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There is nothing like a disaster of Biblical proportions to bring out the best in people and the worst in government organizations. Within a week of the Indonesian tsunami foreign bureaucrats in charge of using other people’s money for humanitarian aid were accusing their American counterparts of being stingy. You would think they were spending their own money instead of handing out what had been swiped from their countrymen.

Americans have always been among the most generous people on earth. Even the slippery bean counters at the U.N. know that. They, after all, rely almost entirely on our good will for their continued employment. But in a triumph of Marxist redistributionism, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has rigged its ranking of national generosity so that the last shall be first. The OECD ranks countries not by how much humanitarian aid each provides but by what percentage of its GDP it “donates” through government agencies.

They reason that a poor man whose net worth is $100 does more good donating a dollar than a millionaire who kicks in $5,000. Of course, we should admire the poor man’s generosity, but the rich man’s gift, though proportionately less of his fortune, relieves far more suffering.

“Official” U.S. development aid in 2003 was nearly $16 billion. That figure doesn’t include funds for HIV and AIDS prevention or billions poured down the U.N. rat hole. The next closest country, Japan, gave a little more than half as much. The OECD would like the world to believe Americans are selfish pikers because dividing the numbers by Gross Domestic Product puts America at the bottom of the list of industrialized countries.

Their conclusion is absurd, insulting and self-serving for many reasons.

First, the OECD assumes that America’s GDP is free for the taking by the U.S. Government. Americans are prosperous precisely because more of our economy is in private hands than that of heavily socialist Europe and Asia. Private business creates all the wealth in any economy. Governments produce nothing. Government is a parasite on the private economy. It exists ostensibly to protect life and property, but often merely to confiscate wealth and exchange it for power. Americans are more prosperous than Europeans because we have less government, though not dramatically less. The gap is closing daily. If the OECD has its way we will all be equally miserable soon.

Second, because our economy is more private and our resources well tended, our GDP is by far the largest.  Criticizing America for stinginess is like cursing your rich auntie for buying you a Chevy simply because she can afford to buy you a Cadillac.

And third, and perhaps most telling, the OECD considers only government “charity.” They ignore the much larger amount raised privately. In 2004 Americans donated nearly $250 billion to private charities and humanitarian organizations, fifteen times what the government gave away. Most donations came from individual Americans. Much of that money went overseas.

Within a week of the Indian Ocean disaster the Red Cross alone had received over $30 million in private contributions which was put to work immediately helping survivors.

Meanwhile, government organizations, with the notable exception of the U.S. Army, which for a refreshing change is trying to save people instead of kill them, continue their petty turf battles and obstruct the flow of aid with steaming mounds of red tape.

In the hardest hit areas the Indonesian army revels in a callous corruption that would make a Senator blush. While thousands suffer in devastated seaside cities, the army withholds relief supplies from disfavored groups, steals whatever it can, demands bribes, and continues raids against rebels in areas unaffected by the tsunami.

Governmental groups like the OECD ignore private humanitarian efforts because for them the action is in “official charity.”  Private organizations are not as easily milked for graft nor are their resources as easily redirected for personal gain as public funds are. An excellent example is the millions in public funds filched by Kofi Annan and his U.N. cronies in the “oil-for-food” scam in Iraq. 

True humanitarianism, like true heroism, must be voluntary. Bureaucrats who run public “assistance” programs do not spend their own money or that entrusted willingly to them. They merely transfer money seized from someone else taking a generous cut for expenses, benefits and cushy retirements.  No amount of compulsory “official charity” will turn a Bill Clinton or a George Bush into a Mother Theresa.

By any sensible measure Americans remain the most generous people on the planet. That we contribute many times more to private charities than we allow our government to give away shows that we understand the morality of giving ― a morality that turns on the voluntary participation of both donor and beneficiary. We know our government cannot be trusted to make charitable decisions any more than it can be trusted to make moral ones. Politically motivated “official charity” has been accurately described as poor people in rich countries helping rich people in poor countries. It will never and can never replace genuine altruism motivated by love and compassion. There is no people on earth who know and practice genuine charity more than Americans.