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How Very Generous of Us
June 14, 2011 12:42 AM   Subscribe

"Using pejorative terms like "handouts" and "doling out", some parts of the media are mounting a campaign to suggest Britain should be embarrassed by our level of aid giving. But the idea that aid is generous is absurd. Some families, inspired by religious tradition, think it is appropriate to give 10% of what they have to charity, £10 in every £100 of earnings. In 2010, the UK gave not £10, not £1, but 56p ($0.91) in overseas aid for every £100 ($163) we earned as a country. On average, since 1990 we have given even less, 35p ($0.57)." [Giving aid to poor countries is hardly a great act of generosity]

"If we add in personal contributions to charities (ie: aid that doesn't come through the government), as the Spectator (UK magazine) argues quite convincingly that we should, 2010 saw 80p ($1.30) in every £100 given to poorer countries. If I gave 80p in every £100 I earned to help people less fortunate than me, who would call me generous? I don't think many people in this country have that attitude. I am quite embarrassed that newspapers in my country think this level of giving is generous. What would make them happy? 40p ($0.65) in every £100? 30p ($0.49)? How stingy do we have to be before their bizarre anti-solidarity is satisfied?"
posted by vidur (59 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've just been reading 'The Bottom Billion,' by Paul Collier, as well as some other pieces on the role of aid. Collier believes (with evidence) that aid is a game of diminishing returns, so doubling the amount of aid Britain doles out may not have much effect if the countries its going to are already near the saturation level. On the other hand, he also believes that aid is more useful than, say, a bunch of oil wells, because the strings attached actually help to ensure economic growth and (sometimes) reforms, whereas oil (or similar natural resources) can actually act to depress the local economy, increase chances of civil war, and increase chances of bad governance.

It's been a good read; I would recommend it!
posted by kaibutsu at 12:54 AM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


How strange that those who support limiting overseas aid didn't make the same kind of noises at the expense of the royal wedding. Why would that be?
posted by plep at 12:55 AM on June 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure why the papers are mounting this campaign, but the implication that the UK doesn't give enough in overseas aid is debatable.

In 2009, the UK gave .52% of its GDP away in overseas aid. This in in contrast to the US (0.2%), Germany (0.35%), France (0.46%) and Italy (0.16%).

I also give away a huge proportion of my wage to aid the poor, the sick and the young using a system called taxation. I'm happy to give my shit away, but it should be acknowledged that I do this.

Finally, this overseas aid never comes back to the UK, and as such is more of a drain than anything contributed to internal charities. That money doesn't go back into the system. As such it shouldn't be compared to historical tithes of 10%.
posted by seanyboy at 12:59 AM on June 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


56p ($0.91) in overseas aid for every £100 ($163)

Um... conversion of ratios from GBP to USD really isn't needed here.
posted by rh at 1:00 AM on June 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Also - Not to pick up on the weird conversions quoted above, but this: 80p ($1.30) in every £100 doesn't make any sense. Why the conversion? 80p in every £100.00 is exactly the same as $0.80 in every $100.00.
posted by seanyboy at 1:02 AM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Damn you, rh.
posted by seanyboy at 1:02 AM on June 14, 2011


Hmm interesting, big, complicated topic. Too big to be dealt with like this. I don't think any argument on foreign aid can even begin to make sense without getting a little deeper into how that aid is then used and what effect it has on local economies.

After all, surely the purpose of aid is not just feeling more generous as a nation, is it? It's supposed to actually be helpful to the receivers. So that's the part that should be more in focus, should be the starting point really.

Also, the other suggestions to "be more generous" - "accept fairer trade rules, adapt rapidly to climate change and resource scarcity by limiting our consumption, accept the employment consequences of a more just arms trade, clamp down on tax havens and force our international companies to abide by social, environmental and accounting norms (to name a few)" - are not just something with 'greater risk', they are incredibly complex to implement at legal/political/economic level. Besides, at what level? National only? EU? Wider international? You can't make a list like that and talk only about your country.

In fact, you can't even talk about foreign aid focusing on your country only - especially when the UK is already one of the most "generous".
posted by bitteschoen at 1:05 AM on June 14, 2011


Rich countries need to be more generous not less and, as Andrew Mitchell rightly says, they should be proud when they stand in solidarity with the worse off.

Stand in solidarity? Get back to me when the giving levels breach the *generous* 1% of earnings and maybe we can start to have a conversation. Until then - none of this is news, in the UK or anywhere else.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:07 AM on June 14, 2011


plep: "How strange that those who support limiting overseas aid didn't make the same kind of noises at the expense of the royal wedding. Why would that be?"

Because it wasn't overseas aid?
posted by Splunge at 1:16 AM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think any argument on foreign aid can even begin to make sense without getting a little deeper into how that aid is then used and what effect it has on local economies.

Maybe so, but there are at least a few things we can say without going deeper - for example, Cameron was surely right (agh) to say that states should at least deliver the aid they commit to, which apparently rarely happens in fact.
posted by Segundus at 1:21 AM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Until then - none of this is news, in the UK or anywhere else.

It IS news, because at a time of massive cuts, whether or not Britons can afford things like libraries, council services, etc are all a Big Deal right now. So much so that there was even discussion of SELLING ALL STATE-OWNED FORESTS. So, yes, whether or not any money at all should be sent overseas is a currently debated topic.

from the link: But there is one argument against aid that we need to tackle head on; the idea that we cannot afford aid, that we are being over-generous, especially in a time of cuts at home
posted by dubold at 1:26 AM on June 14, 2011


Does Foreign Aid Matter?

While the importance of foreign aid for the specific individual recipients can and
should never be doubted, its overall macro effects are once again established to be
minimal and in conflict.


Does Foreign Aid Reduce Poverty?

Results suggest that aid has a significant poverty-reducing effect even after controlling for average income.

Complicated policy is complicated.
posted by Winnemac at 1:39 AM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


From the UK High Commissioner to Kenya's blog on World Anti Corruption Day, December 2010:

http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/roller/macaire/entry/if_money_lost_to_corruption

"I was staggered by PS/Finance Joseph Kinyua’s remarks to a parliamentary committee last week that more than Ksh 270 billion a year of public money is being lost through corruption, embezzlement and theft. That is a staggering amount, representing almost a third of Kenya’s national budget. As the PS commented, if that money were to be put towards development, Kenya would not need aid. "

The G8 Gleneagles agreement was to double aid to sub-Saharan Africa to $50billion; the African Union estimates that annually $140billion is lost to corruption.

http://www.modernghana.com/news/218111/1/a-conversation-with-nuhu-ribadu-anti-corruption-cr.html

Meanwhile, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and aid doesn't help address the fundamental problems.
posted by khites at 2:45 AM on June 14, 2011


One relatively random data point - Equatorial Guinea. The playboy son of the dictator is ordering a new yacht.

http://www.globalwitness.org/library/son-equatorial-guineas-dictator-plans-one-worlds-most-expensive-yachts

Full report of Obiang's excesses - cars, boats, houses etc:

EU still puts €17.2 million of aid (EU taxpayers' money) into this country.
posted by khites at 2:52 AM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


The West gave $500 billion of aid to Sub-Saharan Africa between 1960 and 1997 - that's four Marshall Plans - but many of those countries are poorer than ever due to endemic corruption, brutal dictatorship and absurd economic policies. South East Asia had half Africa's GDP per capita after World War Two but compare living standards in say Malaysia and Zimbabwe (once the breadbasket of Africa) today. Jared Diamond was completely wrong, it's all about culture and policies rather than natural resources - Africa is rich in resources while Japan, for example, has virtually none. Poor countries need the things which make rich countries rich - democracy, free markets, a functioning civil society and the rule of law.

As pointed out above Britain is more generous than many similar countries - and far more so than the USA, much of whose foreign aid helped prop up autocracies in Egypt and Jordan in the past few decades - but if you want to help developing countries then trade with them - not fair trade tokenism but real trade. Get rid of agricultural subsidies in the EU and the USA and buy their produce, stop wringing your hands about 'third world sweatshops' which pay several times the wages of any other available job and realise that the great EVIL of capitalism is the future saviour, not current scourge, of the developing world.
posted by joannemullen at 3:01 AM on June 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


I also give away a huge proportion of my wage to aid the poor, the sick and the young using a system called taxation.

This is not what taxation is, at all, for many different reasons including:

a) The proportion of your taxed income that actually goes towards the above is small, with the possible exception of the sick.

b) Your taxed income is essentially multiplied when invested and then re-used by governments.

c) Tax is not charity; it pays for roads, medical care and a whole lot of services you use every day. Even taken from a plain welfare situation - in Australia, at least, and the UK is not so different in regards to this - individuals are net consumers of welfare, rather than contributors. The pattern is typically that you are in "welfare" debt until your mid-to-late twenties because of the immense amounts of welfare children receive. At this point you switch over to a net contributor to aid, sometimes breaking into surplus, until you have kids yourself. Once the kids are in high school/university, you switch over into the biggest net contributor, demographically speaking, for about twenty years, until you get old and then you just start ripping through the welfare. This is why developed countries all over the world are shitting their pants about baby boomers getting old because there is essentially no one to pay for the services that they'll need.

d) You do not "give away" tax. It is taken from you and spent by governments.
posted by smoke at 3:05 AM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm aware my tax pays for stuff I use smoke. You're misrepresenting my statement. Here's a breakdown on where my money goes. It's 2009, but probably quite accurate.

in direct response to your comments.
(a) Not so. Both education and social care use up a huge percentage of taxation.

(b) What does this even mean? If you're talking about the money trickling back into society, I addressed this issue in my comment.

(c) Tax pays mostly for stuff I don't use and will never use. I'll repeat this though: I'm happy to pay it.

(d) I don't "give away" foreign aid either. This too is "taken from me and spent by governments". So, according to your criteria, how is foreign aid different, in any way, from the the charity described and defined in the above article?
posted by seanyboy at 3:17 AM on June 14, 2011


You do not "give away" tax. It is taken from you and spent by governments.

Actually, in a democratic state (representative or otherwise), the people have the right to control how tax money is collected and spent. There are elections, and people vote on issues such as how this will happen. To describe this as simply as "taken from you and spent" ignores the circumstances under which that money was collected.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:19 AM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


The West gave $500 billion of aid to Sub-Saharan Africa between 1960 and 1997 - that's four Marshall Plans - but many of those countries are poorer than ever due to endemic corruption, brutal dictatorship and absurd economic policies. South East Asia had half Africa's GDP per capita after World War Two but compare living standards in say Malaysia and Zimbabwe (once the breadbasket of Africa) today. Jared Diamond was completely wrong, it's all about culture and policies rather than natural resources - Africa is rich in resources while Japan, for example, has virtually none. Poor countries need the things which make rich countries rich - democracy, free markets, a functioning civil society and the rule of law.

Which ignores the fact that what made the West rich was protectionism and colonialism, not free trade. Africa needs an economic base before it can enter a global free market in a way which will benefit it properly, otherwise multinational corporations and our own governments will continue to swarm over it like locusts.

We extract more wealth from Africa than we return either in 'payment' or in aid.
posted by knapah at 3:22 AM on June 14, 2011 [11 favorites]


From what I can see the best aid we can give, with the exception of highly targeted public health programmes, is to help these countries actually get to a place where they can take aid and channel it correctly.

I've lived in a heavily aid-dependent African country and the stories of what happened to aid - concrete sitting on docksides, hardening, because officials demanded backhanders to release it; food aid going direct from dock to market - were legion and clear for us to see.

In addition to this, societies with a strong kinsman type familial model are ripe for aid misappropriation - whether it is in Australia, Africa or elsewhere. One elephant in the room is that governments want to deliver aid, but know full well that unless those societies develop to a different social model, it will always be problematic. Aid organisations and governments have their hands tied as they try to find a line between driving local partnerships and engagment on the one hand and their expectations of probity and transparency on the other.

Rather than give material aid, proper support for elections, support for the creation of a sustainable and defensible civil infrastructure, debt relief, allowing some degree of protectionism would all be better ways of giving aid than throwing money or goods at the problem in the knowledge that only a small percentage of it will make it to the people that need it most.

And here is the political bravery: debt relief and so forth is unsexy: it doesn't have great photo opportunities. It doesn't allow a politician to give a bite sized quote about something tangible that we have done to remove the burden on the poorest people: no bridges will be built, no mouths will be directly fed, few people but the treasury minister to shake hands with and no quick win.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:49 AM on June 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wow, pretty amazing misreading of Jared Diamond there.
posted by longdaysjourney at 4:18 AM on June 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


In 1970 all of the rich countries of the world promised to give 0.7 percent of their revenue as foreign aid. This committment has been reaffirmed many times since.

In 2006 five countries met or exceeded this target. The average (including those countries that have met this stated goal of all countries) is 0.46 percent (though contradicted by this OECD chart (in annoying flash) which says aid is averaging 0.33% of GNI).

Amongst the worst laggards are the USA (0.17%),Canada (0.3%), Australia (0.3%), New Zealand (0.27%).

Big shout out to Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Denmark!

See also here.
posted by wilful at 4:22 AM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


On average, since 1990 we have given even less, 35p ($0.57).

It would be much, much more accurate to say that you are borrowing that 35p from your children, and sending it to strangers. And your children will have no real option to escape those payments; government debt can't be reneged on without awful consequences.

If you guys were running balanced books, then yes, 35p would be low. But when you're in a deficit situation, particularly a chronic and deep one as Great Britain has been in for a very long time, almost any expense for things that won't pay for themselves (ie, investments and societal infrastructure) is a bad idea. You end up having to pay for it anyway -- or your children do -- and in addition you incur an interest burden that you wouldn't otherwise need to carry.

Borrowing just lets you pretend you can afford things you really can't afford.
posted by Malor at 4:33 AM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Poor countries need the things which make rich countries rich - democracy, free markets, a functioning civil society and the rule of law.
but if you want to help developing countries then trade with them - not fair trade tokenism but real trade


I don't dispute the importance of what you suggest (well, I'm still unsure about free trade/protectionism but let's not derail this further) but saying resources don't matter is like expecting to eat a great meal by locking the best chefs in the world in an empty room for 5 hours.

Free trade of what? Ideas? Entrepeneurship? You do realise that those rich, democratic countries are rich precisely because they either have or make use of enormous amounts of those useless natural resources, don't you? I'd love to see how a free market would create a country like Japan without the huge inputs of someone else's resources. Electronic gadgets don't just pop into existence once you have a right-wing government. Blind faith in the market's magic will get noone nowhere.
posted by Bangaioh at 4:34 AM on June 14, 2011


you are borrowing that 35p from your children, and sending it to strangers.

True: but our children are fat and the strangers look hungry.
posted by misteraitch at 4:48 AM on June 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Some families, inspired by religious tradition, think it is appropriate to give 10% of what they have to charity

Good for them. Let them give voluntarily as they see fit.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:54 AM on June 14, 2011


I'm no fan of inter-governmental aid which has always struck me as giving money to a slumlord because his tenants look hungry, but the real point here is that in the UK as in the US the manufactured controversy about aid is a distraction from the real causes of the fiscal trainwreck these countries find themselves in. In the US, that would be defence spending and tax cuts. In the UK, I'm too out of touch to comment.
posted by unSane at 5:00 AM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


('attack' spending would probably be more accurate)
posted by unSane at 5:01 AM on June 14, 2011


>Jared Diamond was completely wrong, it's all about culture and policies rather than natural resources - Africa is rich in resources while Japan, for example, has virtually none.

>Wow, pretty amazing misreading of Jared Diamond there.

Diamond argues that the Rwandan genocide was a classic Malthusian crisis caused by increasing competition for natural resources. He has been widely criticised for treating land conflict as a monocausal explanation while neglecting the social, cultural and political factors that contributed to the disaster. You may think that Diamond is right and his critics are wrong, but it's hardly a 'misreading' of his argument to say that he stresses natural resources above all else.
posted by verstegan at 5:22 AM on June 14, 2011


I've just read khites links there about how much money the Obiang family has stolen from the people of Equatorial Guinea - do read it as it's an absolute eye-opener. I wish I could say that I was disgusted that luxury goods companies are happy to sell to people like that but money is money, even if it is the blood money of corrupt dictators happy to steal food from their people's tables. I will therefore boycott Bugatti, Ferrari and oh who the fuck am I kidding?

As a result of reading that I have decided that I will accept a salary of £50,000/year plus expenses to go around the globe, shooting dictators and other shitheads in the head from a long way away with a CheyTac Intervention rifle. We need to unfuck this rich/poor divide globally and since nobody else does anything more than tut-tut about it, I feel that the best response is one of a more terminal nature. Perhaps I can add this to MeFi Projects?
posted by longbaugh at 5:24 AM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


So we're giving away money we can't afford to countries that don't spend it properly. Why? Don't tell me it's for votes; nobody votes for overseas development. And I find it hard to believe we are doing it because it's the right thing to do: that's not usually high on the list of a government's reasons for doing things. Whatever the purpose of this spending, I find it hard to believe that this money could simply be reappropriated for national services with no consequences.
posted by londonmark at 5:31 AM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Finally, this overseas aid never comes back to the UK, and as such is more of a drain than anything contributed to internal charities. That money doesn't go back into the system.

Are you sure? I've seen a lot of UK-financed aid organizations driving Land Rovers, for example, instead of Toyotas. I think you'd be surprised at how much aid money is required to be spent in ways that primarily support home-country companies rather than benefit the places it is ostensibly for. Between hiring home-country nationals for well-paid jobs; buying commodities, buying vehicles, machinery, and other goods; and contracting for transportation and other services with UK-based companies, quite a bit of that aid money comes right back to the UK (or at least to its corporate partners, which isn't quite the same thing).
posted by Forktine at 5:36 AM on June 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


You know, the raw numbers may seem stingy, but when you factor in the money spent on air control in Libya, drone strikes in Yemen and all that stuff, it really mounts up.

What? It's helping.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:44 AM on June 14, 2011


The UK has committed to continue to send about £280 million a year to India for the foreseeable future. While there is no doubt that India has masses of people living in poverty, many people in the UK wonder why such huge amounts of foreign aid is being sent to a country with a space programme - if they can afford a space programme, why are we feeding their hungry is the question I have heard (or comments about Indian squillionaires building giant houses - why can't they do it?) Of course aid is complicated, and aid is usually given out not because of a moral imperative (at least not on the part of governments) but because it is seen as being in the donor country's interest. But it is hard for people who have lost their jobs, seen their local libraries closing and their rubbish collection cut back to understand why the government is 'giving away' money to other countries.
posted by Megami at 6:09 AM on June 14, 2011


That's laying a lot at the door of international aid, though, isn't it? I mean, Richard Murphy estimated - based, I assume, on the Trades Unions Congress 2008 publication "The Missing Millions", which gave that number for 2006 - that UK-registered companies avoid £12bn in taxes a year here. Also according to the the TUC, the effective tax rate for companies like Vodafone is going to drop to 17% - that is, less than UK sales tax and less than the lowest rate of income tax.

You could run a lot of libraries and collect a lot of rubbish with £12 billion. However, there are relatively few media owners who want their newspapers or TV channels to go in hard on tax avoidance by multibillion-dollar companies.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:21 AM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Philosopher Dirtbike : To describe this as simply as "taken from you and spent" ignores the circumstances under which that money was collected.

And to claim that any of us has the least say in how much we pay and where it goes simply ignores the reality of those circumstances.


smoke : c) Tax is not charity; it pays for roads, medical care and a whole lot of services you use every day.

BS. Yes, it pays for things I use, but what does the lion's share of it go toward?

#1, so-called "defense". I do not use or want this service.
#2, welfare for the elderly (medicare etc). I do not use or want this service.
#3, fat government pensions. I do not use or want this service.
#4, welfare for the young (medicaid etc). I do not use or want this service.
#5, interest on the national debt. I do not use or want this service. (since I absolutely support paying-as-we-go).
#6, "Other spending". A tiny fraction of this benefits me, not the vast majority.
#7, education. This doesn't mean actual schools, which local taxes fund, but BS "initiatives" like NCLB. I do not use or want this service.
#8, transportation. Hey, I use this one! For a whopping 0.25% of the total federal budget.

So don't tell me about all the "good" my forceably-extracted tax dollars do for me - I would literally slash 95+% of the budget and not even notice the change.
posted by pla at 6:41 AM on June 14, 2011


You may think that Diamond is right and his critics are wrong, but it's hardly a 'misreading' of his argument to say that he stresses natural resources above all else.

Except he doesn't stress natural resources above all else. Guns, Germs, and Steel specific focus is on geography and how it has affected the cultural and economic development of nations. Reducing this to "natural resources" is a gross oversimplification of his argument.
posted by longdaysjourney at 6:49 AM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ah, yes. Where would such a discussion be without smaller-government proponents being accused of being anarchists who don't want to pay for roads?

Face it, pla, government is the new religion. Don't dare question the high priests who know what's best for you, lest you be accused of being a hater of all that is Good in Society. Drink the Kool-Aid ... drink the Kool-Aid.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:52 AM on June 14, 2011


I would literally slash 95+% of the budget and not even notice the change.

You would certainly notice the change in the society around you. I'm not going to defend the defense spending, but much as I like to eye roll about AARP and those damn entitled boomers, paying for medicare and other old-age supports is a lot nicer than watching old people beg in the streets.

I have my libertarianish moments, but I think that educated, comparatively well off people tend to radically undercount the ways in which they have benefited from subsidies and public benefits. Everyone likes to complain about the welfare queens driving Cadillacs, but the reality is most of the redistribution flows upwards... and if you are educated and posting on MetaFilter, chances are that you are above that line and are benefiting in various ways.
posted by Forktine at 6:54 AM on June 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


#5, interest on the national debt. I do not use or want this service. (since I absolutely support paying-as-we-go).


Tough shit. You owe the money.
posted by unSane at 6:54 AM on June 14, 2011


Dear armchair libertarians/anarachists

There are already countries that operate along the lines you envisage. They're awesome. You don't have to pay taxes for things like hospitals, roads, schools etc. There are lots of opportunities for like minded men armed with AK47s. They are called 'failed states'. I encourage you to go live there.
posted by unSane at 7:01 AM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Somalia is particularly nice at this time of year, I hear.
posted by unSane at 7:02 AM on June 14, 2011


I'm with seanyboy on this one, unSane. There is no need to exaggerate. We already ARE giving away a portion of our income and it's called tax. It is vastly more than 10% and so people would not naturally respond well to calls for giving up yet another 10%, this time for foreign aid.

While we're at it, another 10% could go to poor coffee farmers in Brazil and 10% to Mars exploration, because, hey, we'll need to colonize another planet soon. And would it be too much to ask for another 10% for the needy orphans in... Well, wherever.

Point is, every single one person needs to have an idea what they receive for what they give and charity is no different. If you don't believe then do this exercise:
Would you give me 10% of your income, no questions asked, if I told you I had a good charitable cause? Would you really? Cause, you know, first thing I'd do with that money would be to rent an office, hire an assistant, buy a car, buy a couple of flight tickets and give some money to relatives and friends who could be classified as poor(ish).

Of course, if you're too lazy to find a good cause for your money, chances are you would do precisely that.
posted by Laotic at 7:47 AM on June 14, 2011


I would literally slash 95+% of the budget and not even notice the change.

This is literally the stupidest thing I have ever read on this website.

Pla, if you are trolling, you need to pick up your game quick because right now you are the kid with peanut butter and jelly in his hair that we are all pointing and laughing at. If you are serious, you are quite a bit more ignorant than you are generally given credit for. And that's saying something.
posted by Aquaman at 8:30 AM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


#5, interest on the national debt. I do not use or want this service. (since I absolutely support paying-as-we-go).

I totally cut up all my credit cards and paid off my car and house and everything I do is cash-based now -- but when I couldn't pay my entire emergency room visit in its entirety, they charged me a late fee. Don't they understand that I no longer plan on being in debt and paying for more than the services rendered? Sure, I broke my arm and needed immediate attention, but that should prove to them all the more that I don't need any extra bills, because my arm hurt a whole lot!
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:41 AM on June 14, 2011


Metafilter : This is literally the stupidest thing I have ever read on this website.
posted by plep at 9:09 AM on June 14, 2011


Where would such a discussion be without smaller-government proponents being accused of being anarchists who don't want to pay for roads?

The same place where people who want to have a discussion about government's proper role in society are called haters and high priests who dispense Kool-Aid to lemmings à la Jim Jones in Guyana.
posted by blucevalo at 9:22 AM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Aquaman : This is literally the stupidest thing I have ever read on this website.

Do you realize that this year marks a major milestone in US history?

This year we reach the 50% point for how much of our history we have paid (peacetime) income taxes. Until 1894, the US government worked just fine without collecting any regular income taxes (with only two wartime taxes approved, and only one assessed, prior to that point).

So tell me, what makes it so stupid to dare ask why we "need" to pay to support an organization that survived for half its existence without that support?


unSane : Tough shit. You owe the money.

Actually, no, I don't. The US government owes the money, largely to its own citizens, and looks entirely ready to default on it in another two months. Defaulting won't affect roads, schools, police, or hospitals - It will, in what I can only describe as a sublime instance of schadenfreude, force us to drop exactly the government programs with which I have expressed displeasure. Our unfunded liabilities such as medica**, pensions, our interest, and to at least some degree, the military. Why? Because we won't have the ability to borrow the money to pay for them going forward.

So laugh at me if you want. And make no mistake, the US defaulting will hurt me as well; But it might count as the best thing ever to happen to us.
posted by pla at 9:40 AM on June 14, 2011


Defaulting won't affect roads, schools, police, or hospitals

Oh for fuck sake Pla, take a political science 101 class already. This mental exercise of trying to deal with your flat out wrong statements is a waste of everyone's time.

When the money runs out, governments don't bankrupt large-scale social programs that many of their citizens rely on. They don't do it, because it tends to lead to revolution, unrest and violence.

They're much more willing to, say, cut down the number of roads re-paved this year, or the school budgets get trimmed, or policemen get laid off, or emergency rooms get closed down. This is happening around the world, if you'd spend two minutes opening your eyes to how things actually are.

Take a single class in this subject and come back to me with concrete examples of developed nations that chose to de-fund their military as opposed to making desperate cuts to core services. Right now, in Canada, departments across the board are being asked to cut 5-10% of their budgets. Speciality police departments are being trimmed, rural hospitals are being pressured to close or consolidate, schools all over the country are amalgamating and roads are not being paved.

This game of mental exercise you like to play outside of reality must be fun for you, but it's incredibly painful for just about anyone who's, you know, read something about the subject before.
posted by dflemingecon at 9:52 AM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seriously people, comparing governments' foreign aid to charity is already a stretch, but comparing taxes to charity is a joke.

No matter what you or I personally feel like about paying taxes, they do belong to completely different categories. Economically and historically and in every other sense...
posted by bitteschoen at 9:54 AM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


dflemingecon : They're much more willing to, say, cut down the number of roads re-paved this year, or the school budgets get trimmed, or policemen get laid off, or emergency rooms get closed down.

In the US, all those things come from LOCAL taxes. Not federal, and only partially state, but primarily the taxes paid right in your own town, to people you actually know.

So no, the federal government doesn't significantly affect them. Yeah, you'll see fewer interstate boondoggles built with "matching funds", fewer bridges to Alaskan islands of 40 residents; but the road running past my house, the fire trucks traveling on them, and the hospitals they lead to, will remain in the same functional condition as I find them today.
posted by pla at 10:30 AM on June 14, 2011


So tell me, what makes it so stupid to dare ask why we "need" to pay to support an organization that survived for half its existence without that support?

Congrats, now THIS is the stupidest thing I have ever read on this website.
posted by Aquaman at 10:37 AM on June 14, 2011


So no, the federal government doesn't significantly affect them.

It affects them in a huge way. If the feds give them money for these things, they don't have to spend thier own. When the feds cut those funds, they have to either raise taxes or stop offering the services that they formerly offered, because the feds have just cut the state's income.

but the road running past my house, the fire trucks traveling on them, and the hospitals they lead to, will remain in the same functional condition as I find them today.

You never have seen a pothole? Missed the news about the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis? Missed the bit about that tornado that destroyed the hospital in Joplin, MO.

EVERYTHING needs maintenance, repair and, at some point, replacement. Including that road, those fire trucks, and the hospitals they lead to.

If you can't cope with that, I suggest you move to a place without a functional government. I've heard Somalia is nice about that.
posted by eriko at 10:50 AM on June 14, 2011


eriko : EVERYTHING needs maintenance, repair and, at some point, replacement. Including that road, those fire trucks, and the hospitals they lead to.

And you've missed the point that towns already pay for those things locally.


You never have seen a pothole? Missed the news about the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis? Missed the bit about that tornado that destroyed the hospital in Joplin, MO.

Yep - This past March, I voted in my town meeting to repave one of the major roads running through my town. I can trace my own contribution to that project, and that of a few thousand others, going directly and tangibly toward repairing the potholes.

Two years ago, a storm (not a tornado, but same effect) washed out a bridge in my parents' town. Local residents voted on whether or not to rebuild it (in their case, they actually voted not to rebuild it) - And whaddya know, Uncle Sam didn't show up with a road crew to do it "on-the-house" for the town.

As for hospitals... Let's not go there, but suffice it to say you'd have a much shorter wait to get in if not for taxes "supporting" them.


If you can't cope with that, I suggest you move to a place without a functional government. I've heard Somalia is nice about that.

"Necessary and sufficient".

A functional government doesn't need to mean one that has its fingers in every pie, nor does a functional government automatically come with a side of Civilization. Pre-civil-war US had civilization and a functional government, with NO income tax; How many countries do we hear about daily in the news that have a functional government yet lack the basic trappings of civilization? And in the best counterexample of all, Belgium has managed to remain civilized - Notably not decaying into another Somalia - Without a government for over a year now!

-----

We have, however, drifted a bit from the parent topic. Let's forget about whether or not most of our taxes go toward what amounts to charity, and look at the actual question presented to us here: "If I gave 80p in every £100 I earned to help people less fortunate than me, who would call me generous"?

Let's rephrase that - When write a $100 check (rather a bit less than 0.8% of my total income) to the local food bank for Thanksgiving, do you seriously think they'd spit on me for my stinginess?
posted by pla at 11:27 AM on June 14, 2011


come back to me with concrete examples of developed nations that chose to de-fund their military

Costa Rica. Abolished its military in 1949 and "the budget previously dedicated to the military now is dedicated to security, education and culture."
posted by binturong at 11:29 AM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


When write a $100 check (rather a bit less than 0.8% of my total income) to the local food bank for Thanksgiving, do you seriously think they'd spit on me for my stinginess?

Aid recipients wouldn't, but then again these complaints aren't coming from them. This is a Guardian U.K. article, not some piece coming from a freedom fighter in sub-Saharan Africa.

Would your peers spit on you if the only help you gave was $100? Maybe, or they might construct an argument to show you're being cheap. The latter is what this article is. It's not spitting; it's showing what it amounts to and letting the reader decide if that's enough, via their vote and/or personal aid decisions.
posted by dflemingecon at 12:43 PM on June 14, 2011


Costa Rica. Abolished its military in 1949 and "the budget previously dedicated to the military now is dedicated to security, education and culture."

Totally cede this. Panama too. Liechtenstein cut their army in the 19th century as well. There are a couple more too, but I can't remember them.

I guess I should've qualified that statement a little bit, because making a comparison of the importance of U.S military actions and those of the aforementioned countries is pretty hard to do. The U.S. military may be doing a lot of horrible things around the world, but I hate to think what would've happened in the 20th century in a number of places if the U.S. military hadn't been around. You can start in the second world war and move forward on that.
posted by dflemingecon at 12:52 PM on June 14, 2011


And in the best counterexample of all, Belgium has managed to remain civilized - Notably not decaying into another Somalia - Without a government for over a year now!

Er, Belgium has a government. The issue is that a 'new' government hasn't been formed after the elections. So Leterme is the still the Prime Minister, taxes are still being collected, and so on.

So possibly it's a really bad counterexample.
posted by knapah at 2:18 PM on June 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


knapah : So possibly it's a really bad counterexample.

Okay, I'll accept that.
posted by pla at 3:35 PM on June 14, 2011


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