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September 14, 2005

Foreign Aid

Foreign aid used to only flow out from the United States; now it’s flowing in as well.  That’s great.  It’s a good sign for the world that rich people everywhere are helping poor people devastated by Katrina.

In the last week I heard two people I respect lamenting this aid.  One was Robert Reich, Labor Secretary in the Clinton Administration.  The other was a professor at Princeton.  Each said that he was appalled that the United States had sunk to such depths that foreign aid is required. 

The “sunk to such depths” part is, of course, a shot at the Bush administration which deserves much criticism for the AFTERMATH but NOT for the botched evacuation of New Orleans, the flood levies, or the terrible blight of poverty in American cities which the media ignores until its pathology is exposed by disaster.  The administration may even be learning to criticize itself which would be a very good thing but is the not the subject of this post.  The levies and dysfunctional inner cities have been ignored on a bipartisan basis for years but that’s not the subject of this post either.

Many of the countries which have offered us aid, like Afghanistan, are poor themselves.  Some like the Gulf Emirates, are rich.  Some like Cuba and Venezuela certainly see propaganda value in offering to help the world’s only super-power.  None of this matters.  What does matter is that the world is a better place when those who can help provide help to those who need it no matter how many national borders are in the way.

The globalization of the world economy is a good thing as Thomas Friedman writes so ably in The World is Flat.  A benefit he didn’t write about is the internationalization of disaster relief.  When New York was struck on 9/11, it received help from all over the US.  No one said it was a bad thing that a fireman from a poor state like Louisiana should be helping a rich state like New York.  Clearly we are better of with backup national stockpiles of disaster supplies (assuming we can deliver them) than we are with each state or even city having to stockpile everything on its own.

Similarly the world can cope with disasters much more effectively and prepare for them better if every nation can count on emergency help from every other nation.  There is no shame in accepting that help whether you’re a rich city like New York or a rich country like the US.  Over time, of course, we contribute more than we take in the aid equation because we are still relatively rich.  That’s fine.  We ought to do that.  But we shouldn’t be too proud to accept aid nor so chauvinistic that we think it a disgrace that any of our people might benefit from outside help.

We should be appalled that government at all three levels seems to have failed the people of New Orleans.  We must and we will fix the problems that led to these failures.  We should be proud of the response of Americans (we are more than our governments even though we are responsible for them).  At the Red Cross office where Mary has been volunteering, they are deluged not only with evacuees who’ve made their way as far North as New Jersey but also with nonstop offers of substantial help.  It’s hard to find a blog or a baseball player’s hat without a Red Cross emblem.

Despite much real (and even more reported) antiAmericanism worldwide, foreign people and foreign governments do want to help Americans.  It is an arrogance which is out of place in a flattening world to be ashamed of accepting that help.

I blogged more about Friedman’s book here and here.

Modern technology, particularly the Internet, enables the flattening of the world.  I blogged about that here, here, and here.

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