Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Putting Rush's outrage in perspective

A GDP-based analysis of tsunami contributions also shows the lie behind a particularly odious meme doing the rounds among the right-wing blogs - that of the "stinginess" of the Muslim world:

Top radio talker Rush Limbaugh stepped into the breach on Tuesday, detailing for his audience the relatively stingy response from brother nations.
  • Saudi Arabia - $10 million. "That's like an afternoon shopping spree in Paris for a member of the Saudi royal family," noted Limbaugh.
  • Iran pledged a puny $627,000 - a small fraction of what they're spending on their nuclear weapons program.
  • Wildly wealthy Qatar - just $10 million of their petrodollars.
  • The United Arab Emirates - $2.6 million.
  • Kuwait - $2 million.
  • Libya - $2 million.
  • Turkey - $1.25 million.

Compare that to the $350 million in government aid pledged by the Great Satan (America), not to mention hundreds of millions more from private U.S. donors.

What's wrong with this? Firstly, it groups two very different classes of nations together - the rich Arab world (Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE, with per-capita GDPs comparable to those of poorer European nations, though with vastly more unequal distributions of wealth), and a group of poorer states - Iran, Turkey, Libya - with per-capita GDPs in the region of US$6000 - US$7000 (with Saudi Arabia falling somewhere between the two). Attacking the latter for making only token contributions is akin to demanding that the homeless throw their pocket-change into the collection-jar - praiseworthy (though possibly foolish) when it happens, but nowhere near a moral requirement. But how do the former's contributions compare with that of the US? The table below is illuminating, to say the least:

(US$ millions)
(US$ billions)
% of GDP
Saudi Arabia302880.01042

Every single "rich" Arab nation is giving more as a proportion of GDP than the US - and Qatar is the world's top giver by this measure. Rather puts Rush's outrage in perspective, doesn't it?

(Thanks to The Swanker for the preliminary analysis, though I've used my own figures in the above, as drawn from BBC and Wikipedia)

Update (07/01/05): Updated with these figures from the BBC. Rush's case looks even worse, doesn't it?

Update 2 (14/01/05): Updated Kuwait from a Reuters article in the Domion-Post.


Via Dave Crampton: The Washingtong Post reports that Kuwaitis aren't entirely happy with their government's donation and want it to contribute substantially more. Over half of Kuwait's population are guest workers, and many are from areas affected by the tsunami; many Kuwaitis want to give a little back. Here's hoping they succeed...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/05/2005 10:04:00 PM

So do you also support GDP based mechanisms to determine country based CO2/S02 emmissions etc? Gordon.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/05/2005 11:36:00 PM

> Rush Limbaugh

1) Rush is obviously being an idiot in regard to the american allies of the midle east Saudi arabia, kuwait Qatar and UAE. Why he would want to pick a fight with them (at least the last three) is beyond me - except in as far as to display his own ignorance - of which he clearly has pleanty.

A) I note you did not list the NON US allies.
They are indeed poorer than SA for example but the countries hit by the tsunami have GDP around 3-4,000 (I refer to indonesia and sri lanka and specifically exclude the others). And probaly far less than that in the regions worst hit.

B) The moral cut off point (if you like) for not paying the "tsunami aid tax" (Obviously adjsuted for capacity to pay as you suggest) which is what it seems to be in both rush's and your eyes would probably be the point at which generally speaking your country is worse than the places where the aid was going. That would be a reasonably low standard (although there are states that would meet it).

Anyway to fill out the stats

1) Lybia as a % of GDP seems to be a touch more than the USA's current nominal amount.
2) turkey's seems to be less than the USA's
3) He is right about iran their pledge is chump change to them.
4) ALL the other such countries not on this list presumably get a fat zero?

To be fair to both sides what level of aid are the muslim countries donating through muslim charities? I hear they are quite good at that. And does that offset or more than offset private charity in the US (as a percentage of GDP of course).

Posted by Genius : 1/06/2005 12:13:00 AM

So it is odious to criticise Muslim nations, but despite the fact the US has done more than any other country to actually save lives on the ground, it is not odious to attack the US what a dozen times in a week about their contribution?

The amount pledged is now probably enough for many months to come. What is needed for now is capacity to actually provide the relief and the contributions by NZ. Australia, US and many other countries are making a real difference there.

I daresay in terms of people actually involved in saving lives on the ground the US is doing a great job.

Posted by David Farrar : 1/06/2005 02:09:00 PM

It's odious to criticise the poor for not giving as much as the rich, and to misrepresent the true scale of contribution by these (quite small, both economically and population-wise) countries.

I agree - the total amount pledged is enough to last a while. The task now is to make sure that our governments actually deliver (because frequently they don't; I'm sure we've all seen the numbers about Bam), and to make sure that they remain committed to rebuilding that part of the world rather than simply forgetting about it.

And yes, the US is indeed doing a lot to help on the ground. Those helicopters are a lifesaver. And in fact this suggests another possible measure, this one of actual, practical help: helicopters per capita. Or possibly medical staff per capita. Either might be interesting :)

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/06/2005 06:00:00 PM

Gordon: while there are good reasons for measuring aid payments by ability to pay, I can think of no such reason to do the same for pollution. Such would simply advantage the rich over the poor.

Ginny: the figures above are for government pledges of cash only. Information on private giving is harder to find, though Wikipedia has some. I'm sure a comparison of private giving per capita or by GDP would be informative, and to the extent that it promotes the pissing contest for the benefit of those in need, useful.

I don't know if Rush is broadcast here, but I'm sure he can be heard over the net.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/06/2005 06:06:00 PM

How you scale contributions to compare them is interesting. You see why use GDP? Why not Government Revenue as that is the pool grants come out of? Or how about Govt Cash Balance Sheets as these can be seen as one off investments. You could argue US with $7.5 trillion debt has less to spare than any other.

I think the usefulness of comparisons is well past. Yeah it *may* have encouraged some countries to give more, but who knows.

I think the response from the world, govts and citizens, has been incredible. I don't want to know who is bottom on Scale A or B. I think all countries have responded pretty damn well.

Posted by David Farrar : 1/06/2005 06:07:00 PM

I think the response has been incredible as well. As for the comparisons, I think that they're interesting and certainly deflate the myth of New Zealand being a generous aid donor for its size (I'll probably have more on this when I've swallowed some more data). And if Americans look at this and think "shit! We're being outdone by Canadians" (or competitive ethnicity of choice) and kick their government into doing more in the long term, then that is unquestionably a Good Thing.

As for choice of measures, I've gone with those that are both traditional and easy. If you want to do a comparison on any of the other metrics you have suggested, feel free. It's not as if you don't have a platform :)

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/06/2005 06:18:00 PM

I think it is a good thing to encourage the US to reconsider its approach not because it is low - the us has many jobs to do with its money as the hegemon that mean that it probably should in a perfect world be a bit less generous than other countries in this area.
BUT because the public seem unaware of the fact that it is low i.e. in terms of humanitarian aid it is FAR less generous than it thinks it is (even if you take private donations into account) - rather similar to NZ. NZ also should be able to explain its aid policy (if it has a good reason that is ok - but the public should be aware of it).

Surely that self deception is not a good thing.
I think we should also place pressure on less developed countries like China (and all the other countries) to pay aid because it is very important that they become "trained". If you want china to give aid when it is very strong.

Posted by Genius : 1/06/2005 06:42:00 PM

Most US people know that Rush is a Bush apologist of the highest order, bar none. And a drug addict to boot.

He takes any and all opportunities to talk up GWB. The plain fact is that plain facts do not mean ANYTHING to Rush and his fellow right-wing radio and TV "hosts", who mainly work for Fox and its Murdoch affiliates and newspapers (even in Australia).

The mere fact that NZ (or anyone else for that matter) contributes far more than their fair share when measured against GDP means nothing to propogandists like him.

Rush and his creep ilk have no place in NZ (unless you are associated with the Destiny Church or ACT) and he is certainly not a journalist interested in "facts" or real reporting.


Posted by Anonymous : 1/08/2005 08:50:00 PM