Stingy Americans Donate Millions

These stories stand in rather stark contrast:

Editorial: Are We Stingy? Yes (New York Times )

President Bush finally roused himself yesterday from his vacation in Crawford, Tex., to telephone his sympathy to the leaders of India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia, and to speak publicly about the devastation of Sunday’s tsunamis in Asia. He also hurried to put as much distance as possible between himself and America’s initial measly aid offer of $15 million, and he took issue with an earlier statement by the United Nations’ emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, who had called the overall aid efforts by rich Western nations “stingy.” “The person who made that statement was very misguided and ill informed,” the president said.

We beg to differ. Mr. Egeland was right on target. We hope Secretary of State Colin Powell was privately embarrassed when, two days into a catastrophic disaster that hit 12 of the world’s poorer countries and will cost billions of dollars to meliorate, he held a press conference to say that America, the world’s richest nation, would contribute $15 million. That’s less than half of what Republicans plan to spend on the Bush inaugural festivities.

The American aid figure for the current disaster is now $35 million, and we applaud Mr. Bush’s turnaround. But $35 million remains a miserly drop in the bucket, and is in keeping with the pitiful amount of the United States budget that we allocate for nonmilitary foreign aid. According to a poll, most Americans believe the United States spends 24 percent of its budget on aid to poor countries; it actually spends well under a quarter of 1 percent.

Internet Sparks Outpouring of Instant Donations
(WaPo, A01)

Faced with searing images of suffering and grief in South Asia, Americans are finding an instantaneous way to reach out to tsunami victims: on their home computers. As never before, people are turning to the Internet to donate money, the latest step in a revolution that has altered everything from shopping to presidential campaigns. “This is like 1951, when television really took off,” Paul Saffo, director of the Silicon Valley-based Institute for the Future, said yesterday. “We are in the middle of a fundamental shift from mass media to the personal media of computers and the Internet, and charitable giving is a logical progression.”

At alone, more than 53,000 people had donated more than $3 million by yesterday evening after the company made an urgent appeal on its home page. Catholic Relief Services was so overwhelmed with Web traffic that its site crashed. Online donations to the Red Cross outstripped traditional phone banks by more than 2 to 1.

The online generosity was a key part of a massive U.S. response to the crisis in South Asia. From neighborhood coffee shops to large corporations, hundreds of thousands of people donated millions of dollars and a variety of goods. The relief effort ran the gamut from a tavern in Georgetown promoting a New Year’s Eve bash called “Celebrate and Donate” to a San Jose coffee shop giving away free beans to anyone who donated $10. “Online, by phone, the mail,” marveled Steven Gotfried, a spokesman for Washington-based B’nai B’rith International, which has been overwhelmed with offers of support. “Every two or three minutes, we get a donation. People are really giving from the heart.”

Much of that giving came from people sitting at their computers. That has happened before, primarily after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But relief officials said the scale of online giving has grown dramatically since then. As of Tuesday, for example, 25,000 people had visited to pledge money to aid the tsunami victims. During the same period, about 9,000 people called the donor line, officials said.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    I would point you at Mona Charen’s response to this NYT nonsense, posted this morning.

    In 2004, the United States provided $826,469,172 — almost a billion dollars — to the United Nations World Food Program. The next largest donor, the European Union, contributed $187,102,068. This, despite the fact that the European Union has a total population of 453 million, compared with the USA’s 281 million, and a gross domestic product that is larger than that of the United States.

    Japan was third on the list, giving $126,906,097, and the United Kingdom was fourth, with donations totaling $109,247,050. Iran gave $40,000. The Saudi Kingdom gave $3,345,325 — about the cost of one trip to Paris for the Crown Prince. And Kuwait, the OPEC fund and the Russian Federation gave nothing. “

    Let’s stick those in a column so we’re not losing the flavor here.

    $826,469,172 United States
    $187,102,068 EU

    For those without calculators handy, that’s a ratio of 4.4172 to 1.

    And that’s just the government based work, which ignores the charity giving. Let’s not have any more of this ‘we’re not giving enough’ crap, OK?

    (/soapbox mode)

  2. BigFire says:

    Re: Bithead

    Two reasons why European citizens might be less incline in donation:

    1. That’s government’s job. They’ve already taxed 80% of the income already.
    2. European on the whole are far less religious than American.

  3. Note that the liberal whining has nothing to do about what amount will actually *help* the survivors. This goes back to their mindset that throwing enough money at a problem will solve it, and the more thrown the better.

    At some point money will be sitting in accounts doing nothing as logistics and transportation issues are worked out getting the aid to where it is needed.

    I think the question should be turned around – what amount do these whiners think is appropriate? Show how the money is spent on tangible items and then show logistically how it is delivered to the survivors. After seeing this analysis THEN they can show cause to complain.

  4. McGehee says:

    Mitch, it goes even deeper. They’re still trying to win the argument that got settled early last month. You know, the one they finally managed to come a mere 285 votes closer to not losing?

  5. kenny says:

    “$826,469,172 United States
    $187,102,068 EU
    For those without calculators handy, that’s a ratio of 4.4172 to 1.”

    Rather obvious flaw in those figures , though.

    The figures for the EU is the amount donated by the EU as an institution and doesn’t include the amounts donated by individual member countries (ie the UK has donated 109 million individually and as part of the EU total).

  6. anjin-san says:


    If you did not have “liberal whining” to yourself whine, whine, whine about, how would you pass the time?

  7. anjin-san says:

    If the 35 million figure for aid comitted by the Bush admin. is correct, it is indeed a bit stingy. We spend that much money in Iraq ever day before the morning coffee break rolls around.

    I don’t think anyone doubts the generosity of the American people themselves. I am sure as a group we will send a great deal of help to the victims of this tragedy.

  8. Teri says:

    Furriners just don’t get the “of the people, by the people” bit. What the US gives is what the government designates from the Treasury as aid AND what citizens and residents give.

    Plus, we sent people and stuff already – an aircraft carrier. How many people and how much stuff have other countries sent over?

  9. Attila Girl says:

    There’s also the issues of:

    1) who funds the UN, so it can waste billions?

    2) Who’s going to end up doing most of the rebuilding of these countries?

    3) How much are Americans giving privately? and

    4) How much is being done through our military?

  10. kenny says:

    “There’s also the issues of:”
    “1) who funds the UN, so it can waste billions?”

    Well the Eu countries. They after all pay the largest amount to the UN.

    “2) Who’s going to end up doing most of the rebuilding of these countries?”

    Probably not the US

    “3) How much are Americans giving privately? ”

    about the same or less as other developed countries.

    “4) How much is being done through our military?”

    You mean finding WMD’s in Iraq? Or perhaps links to 9/11 ?

    Or do you mean how every one elses military is used ?

  11. dw says:

    1. UN muckymuck makes an offhand comment at the end of a press conference and calls first world nations “stingy.”

    2. US says “we’re not stingy,” increases their commitment by more than $20M and throws in a carrier group. They then mock the French for not anteing up.

    3. The French ante up to $37M, up from around $1M.

    4. France anteing up will probably mean the US throwing even more cash into the pot.

    So, one little off-handed comment nets $56M from two of the ten largest economies in the world. Heh. And you all think the UN is a worthless bureaucracy when they just took you for a multi-million dollar ride. That fishhook in your mouth hurt?

  12. zzzz says:

    +500 Million Euros from Germany…