The United Nations Human Development Report (2005) examines the state of the world, and devotes time to studying the giving of aid to poor countries. It doesn't include aid distributed internally from rich countries to themselves, which biases the survey against European welfare states who tend to devote a lot of time and money on the poor (including immigrants) in their own countries.
The chart on the right shows the amount of aid given to developing countries. It is shown as percent of the Gross National Income, so it includes both aid given by corporations and by individuals. The Report notes how the countries of the G7 - the richest industrial countries - dominate the global aid flow. It also notes how the most generous five countries, all above the UN's target of 0.7% GNI, are all small countries - Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands who have all "consistently met or surpassed the UN target". Japan has only recently fallen to such a low position (third from the bottom), nearly as stingy as the USA.
The United Nations Report analyses how to make aid-giving worthwhile and usable and does not just concentrate on quantity of aid. There are factors which reduce the usability of aid, including corruption and unpredictability of aid quantities. Yet, "perhaps the most egregious undermining of efficient aid is the practice of tying financial transfers to the purchase of services and goods from the donating countries." This kind of "tied" aid is selfish and counterproductive.
The most generous countries are also the ones that do not tend to tie aid to their own products and services. The stingiest countries also, almost spitefully and nastily, force countries to buy their own services and products with the aid they give; which reduces free trade and commerce and harms the country's economy, as well as being simply selfish and conceited. Thankfully, many countries do not tie their aid. Countries that tie less than 10% of aid include Ireland, Norway and the UK, then Belgium, Finland, Switzerland and Sweden. The USA is the worst, and ties nearly 90% of its aid to developing countries. Italy is the second worst with 70%. The two worst countries for this obnoxious practice in aid-giving are also the two countries out of the most developed countries, who give least generously!
The Center for Global Development compared the 21 richest nations, measuring a broad range of factors and policies to arrive at their values. "The CGD's report measures a broad number of factors for the index, rather than merely the amount of aid countries provide. It also examines several policy areas - such as trade investment migration and environment - while aid is measured not only in terms of quantity but as a share of its income and the quality of aid given "1.
The index penalized countries for selling arms to undemocratic governments (the theory being that these harm 'the poor'). The CGD came to same conclusions as the United Nations' Human Development Report on US aid being 'tied' to US commercial goods:
“Despite the US giving the largest amount of aid that donation was the smallest in relation to the size of its economy. The CGD added that a lot of the money was also contingent on the purchase of US goods, and so was in fact a "backdoor subsidy for American interests".”
BBC News 1
We have heard that the USA ties its aid, a practice that can ruin local economies and is used to benefit America's allies such as Israel, rather than help the poor. This pours fuel on to a fire of anti-Americanism that burns throughout the educated world, and the facts above are summarized in the directed book, "Why Do People Hate America?" by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies (2002):
[Americans] are regularly told by politicians and the media, that America is the world's most generous nation. This is one of the most conventional pieces of 'knowledgeable ignorance'. According to the OECD, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the US gave between $6 and $15 billion in foreign aid in the period between 1995 and 1999. In absolute terms, Japan gives more than the US, between $9 and $15 billion in the same period. But the absolute figures are less significant than the proportion of gross domestic product (GDP, or national wealth) that a country devotes to foreign aid. On that league table, the US ranks twenty-second of the 22 most developed nations. As former President Jimmy Carter commented: 'We are the stingiest nation of all'. Denmark is top of the table, giving 1.01% of GDP, while the US manages just 0.1%. The United Nations has long established the target of 0.7% GDP for development assistance, although only four countries actually achieve this: Denmark, 1.01%; Norway, 0.91%; the Netherlands, 0.79%; Sweden, 0.7%. Apart from being the least generous nation, the US is highly selective in who receives its aid. Over 50% of its aid budget is spent on middle-income countries in the Middle East, with Israel being the recipient of the largest single share.”
“US aid, which acquired an increasingly military flavour during the Regan years, is now concentrated on a relatively small number of countries of special political importance.”
Comparing USA aid to that of European countries is not in itself a simple task. The American people are actually no less generous than those of other developed countries. By comparing aid as a percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) you measure the amount of aid that is given by individuals. On this scale, Americans look angelic, giving twice as much as Britons or Canadians. By comparing aid as a fraction of Gross National Income (GNI) as the studies on this page has done, you combine the generosity of the government and individuals. Europeans pay higher taxes to their governments, who in turn operate as welfare states, doing much charitable work4. For this reason, European governments always appear more generous in league tables compared to American governments, which is decidedly not a welfare state. American citizens give no less than others, according to The Economist, "the extra percentage point of its GDP that individuals deposit in rattling tins hardly reflects the much lighter taxes they pay"4. American citizens give more, but the government does so much less that the country as a whole looks miserly. It would not be right to blame the citizens for this, but the lack of a socially-minded government.
Religious charities have higher overheads than secular ones and divert more money into non-charitable ends such as prosyltisation and church costs. Also, proportionally more money is lost (and stolen) from the collection plate than is lost from the accounts of a secular (non-religious) charity. In addition to all of this, atheists who work in secular charities do so for the sake of doing good, without the added motivation of suspecting it gets them into heaven.
Centre for Global Development
2006 report, via BBC News article "Netherlands 'does most for poor'" (2006 Aug 13).
(2004) "Give to Charity Directly, Not to Church" (2004). Accessed 2015 Mar 22.
Heater & Berridge
(1992) Introduction to International Politics. Quotes from 1993 version, Harvester Wheatsheaf publishing, Hertfordshire, England
Sardar, Ziauddin and Davies, Merryl Wyn
(2002) Why Do People Hate America?.
United Nations Human Development Report (UNHDR)
Published annually in association with the UN Development Program. Downloadable PDF files can be found:
2005: hdr.undp.org/reports/global/2005/pdf/HDR05_complete.pdf (6MB). File accessed 2005 Sep 16.
2006: hdr.undp.org/hdr2006/pdfs/report/HDR06-complete.pdf (8MB). Accessed 2006 Nov 24.