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January 07, 2005

Hudson Institute Defends U.S. Selfishness

Tsunami_victim1A quick back and forth with Jeremiah Norris of the Hudson Institute in which he repeats his boss Carol Adelman's argument that the money immigrants send back to their families is a form of foreign aid, and therefore the U.S. is a generous neighbor instead of a global skinflint viewed unfavorably by large majorities in virtually every country in the world. Norris responded to my piece Republicans Lead U.S. Selfishness originally published on USAbroad.org.:"I appreciate the opportunity to respond. The Foreign Affairs article was drawn from a larger study done for USAID, entitled: Foreign Aid in the National Interest: Promoting Freedom, Security and Opportunity. See Chapter six, The Full Measure of Foreign Aid, by Dr. Carol Adelman. You will find at the end of this Chapter extensive end notes and references. I believe you can obtain it on the Internet: www.usaid.gov.

There are two new dimensions to American giving.

1) cause related marketing, in which corporations, e.g., Starbucks Coffee, note on each cup of coffee that a nickle or dime of one's purchase is being donated to Save the Rainforest, for example. Starbucks does not report this to the IRS as charitable giving, but rather runs the contribution through its advertising or marketing budget. It, like many US corporations, have found it expensive to report on a quarterly basis to the IRS, so they have resorted to cause related giving. No one has any good idea of the dollars generated by this method.

2) remittances at first light seem not to qualify as 'giving'. Until, that is, one sees how these funds are being used.  President Fox of Mexico thinks highly enough of them to have offered matching funds if they are used for social projects, such as schools, health clinics, etc. In October of last year, the Washington Post ran a story on the El Salvadoran diaspora in the DC area. With assistance from the Pan American Foundation, they pooled their remittances to fund the formation of a large agricultural cooperative in their home country. USAID assisted with a $500,000 grant.

The good that is being done isn't represented adequately in the sterile percentage of one's GNP. The Center for Global Development recently documented how one American firm has been working with the World Bank since 1990 to eliminate river blindness in West Africa. In 2003, 40 million West Africans were treated and prevented from blindness. The Bank details in an evaluation how this one program has permitted 55 million acres of land to be returned to agricultural production, enough to feed 17 million people. Unfortunately, money isn't always the solution. Even after being in effect for almost 5 years now, the GAVI program operated by UNICEF reports that 3 million children die annually from preventable immunizable diseases--even though all of the necessary vaccines are available free of charge. The vaccines are mostly donated by the R&D industry at the request of UNICEF.

Rotary International has put up $100 million, and by partnering with WHO and PAHO, has come very close to eradicating global polio.

The Carter Center has done almost the same with guinea worm in Africa. And, although Hurrican Mitch happened in October 1998, and the cameras have long gone, the US government and PVOs are still there, repairing roads, bridges, power systems, and social infrastructure to the tune of some $1 billion at this date.

Values define America, Bob, not dollars. The American people will be represented in the tsunami affected areas of South-east Asia for years after Fox News and CNN leave the scene.

Best, Jeremiah Norris Senior Fellow Hudson Institute Washington, D. C.

The response:

Dear Jeremiah, Thank you for your note. I completely agree that values define America, which is why your distortions are so hurtful to our great country, and so treacherous to our long-term security. They are also incidentally cruel insofar as they label generous a national effort that is grotesquely selfish and shortsighted -- although admittedly financially advantageous for your private paymasters.

I looked at the study you referred me to -- which, I note, was paid for by the government; why didn't those generous corporations you put so much stock in pay for this work -- and was not surprised to see it filled with the same sloppy thinking and apparent fabrications that characterize Adelman's more recent efforts. She cites the Conference Board, a business spokesperson, as the sole source for her estimates of corporate giving; herself for estimates of the rate of increase in annual PVO giving; and Independent Sector as the sole source for her estimate of giving by religious organizations. This is not scholarship. It is just making up numbers and dressing them in the clothes of credibility. In short, propaganda.

Moving on to your next two points. First, marketing as development assistance. Excellent stuff, and a nice entree to your real purpose at Hudson, which is securing additional tax breaks for corporations but, sadly, as you write, "No one has any good idea of the dollars generated by this method." Let's call them $0 until we do: people are dying.

Second, remittances as foreign aid. This argument is just absurd and I'd advise you in a friendly way to stop making it, even though the number is large: it just makes you look even more extremist and ridiculous. By this definition, any financial transfer becomes development assistance: lunch money for your kids, or flowers for your wife ... even an investment, as your boss has argued, in a mutual fund invested in foreign equities. I am sure you are a nice person. We would probably get along well if we had a beer, so long I suppose as the conversation did not turn to development assistance. But just step back for a moment from the regressive think tank hell Hudson must be and try to realize how absurd Adelman's arguments are, and how much damage you are doing to the long-term interests of our country. This is not a zero-sum game (except to the guys who fund Hudson, but we don't have to get into that again): the U.S. should give $7.8 billion in tsunami relief -- or why not more, and by all means let's have a discussion about how such money should be spent -- AND the efforts you describe should be encouraged. Then the world really might start to be a better place, and our country would be more secure.

Posted by Bob at 02:34 PM in National | Permalink

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