Saturday, January 1, 2005

Merry new year!!

Ah, it's good to be back from sabbatical!!

[Er, you posted three times during your so-called "sabbatical"--ed.] Yes, but it took a massive catastrophe for me to write two of those posts -- before that, there were whole days when I didn't think about blogs, didn't click on blogs, didn't care about blogs.

[So what were you doing instead?--ed.] Interacting with my children, traveling, writing, exulting in the fact that that Jason Varitek was re-signed & designated captain of the Red Sox, and perusing the latest issue of the American Political Science Review -- which for the first time in quite a while had multiple articles that were interesting to those who don't write about Congress. I suspect this speaks both to the APSR's renaissance under Lee Sigelman as editor and to my renewed commitment to read more outside my own little bailiwick of poli sci.

With regard to blogging, I have four New Year's resolutions:

1) Try to do better at blogging about new scholarly work in political science that connects to real-world events. In the past I have been afraid of "worlds colliding" on this front, but Eszter Hargittai is slowly convincing me that blogging and scholarship can be allies.

2) Be detached enough in my blogging to avoid incurring the wrath of either Matt Welch or Radley Balko -- both of whom have spanked certain quarters of the blogosphere for its "righter-than-thou" attitude. Balko in particular points out:

The most remarkable thing about blogs and the 2004 campaign was just how ready formerly independent voices on both sides were willing to spew out official campaign talking points, eschew criticism of their own guy, and otherwise fell into line in order to get their man elected.

3) Update the blogroll. There are some great blogs that I've been periodically checking out but haven't added. For example, I've got to add The American Scene to the blogroll -- they performed yoeman service guest-blogging at Andrew Sullivan's site for the past ten days. [It's up now--ed.] Hey, one resolution partially satisfied already!!

At the same time, there are other blogs on the list that I have not been reading as of late -- which says more about my tastes and preferences in all likelihood than any change in the quality of blogging. So, check out the blogroll over the next couple of days

4) Get linked to by Real Clear Politics more often -- man, those guys can drive some traffic!

Readers are hereby encouraged to write in their resolutions.

posted by Dan at 03:59 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (3)

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Regarding the "stinginess" of American aid

Every time I think I'm out on sabbatical, the blogosphere pulls me back in.

Virginia Postrel has kindly requested a comment from me on the kerfuffle* -- fueled today by the New York Times editorial page, no less -- over "whether the U.S. is 'stingy' with disaster aid." Similarly, Eugene Volokh posts the following:

[S]ince so much discussion has focused on whether we are in fact more or less generous than most other countries in terms of aid alone, with people making claims for both the "more generous" and "less generous" numbers given that metric, I'd love to see some solid data on this.

I've blogged on the topic, and written elsewhere about it. More importantly, I'm on the Board of Advisors for the Center for Global Development's Ranking the Rich exercise, which means I've seen a lot of these debates in the past. So I guess I have a duty to fill the information gap here. So here goes:

1) Is the United States stingy with disaster relief? Compared to other OECD countries, no.

President Bush was correct in pointing out that the U.S. is the largest provider of "humanitarian relief aid" in terms of total dollars -- in 2003, the U.S. gave $2.478 billion (all figures courtesy of CGD's David Roodman, who plucked them from the OECD's Development Assistance Committee).

Of course, the United States is also the biggest economy, so the raw dollar term doesn't mean that much. What about in per capita terms? Here's the ranking of contries by relief aid per capita per day (in cents, not dollars):

1. Norway 21.04
2. Sweden 11.81
3. Denmark 5.95
4. Switzerland 5.85
5. Netherlands 5.15
6. Belgium 2.94
7. United Kingdom 2.58
8. Finland 2.38
9. United States 2.34
10. France 2.17
11. Canada 2.10
12. Australia 1.93
13. Ireland 1.83
14. Austria 1.23
15. New Zealand 1.18
16. Spain 0.61
17. Germany 0.61
18. Italy 0.42
19. Greece 0.27
20. Japan 0.06
21. Portugal 0.03

Out of the 21 major donors, we're ninth -- hardly stingy, though not the most generous. One could make the case that comparing large economies with Scandinavia or the Benelux states is unfair, because the bigger economies have other public goods functions to fulfill (see Bruce Bartlett for this argument). If you limit the comparison to the G-7 countries, only Great Britain is more generous. Indeed, the most shocking figure in that table is how ungenerous the Japanese have been on this front.

[C'mon, though, just $15 $35 million pledged for tsunami relief efforts in the first few days?--ed. Well, that figure doesn't include the cost of military deployments or the dispatching of U.S. CDC personnel to the region. That said, here's the relevant graf from Jim VandeHei and Robin Wright's Washington Post story:

The usual U.S. contribution during major disasters is 25 to 33 percent of total international aid, according to J. Brian Atwood, a former USAID administrator. So far, the [official] U.S. contribution is 13 percent of the $270 million in international aid that has been pledged, the United Nations said Wednesday.

My guess is that the U.S. will ramp up its contribution as regional needs are properly assessed. {UPDATE: Drezner gets results from the Bush administration!!} And Chuck Simmins is correct to point out that private and corporate giving has been significantly greater. At a gut level, however, $35 million sounds puny compared to the devastation in the region. Combine this with reporters eager to feed the "Bush administration does not play well with others in world politics" meme and you've got a lovely political football. Of course, the initial comment by the United Nations official also fed right into the conservative meme about the UN being reflexively anti-American (see below for more on this).]

2) Beyond humanitarian relief, is the United States stingy with aid? Pretty much, yeah. But aid is not the only relevant dimension when talking about helping the world's poor -- and on those other fronts, the United States does pretty well.

Even if you factor in private giving, the United States ranks 19th out of 21 rich countries in terms of per capita expenditures, according to the 2004 Ranking the Rich exercise. Here's a link to the background paper for those curious about the methodology, which factors in the extent to which aid is "tied" (requiring recipients to spend it {inefficiently} on donor country goods) and whether the aid is going to governments that spend the money wisely. For what it includes, the methodology on this dimension is rock-solid.

This figure does not include remittances, but as I've argued previously, it's questionable whether this reflects the generosity of Americans -- or, more importantly, whether such an inclusion would dramatically alter the rankings.

This does not mean that the United States is particularly stingy on other dimensions of helping the poor. The Ranking the Rich exercise included aid as only one of seven components -- the others are trade, investment, migration, environment, technology, and security. When you aggregate the different components, the U.S. comes in at 7th out of the 21 countries (intriguingly, among the G-7, the Anglosphere countries -- Great Britain, Canada, and the U.S. -- come in at 1-2-3). It turns out that the U.S. is comparatively more generous on other dimensions.

*A final note: Matthew Yglesias correctly points out that the comment triggering the whole debate was not aimed specifically at the United States:

What the UN official actually said was that rich countries including the US are stingy with aid money. Whether out of anti-UN malice, or simply demented America-centrism, this has been widely reported as the claim that the United States is stingy which has pissed people off. But no one said that. (emphases in original)

Here's the actual quote from Bill Sammon's Washington Times piece with the disingenuous headline, "U.N. official slams U.S. as 'stingy' over aid.":

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland suggested that the United States and other Western nations were being "stingy" with relief funds, saying there would be more available if taxes were raised.

"It is beyond me why are we so stingy, really," the Norwegian-born U.N. official told reporters. "Christmastime should remind many Western countries at least, [of] how rich we have become."

"There are several donors who are less generous than before in a growing world economy," he said, adding that politicians in the United States and Europe "believe that they are really burdening the taxpayers too much, and the taxpayers want to give less. It's not true. They want to give more." (emphases added)

It's clear that Egeland was indicting most of the OECD countries -- i.e., those not from Scandinavia. Egeland reiterated this point a day later:

Later in the day, Jan Egeland, United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, called the assistance pledged by the United States and Europe "very generous."

"I have been misinterpreted when I yesterday said that my belief that rich countries in general can be more generous," he added. "This has nothing to do with any particular country or the response to this emergency in the early days. The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive." (emphasis added)

Again the Washington Times goes with a U.S.-centric headline: "U.N. official backtracks after calling U.S. 'stingy'" -- but in this case there's a better justification, since Colin Powell was quoted as interpreting the remark in a manner similar to the right half of the blogosphere.

As to whether the rich countries are collectively stingy -- or wish he could pay more in taxes for development aid -- I'll leave that debate to the commenters.

UPDATE: This Heritage Foundation WebMemo by Brett Schaefer says that "the transcript of his [Egelend's] comments clearly identifies the U.S. as the primary target." If that was indeed true, it would explain the Washington Times headlines. However, none of these clear identifications show up in the attributed quotes in the Times piece, which made me want to check out the actual transcript.

Click here for the video of Egelend's press conference on Monday and draw your own conclusions. I've listened to the relevant portions of the transcript (go to 30:57 and 40:39) and my anti-American radar most certainly did not go off. Schaefer's radar might be overly... sensitive.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn for the link -- and do check out Bruce Bartlett and Chuck Simmins for their takes.

posted by Dan at 11:31 AM | Comments (128) | Trackbacks (24)

Monday, December 27, 2004

Unfortunately, this qualifies as a "mind-blowing" event

When I decided earlier this month to go on a brief blogging sabbatical, I said it was "barring some mind-blowing event." Regretfully, I think the earthquake and subsequent tidal waves in Southeat Asia qualify.

24,000 people dead. UPDATE: the latest estimate is approximately 44,000. It will likely increase further due to the poor health infrastructure in the affected countries. ANOTHER UPDATE: It's obviously higher than that now, but I'm not going to update the number further.

Just let that figure sink in for a minute.

A 9/11 attack -- six eleven times over.

For those who would like to help those affected by the earthquake and tidal waves, the Associated Press has a list of aid agencies that are directing funds towards that end. Here are the aid agencies listed in that report who have already posted about their activities on their web sites:

American Red Cross (International Response Fund)

Direct Relief International

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres

Mercy Corps

Operation USA

Save the Children (Asia Earthquake/Tidal Wave Relief Fund)

Commenters are strongly encouraged to post URLs for relevant charities. UPDATE: The Command Post has more charitable links. This tsunami blog has more as well.

UPDATE: Here's InstaPundit's blog summary -- and Tim Blair is performing the thankless task of updating the death toll. It's still too early to estimate the aggregate economic damage, but it has to run into the tens of billions.

posted by Dan at 02:19 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (6)