MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

Monday, February 16, 2009

THE AMERICAN WAY OF GIVING

[guest post from David Angsten’s blog]

We hear that at the Davos economic summit world leaders were piling on the new game in town--blaming America for causing the global financial crisis. However just or unjust this may be, it's certainly understandable, especially with the American Bernard Madoff parading as the new poster boy for greed run amock.

At this lowly juncture, it may be worthwhile to point out that the flip side of America's 'excessive' greed is America's great generosity. Indeed, the worst thing about the Madoff scandal is the number of charities whose funds have been lost. As has often been noted, Americans lead the world in charitable giving:

In 2005, Americans gave $260.28 billion to scores of religious, environmental, and health organizations—$15 billion more than in 2004.

In 2006, Americans gave nearly $300 billion to charitable causes, setting a record and besting the 2005 total that had been boosted by a surge in aid to victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma and the Asian tsunami.

Warren Buffet pledged to donate $37 billion to charity.

About 65 percent of households with incomes lower than $100,000 give to charity.

The U.S. government gave about $20 billion in foreign aid in 2004, while Americans privately gave $24.2 billion.

Americans per capita individually give about three and a half times more money per year, than the French per capita. They also give seven times more than the Germans and 14 times more than the Italians.

Everyone understands the temptation of greed. What remains a great mystery is the impulse of human kindness. Here's a very elegant and beautiful statement on the nature of kindness--from, of all people, that renowned philosopher of economic selfishness, Adam Smith:
"How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it."

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