Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Just the facts

Crumbs for Africa - New York Times

According to a poll, most Americans believe that the United States spends 24 percent of its budget on aid to poor countries; it actually spends...just 0.16 percent of its national income to help poor countries, despite signing a United Nations declaration three years ago in which rich countries agreed to increase their aid to 0.7 percent by 2015. Since then, Britain, France and Germany have all announced plans for how to get to 0.7 percent; America has not. The piddling amount Mr. Bush announced yesterday is not even 0.007 percent.

Since November all the liberal rags I regularly read have been agonizing to figure out what spin "progressives" should adopt to get a crack at an election victory the next time around. Get religion or don't get religion? Reclaim the Center or play to the base? How to appeal to Joe Sixpack and the Soccer Moms, who to run and how to groom him or her, how to promote the Nurturing Parent over the Strict Father, how to play it.

I have a novel idea--cheaper than focus groups and effective. Get out the facts. Most Americans believe that we are spending almost a quarter of GDP on foreign aid; we aren't. Over a third of Americans believe that they are either amongst the richest 1% of Americans or will be within their lifetimes. Most believe that the rate of violent crime is rising; in fact, it's fallen steadily over the past 15 years. Most believe, falsely, that the "death tax" prevents owners of family farms and small businesses from passing down their farms and business to their children.

A picture of the Great American Illusion emerges. We believe that we are among the richest people in by far the richest and most generous nation on earth. We believe that in spite of our generosity, bad guys here and abroad are out to get us because they envy our wealth and freedom, and are viciously ungrateful for our largesse. We believe that we are a nation of shopkeepers and family farmers who, by dint of honesty and hard work, have achieved fabulous wealth and have nothing to fear but big government looking to take it away and give it to welfare mothers and terrorists.

What to do. Here's a thought: let progressives sponsor "citizenship" contests for elementary school students on the model of spelling bees at which questions about the household income of the richest 1% of Americans, the crime rate and the percentage of GDP going to foreign aid would figure. Nothing partisan about that: just the facts.

When our kid John was in elementary school he won a contest sponsored by a local veteran's group for writing an essay in response to the question, "Where would we be without the Declaration of Independence?" John argued that we'd be much better off without it because we'd be a Commonwealth Country like Canada, would have a socialist welfare state including the National Health, and more efficient toilets like the ones in his grandparents home in Swindon with the tank 8 feet off the floor and a chain to pull.

You can't lose with the facts.


Brian Larry said...

As an elementary school student John was obviously bright and should be commended for taking and defending a novel position in response to a leading question.

I wonder, though, what sort of country Canada would be without a wealthy southern neighbor to buy stuff from and sell stuff to? If the U.S. were one big Canada--how would WWI and WWII have gone for the rest of the world (bearing in mind that many believe U.S. factories had a far greater impact than U.S. soldiers.)?

Assuming that Europe would have come out of WWII looking much as it does now (assuming the same about WWI)--I wonder who would have supplied sufficient arms to Nato during the cold war? (assuming that the war would have been a cold one, instead of an openly heated one, absent the U.S.)

Since the Berlin wall fell--I can see an argument that the world might be a better place if the U.S. were more Canada like. Before that...I can see an argument that the U.S. might be better off--but at the expense of much of Europe. Do weapons and soldiers to help prevent totalitarian governments from conquering socialist ones count as aid? Have other countries given more in that department?

Rakovsky said...

"If the U.S. were one big Canada--how would WWI and WWII have gone for the rest of the world (bearing in mind that many believe U.S. factories had a far greater impact than U.S. soldiers.)?"

First, Roosevelt's policies were very much like Canada's, and Canada could be said to simply have expanded on his ideas.

There is nothing to say that having Socialist policies would make a country poorer or industrially weaker - Norway is actually the second most efficient decent sized country in the world (GDP per capita), and has a Social Democratic system even more developed than Canada.