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Charity is a fashion statement

A U.N. report has concluded if rich countries are to meet their 2000 pledge “to halve extreme poverty by 2015 for the world’s 1 billion people who survive on less than $1 a day, and to reduce hunger and reverse the spread of AIDS and malaria,” they would have to increase their aid to 1/2 of 1% of GDP, up from the average of .25 percent. The U.S. currently gives .15% or $16.3 billion, last among rich nations.

The report comes on the heals of the “Are we stingy?” controversy. Talk radio/Fox News made big stink out of this. But here is what that U.N. official actually said to reporters on Dec. 28:

“We were more generous when we were less rich, many of the rich countries. And it is beyond me, why are we so stingy, really… Even Christmas time should remind many Western countries at least how rich we have become.”

As many children die every month from malaria as died in the tsunami, and malaria is a preventable and treatable disease. This gets back to the spending priorities bit.

The U.N. report is simply holding America to its own pledge, its own word. Still, watch as the right starts huffing and puffing about the U.N.’s arrogance and agitating for its dismantlement. (They’re just using this whole thing to push through their own political agendas). Just yesterday, Rush Limbaugh announced that Third World nations don’t need any more aid. What they need is more capitalistic opportunity. When a caller pointed out the devastation capitalism has historically reeked on the developing world (on Latin America and Africa), Limbaugh called the sentiment “anti-American” (without disputing any of the historical references) and went to commercial break. (Note to self: there might be a call screener out of a job. Check the Job Ads).

But the report also hits a different chord: our hypocritical culture of aid. We tend to give when we are feeling guilty. After a large crisis, when aid is expected. And once we have given, we want the whole world to know just how generous we are. So we wear yellow bracelets or put funny refrigerator-like magnets on our cars. Think of a hummer carrying a “Support Your Troops” ribbon magnet and you’ll get the picture. The act of giving becomes less about helping those in need and more about the “who’s more generous competition.” It is all about us, not the beneficiaries of aid. I wonder if Americans would still donate to Lance Armstrong’s charity if he didn’t give out those Nike-made-in-China bracelets. Maybe the U.N. should make its own “world aid bracelet.” And then once Paris Hilton gets one, all of our world aid obligations will be met.

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About Igor Volsky