Charity Begins at Home

Whenever the world gets into serious difficulties, whether owing to acts of men (i.e., “man-caused disasters”) or an act of God, it is almost always the United States that steps in to save the day. And what it generally gets for its troubles are tirades of denunciation and cataracts of resentment. As we know, the United States is the major contributor to the Haitian relief effort, yet it has already been condemned by Venezuela, by Bolivia, by France, and by several other European countries for launching an “occupation” of the island. America, as the leading member of NATO, bombed Serbia into the ground to rescue the Muslim peoples of Bosnia and Kosovo from the ethnic cleansing campaign unleashed by Slobodan Milosevic. What it has reaped for its good intentions is a thriving Kosovan drug cartel, the increased animosity of the Islamic world, and a new spate of jihadist terror, both abroad and on its own soil. And we remember the Marshall Plan, without which the continent of Europe, which essentially attacked itself in a suicidal, internecine conflict, would today be a dismal backwater, perhaps even a congeries of ex-Soviet republics. For this act of unprecedented munificence, Americans are regarded by many Europeans as vulgar capitalists, crass unsophisticates, and cowboy warmongers.

Perhaps it’s time to “recalibrate.” The U.S. has more than its share of poverty, unemployment, injustice, and destabilizing threats emanating from its own homegrown Islamic institutions against which at least some of the resources it has expended overseas could be put to better and more immediate use. The world will always be in dire straits -- and the United States, unlike powerful nations such as Russia and China, will mobilize its diminishing abundance to bring aid and relief to suffering populations. And it will get little or no credit for its efforts. Indeed, American assistance is practically expected and in some cases demanded as an obligation that accrues to American status. Maybe this is unimportant in the grander scale of things but I suggest it is a factor to be assessed.

Other developed nations as well have done all they could to alleviate suffering in the world at large, ready to contribute with supplies, medicines, money, and personnel in times of calamity. Canada, Japan, and Israel come instantly to mind. Nevertheless, despite the horrors and catastrophes which strike indiscriminately around the world and our laudable attempts to bring comfort and relief to the innocent victims of these upheavals, a more reasonable balance is needed between foreign expenditures in the service of others and domestic investment to assist our own underprivileged. There is only so much prosperity to go around.

Whether it is Haiti or “Palestine” or southeast Asia, we empty out our pockets to help, we send convoys of assistance, and we accept streams of displaced persons, refugees, and welfare recipients, straining our abilities to the limit. And our recompense, apart from a sense of easy self-congratulation, is often the rancor and vexation of many of our beneficiaries: we were too slow off the mark, the distribution networks put in place were deficient, we have not done enough to sustain or resettle or donate (a typical United Nations complaint, as per UN relief coordinator Jan Egeland castigating the United States for being “stingy”), or we have a secret colonial agenda insinuating itself as magnanimity and concern. (In the case of Israel, it might be organ harvesting, as a clearly demented but likely influential YouTube commenter has imputed.) Some degree of rethinking may be necessary.

What I have said here will be censured by many as cruel, heartless, cynical, and isolationist. It is none of these. The desire to help people who have been laid low by war or natural disasters or endemic destitution is a noble impulse, but it must be constrained -- not canceled but moderated -- by limitations of affordability, common sense, and the recognition of critical indigenous problems, both at home and in the recipient countries, as well as the political ramifications in the global theater. It must also take into account the capacities of the taxpaying citizen who is the benefactor of last resort.

As an individual Canadian citizen with a modest income at his disposal, I am taxed almost beyond my means. Yet I see a considerable portion of my taxable income going to NGOs that support tyrannical regimes and rogue states; to China, of all places, whose exports far dwarf our own; to a United Nations that is nothing less than a quagmire of corruption, hypocrisy, and ineptitude; to the World Bank, which has initiated a cycle of dependence through the dispensation of ineffectual aid to dysfunctional nations; and to relief efforts to regimes that do not reciprocate even in the currency of gratitude.