
2001: Norway, $468,720,000; Sweden, $474,460,000; U.S., $2,083,660,000.
2002: Norway, $633,570,000; Sweden, $639,050,000; U.S., $3,033,200,000.
2003: Norway, $800,830,000; Sweden, $821,820,000; U.S., $4,473,610,000.

(The info is probably available publicly, but I can't give you a direct link to the search results from the U. Chicago subscription.)

I think it would be interesting to see the amount of aid per capita, too.

abi | September 6, 2005 07:53 AM


A quick web search (the CIA World Factbook, the UN, and the US Census) gives me the following figures for 2003:

US: 290 million people
Norway: 4.5 million people
Sweden: 8.9 million people

Basic long division using your dollar aid figures yields:

US: $15.43/person
Norway: $178/person
Sweden: $92.36/person

I'm sure there's a league table somewhere with that information, but I'll leave someone not on their lunch break to dig it out.

Daniel | September 6, 2005 08:08 AM

Well that's just plain disgusting. Thanks for doing the math---I was too lazy to actually plug the numbers into a calculator :-).

abi | September 6, 2005 08:10 AM

I cheated. I used a spreadsheet. ;-)

Janet | September 6, 2005 01:23 PM

I appreciate y'alls answers on this; they are very interesting.

The statement that illegal immigrants do not have access to American programs or money is false. Their children are allowed to attend public schools (My high school once tried to prevent a valedictorian from graduating when they found out he was illegal, but they were stopped by the ACLU.) They are also allowed in our hospitals, which can cost our country as a whole quite significantly.

My point was we have a LOT of people to take care of in this country. Our poverty rate is 12.7% according to figures just published last week. Yes, poverty is relative, but it doesn't change the fact that if someone can't buy food for her family because she makes $12,000 a year and it all goes to rent, then she needs help.

And yet, despite this, despite the fact that we have many people with nothing more than the clothes they are wearing coming across the borders both legally and illegally, we have people all around the world pointing fingers at us and saying, "You don't do enough for the rest of the world! You don't even take care of your own! Shame on you!"

Great. I'm open to suggestions. Y'all are welcome to fix it, since obviously the solution is to - what is the obvious solution? Model some of those top-givers?

"United Nations' Egeland brags about his native Norway, which, in giving, he says, "is No. 1 in the world." Norway gives 0.92 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to foreign aid development, versus 0.14 percent in this country. " . . . We have . . . no country up to the 1 percent . . . line of foreign assistance in general," says Egeland, "and we have, I think, three . . . Scandinavians that have exceeded -- and Holland -- the 0.7 percent line of gross national income for assistance." Yes, Holland gave $12.2 billion in foreign aid in 2003, but that was following two years in which it received more aid than it gave." - from Larry Elder at Capitalism Magazine

Okay, that'll work. We'll be more like Holland, then. We'll let the rest of the world send us aid for two years and then we'll give away more after that just so we can be one of those top-givers.

And here's something I found by googling - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4091528.stm \

In particular, from that above article:

"On top of that, America does not exhibit the xenophobia evident throughout much of the rest of the developed world. In Europe the door to the poor is locked; in America, it's true the door is guarded but it is open to many more people, particularly from Latin America."

So I guess instead of taking in more aid than we give for two years, we could model these wonderful top-giving countries by shutting our doors so we have more to give away. Would that work?

No it is not illogical to say countries would have more to give if they needed to spend less at home. If you were a country of 100 people and 12 percent of your people qualified for food stamps you would have less to give someone else than if only 6 percent of your people needed food stamps, right? I suppose that the people in other countries could holler "But your 12% still have it better than most of us, so we deserve your money more!" but then if we accepted that kind of thinking, then none of us should be typing on computers right now. We should all sell everything we own except the basic necessities and give the money to people less fortuante, because they deserve it more since they're so much less well off.

Finally, what is the point to all this? Forced shame charity? I try to imagine telling someone who's done something nice for me, "Well, gosh, this is sweet, but Larry did more and he has even less time than you so you sorta suck, even though you have six kids to take care of and Larry only has one. What's your problem? You're home all day! You have twenty-four hours of free time compared to Larry's fifteen. You really should be giving me more of your time or at least stop thinking you're doing something good, all right?" And well, of course, I can't see really saying it.

America is far from perfect, but we do not deserve to be hammered by people who seem to think we owe the world more.

Last year I saw a British author interviewed on TV. He'd written a book about America. I wish I could remember his name or the name of the book. (All I remember was the author has some sort of title, like "Sir" or "Lord.") Anyway, he wrote this book after visiting America because he was stunned by what he was hearing young people say about the US. It was all the bad stuff with none of the good. He wrote a book about all the things America has done for and contributed to the world because he felt we'd had our pride stripped away from us by unfair criticism and by the lack of gratefulness on the part of the rest of the world. He said we spend so much time trying to NOT sound arrogant that we've quit telling our children America has done some pretty darn wonderful things so instead all they hear is the whining and sniping.

This was the same thing the Canadian columnist I mentioned yesterday was talking about. He started his column with "God Bless America" and went on to remind people of all that we have done and still do.

It might make y'all feel better to be belittling America. Americans are lucky they can complain about their gov't, foreign policy and whatever else they want. Non-Americans hate us for all sorts of reasons, and if hating someone is what keeps them going in life, I'm very sorry for them, but that's their right, too. Me, personally? I'm a liberal in a country being run by increasingly right-wing conservatives so no, I am not happy about a lot of things here, but I am sick to death of being told we don't do enough for everybody else. I am sick to death of people calling me clueluess or arrogant for loving my country. I wouldn't dream of saying that to someone else, even those from countries with policies and practices I abhor. (Thousands of dancing, topless virgins for a king who lives in luxury while many in his country starve? Not so much. Yet there was this man, a citizen of this country, who supported this activity because "It helps us keep our history and national identity." I think it's awful, but I'd never tell this man he was wrong for wanting to have something that made him feel his country was special.)

People beat up on America because they can. I just hope the pushing doesn't get to the point that the majority of American voters put someone in office who flat out says, "Screw the rest of them. They hate us anyway." because then the world (and yes I include America) would suffer greatly.

T.W. | September 6, 2005 02:18 PM

Crap, the media is starting to fall back into line getting ready for sucking up. I knew it wouldn't last. And what's this about Bush leading the investgation of his people and own self?

abi | September 6, 2005 03:40 PM


The article you cite is an opinion piece, not a factual one. For factual information on, for instance, immigration, I went to the UN High Commission on Refugees site and found a statistical survey on refugees. http://www.unhcr.ch/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendoc.pdf?id=42b0195c2&tbl=STATISTICS It has a very interesting section on refugee population by region of asylum (page 3), which states that Europe had 2.2 million asylum seekers in 2003. I don't know that I'd call that "closed".

But that's not really your point, and arguing those kinds of details doesn't address the heart of the matter.

The heart of the matter is that the US holds itself up as the economic exemplar of the world. We control the World Bank, and prescribe our doctrinaire solutions to the rest of the world. Our government criticizes anyone who does anything different than us - particularly anywhere where the social system includes any form of meaningful support for the poor. ("Socialists!" "Commies!") Yet we're only the best by some of the many measures that can be applied.

We could be a little humbler, a little more gracious to other countries who are punching above their weight in the international aid stakes. Remember the parable of the widow's mite? The Netherlands may have needed aid at times (which they receive from Europe, not the US, by the way) but a country with 7% of America's population took in 30% of the refugees we did in 2003...and that's a consistent pattern, from the most densely populated nation on the planet. A little credit where credit is due would reduce the hostility we get on the world stage.

It won't eliminate it - but we're not all sweetness and light in our international relations either, you know. The French have put up with an awful lot, just to pick an example. What goes around comes around; we as a nation may simply have to develop thicker skins.

In addition, we could also admit that poverty is a real issue in the US, as you yourself have said, and put our resources to solving it. My top suggestion would be sorting out the health care non-system, which is a source of such suffering to people already struggling with poverty. That could pay for itself in lower administrative costs alone. Changing the way we subsidize farmers so that we're not dumping food on countries whose economies can't take it would be a good second step. Again, we could pay the same amount in different ways.

Not that I think we'll have the political resolve to do either of those difficult, painful things any time soon. But we prescribe an awful lot of bitter medicine to other countries, and that's the dose they would prescribe back at us.

Janet | September 6, 2005 05:35 PM

abi: That is interesting. I can't seem to get the PDF to load, but let me ask, how did this article arrive at its numbers? (to be able to tell someone took in 7% of the number of people we did) I've been looking over various charts from the US's sites, but I keep reading things like, "We get an average of X amount of legal immigrants each year, plus an estimated Y% of illegals." None of these sites seem to agree on what either number is. Also, does your article detail where these people come from or what they are seeking asylum from? I know it's not really the issue. I'm just curious and I've tried four times to open the PDF but it only freezes up my cheapo computer.

As for America criticizing countries who disagree with us? There are plenty of other countries who do the same, you know. Perhaps, like you said, we should simply develop a thicker skin. I know I was hurt by reports that German newspapers and others implied we deserved to get hit by Katrina.

I do think we're horrible in our attitude in many cases. I screamed at my TV when I heard Bolton was pushed through because I do not think a man who has previous co-workers accusing him of being a "kiss-up, kick down" type person should be our man in the UN, and I know we could do better. I just think telling the average person he shouldn't be so proud of America because of some of the gov't's policies is just plain unfair. We do have a lot to be proud of. While the Bushites like to to say Bush got more votes than any other pres in history the last election so he "clearly" has a "mandate" from the people supporting him, what they don't like to add is that Kerry got the second most amount of votes ever, so there are huge amounts of people who don't support Bush so much.

Geeze I'm rambling. Sorry I've gotten my back up over this. I just know plenty of Americans who give so much away, even though they themselves are far from well-to-do and it gets frustrating to know about things like my former neighbors who live off $800 a month and still somehow manage to sponsor two children for the tune of $56 a month, to know about these things that are not calculated in any totals anywhere when these "stats" are posted and have to listen to the "Americans don't give enough!" accusations.

And yes, we NEED to do something about the poverty here in our country but it seems like every time someone mentions helping the poor all that happens is another tax break for big business. It is pathetic, irresponsible and unbelievable, and sadly, as you said, probably not going to change any time soon.

abi | September 6, 2005 06:31 PM


I know about the sting of comments about America - I live abroad, and spend an enormous amount of my time defending, explaining, and educating about us. And one of the things I've learned is that you really do get more respect when you admit where your country has gone wrong as well as where it has things right.

(I would point out, by the way, that the international reports you hear may very well be filtered, slanted and not representative. I am often agog at the spin the American media puts on things.)

As for the statistics, the pdf file is raw numbers.

I got the population figures from the BBC's country profiles, which use UN figures for the most part. The Netherlands (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/country_profiles/1043423.stm) has about 16.3 million people; the US (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/country_profiles/1217752.stm) has 295 million (US Census estimate). Basic division tells me that my first go at the calculation got it wrong - the Netherlands really has only 5.6% of the US population.

The refugee figures are listed, country by country, in the pdf document. It's a shame you can't open it - the information in there is pretty amazingly comprehensive, for the years 1994 - 2003. It shows that the US took in 452.5k refugees in 1993, while the Netherlands took in 140.9k. Again, a quick trip to the calculator yields a figure of 31.4%, which I rounded down to 30% for simplicity.

(And yes, I know I am comparing 2005 population to 2003 refugees, but the trend is sufficiently clear.)

The UNHCR acknowledges the difficulty of calculating asylum seeker numbers, considering how few governments keep sufficient records. These figures are based on the goverenments' own reporting over 10-year periods. Again, I suspect there are some distortions, but we're in the ballpark.

This does not, of course, include illegal or legal immigration, but both countries have large impoverished areas near them (Latin America, Eastern Europe), so we can assume the impact is massive.

One of the most interesting things I learned from the report is that the largest recipient of refugees, either by head of population or by median income in US dollars, is Armenia. Many African countries also show enormous refugee populations, and that does not appear to include internal refugees. Think of the Rwandans who fled to Burundi for a scary refugee load. But I digress.

I know you know many Americans who are generous to charities. But I know many Brits who are as well. We have charity drives very often, from the local to the national level, tax breaks for charitable contributions (which are not counted in the UK government's aid donation), and large employers frequently do donation-matching (mine does.)

Frankly, people of all stripes and nations are amazing in their generosity.

Janet | September 6, 2005 09:23 PM

abi: Thanks so much for taking the time to break down the numbers for me. My computer is so slow, I guess the file was too much for it.

The reports I saw about how the world is reacting to Katrina came from the BBC site. I visit it regularly because I want to see things from a non-American point of view.

I know the British are very generous. :) I happen to live in an area where we have many British visitors. (I'm close to Disney World.) I cannot go to a grocery store without overhearing at least one family speaking with a British accent. It must be my love for Doctor Who or something but that accent grabs my attention, even from a distance. When I hosted a book drive for needy kids a few months ago, many, many British people walked up to hand me money to buy new books for them. It was amazing.

Chirstopher | September 7, 2005 04:36 PM

The thing about the US giving less aid then other countries doesn't really bother me; I tend to take a rather libertarian attitude towards it, and figure it's not really our responsibility to take care of the world.

But the problem is, there's a big bunch of pundits and politicians who get supremely pissed if you point out that we aren't big with the aid money.

And that really bothers me. So many Americans seem to want the country to be praised simply for being America, regardless of the actual quality of our policies and the effect we have on others.

Dale Morris | September 8, 2005 03:50 AM


You almost made me think well of libertarians again.:)

I agree with you in principle that you shouldn't take care of the world.

In practice, in this time, with the economy of the US built on cheap oil and the exercise of force over other countries' economies, this all becomes moot. It's not taking care. It's fixing what you broke or at the very least showing some sense of recognition of the consequences of force and domination. Expedent correction of error is called for.

Thoreau said something along the lines of "I may choose to live my life as I see fit, but first I should make sure I'm not sitting on the back of another, and if so,*before I live my life*, I should climb down, so that he may live his life too." I'm paraphrasing. I think it's in "On the Duty to Civil Disobedience".

My belief is that the principles you hold are fair and workable, perhaps even desirable, but that they apply to a world wherein balance between nations has already been found and restitution for damage made. Otherwise, in the event that there has been looting and theft and plunder between nations, they amount to moral exculpation.

And I'd amend that priciple to say neither take care of, nor interfere in. Both 'hands off means hands out', and 'first do no harm'.

But that's not my reason for writing, this is:

"So many Americans seem to want the country to be praised simply for being America, regardless of the actual quality of our policies and the effect we have on others."

Thank you. What's worse, is that should you debate such a person you're generally having to educate them first, because they seem never to have learned anything about the world, by themselves. This can immensely frustruating.

I think this is similar to the problem Scalzi's having with the Being Poor thread, and also to much of the debate around New Orleans. Questions like "Why didn't they leave?" are being asked, which takes as absolute *that one can always leave*, investigates that suppostion no further, and thus never finds the the cars, credit cards, cheque books, cash, petrol, phones and insurance that it rests on.

Anyway. Thanks again.

Kind regards


Dale Morris | September 8, 2005 12:09 PM

And lastly, go here to discover that the rest of the world has donated more to the US for hurricane disiater response than the US donated for tsunami relief.

While the figures are not properly comparable, for reasons pointed out in the comments on the page I linked to, they are perfectly apropos the discussion on this page.

Furthermore, it's worth noting that countries providing aid to the US include Cuba and Venezuela, both of whom have been the targets of US bullying, destabilisation and outright threat. Neither country has made its aid conditional on any position of the US being abandoned, which places both of them far ahead of the US in simple comprehension of the meaning of 'aid'.



Anonymous | September 8, 2005 08:27 PM

"Thank you. What's worse, is that should you debate such a person you're generally having to educate them first, because they seem never to have learned anything about the world, by themselves. This can immensely frustruating."

Gosh, I guess I could have your attitude. I could just assume people who don't agree with me are stupid and need to be taught. Oh, and while I'm putting down all these hopeless idiots, I could be grammatically incorrect to boot. It must be fun to be you!

Dale Morris | September 9, 2005 02:07 AM

It is. Thanks for asking. Grammar isn't really an indication of quality of mind though.

Kind regards