Americans like to stress about our current account deficit. Even if they do not know the terms of the amounts, they worry about the fact that we export much less than we import, that seemingly everything we own is made in China except for our cars, which are made in Japan. And that is an exaggeration, of course, although Americans did buy $132.1 billion more from overseas than we exported in the third quarter of 2009. That’s a lot of money, unless of course you remember that our Gross Domestic Product is about $14.3 trillion, the largest in the world on both an absolute and a per-capita basis.
We all know that the people of Haiti lived in serious poverty even before the earthquake hit. The population is 3 percent of the U.S., but its GDP of $4.2 billion is isn’t even a rounding error compared to $14.3 trillion. Haiti’s GDP works out to $499.41 per person. Ours is $47,194.72.
The U.S. takes in money from people all over the world when we ship our goods (and yes, there are goods exported from the United States), provide our services, and take in investments from people in other countries. The Chinese invest in U.S. government securities because this is a safe, growing economy. It’s not a bad investment. Haiti is at the other extreme; most of the money that it takes in from people overseas is in the form of aid. In 2005, the most recent year that the World Bank has data, Haiti took in $243 million in aid funds and just $44.9 million from the sale of goods and services. And even then, the aid dollars work out to just $29 per person.
In Haiti, the people now need food, water, and medical care. These things cost money. That’s why various non-governmental organizations are asking for your donations.
Obviously, if you have even a few dollars to spare, you should give them to help Haiti. In this economy, not everyone has a few dollars to spare, even with the understanding that the people who are suffering here have it better off than the people there.
If you cannot spare the money, you can still help by bearing witness, as church folk say. Keep up with the news and tell people what you learn, both in terms of what people in Haiti need and in terms of the good (and bad) done by aid organizations.
Rush Limbaugh told his listeners not to give money because they were already paying income taxes. One way to bear witness is to track down your friends and relatives who don’t understand that Rush Limbaugh is a clown, and explain the math to them. Thus far, the U.S. Agency for International Development reports that U.S. government aid to Haiti is $111.3 million, or about $0.37 per American. That’s it. Rush Limbaugh doesn’t think we should even spare the cost of a can of Coke.
Now, there is an argument that the government should not do what people in the private sector can. I don’t disagree, which is why wrote a check for a bit more than $0.37 to Catholic Relief Services. Why CRS? Because they have a good track record and are already on the ground in Haiti. Also, one of my dearest friends works there.
There are some controversies about aid in the long run: that it encourages corruption, that it is often well meaning but ineffective, that it creates dependencies. And it’s fair to debate those long-term issues when Haiti‘s recovery is underway. We should debate them. Whether we give our tax dollars or our surplus funds, it’s fair to expect them to go to good use.
In the meantime, though, the basic needs of the people in Haiti have to be met. Many religions encourage a tithe. So find the Bible-believing Rush listeners of your acquaintance and explain to them that the government has to step in because the people will not. Limbaugh’s contract is worth $400 million; wouldn’t God want him to give $40 million of that to charity?