Bashers of the U.S. who think of us as a selfish nation, compared to those bastions of generosity throughout the rest of the western world, might be surprised by the latest report of the U.K.-based Charities Aid Foundation. In their study of nations around the world, they rank the charitable nature of nations according to three criteria: the willingness of a nation’s people to help a stranger, donate money to a charity, and volunteer time to an organization. The U.S was ranked first.
Limiting our purview to some of the wealthier nations of the world and simply to private philanthropy, the Philanthropy Roundtable has found the following giving levels by country (this is annual private philanthropy as a percentage of GDP): 1. U.S. 1.44% 2. Canada 0.77% 3. U.K. 0.54% 4. South Korea 0.50% 5. Singapore 0.39% 6. Italy 0.30% 6. (tie) Netherlands 0.30% 8. Australia 0.23% 9. Ireland 0.22% 10. Germany 0.17% 11. Sweden 0.16% 12. Japan 0.12% 13. France 0.11% 14. China 0.03%.
The Philanthropy Roundtable then discusses other forms of aid: A number of studies have been undertaken to compare the charitable giving of various countries in fair ways — adjusting for differences in standards of living, population, and so forth. All end up showing about the same relationship that is charted here: Americans are about twice as generous in their private giving as our kissing cousins the Canadians, and 3 to 15 times as charitable as the residents of other developed nations. Americans also volunteer more than almost any other wealthy people.
Complicating the picture is that in many of the developed countries, the giving is done by way of the higher taxes people pay. Consider the following data from the OECD; the figures represent governmental development assistance to developing and other countries in need from the developed world as a percentage of gross national income: 1. Sweden 1.40% 2. Norway 1.05% 3. Luxembourg 0.93% 4. Denmark 0.85% 5. Netherlands 0.76% 6. United Kingdom 0.71% 7. Finland 0.56% 8. Switzerland 0.52% 9. Germany 0.52% 10. Belgium 0.42% 11. France 0.37% 12. Ireland 0.36% 13. Austria 0.32% 14. Canada 0.28% 15. New Zealand 0.27% 15. (tie) Australia 0.27% 17. Iceland 0.24% 18. Japan 0.22% 19. Italy 0.21% 20. United States 0.17% 21. Portugal 0.16% 22. Slovenia 0.15% 23. Greece 0.14% 23. (tie) South Korea 0.14% 25. Spain 0.13% 26. Czech Republic 0.12% 27. Slovak Republic 0.10% 27. (tie) Poland 0.10%.
There is a remarkable symmetry between the two countries at the top of the two charts, Sweden and the U.S. Private giving in the U.S. is 1.44% of GDP, while in Sweden it is 0.16%. But assistance by country for Sweden is 1.40% of GNI, while in the U.S. it is 0.17%.
Furthermore, dwarfing the aid given by countries (by a factor of 3-to-1) is the amount of money being sent home from migrants to their homelands. Such remittances amount to over $100 billion every year, and are more important to family welfare, health and education in many underdeveloped countries than either private or governmental charity.
In a Daily Mail.com article (January 31, 2013), Simon Tomlinson reports on this so-called remittance money:
“The amount of money being sent by migrants across the entire world reached $530 billion last year, making it a larger economy than Iran or Argentina, the data from the World Bank showed.
“This worldwide figure has tripled in the last ten years and is now three times bigger than the total aid budgets given by countries around the world. It has sparked debate whether this so-called remittance money could be a viable alternative to relying on help from other governments.
“In the United States last year, more than $120 billion was sent by workers to families abroad — making it the largest sender of remittances in the world. More than $23 billion went to Mexico, $13.45 billion to China, $10.84 billion to India, and $10 billion to the Philippines, among other recipients.”
Often overlooked when contributions to the world are discussed are the phenomenal funds spent on defense by the United since World War II, saving the world from Soviet totalitarianism and allowing for an unprecedented spread of freedom across the globe. Our European allies like to turn their noses down at the money we spent on the military, but, oh how they squawk when the U.S. hints at reducing our NATO commitment.
It may seem a bit unseemly to compare our generosity to those of our peers, but it is far more unseemly for the left to castigate this nation as selfish. Given the data above, they are not only unseemly but wrong.
Phil Kershner is a United Church of Christ pastor in Marine, Illinois. Prior to going into pastoral ministry he was a high school math and history teacher for 17 years. He has a master's degree in history from Loyola University in Chicago and a master's degree in divinity from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis. He is married to Sandee Kershner and they have two daughters, Ashlyn and Lauren. In late 2018 he published Why The United States is A Morally Good Country: A View From the Center. Read Phil Kershner's Reports — More Here.
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