This Christmas, Americans plan to be spending money – and lots of it. According to a Gallup poll conducted this November, a third of adults nationwide (34 percent) estimate that they will be spending $1,000 or more this holiday season. The mean expenditure for the average American adult is set at $826. One need not even be a Christian to be spending cash by the truck loads. In fact, the poll found that the less religious segment of society tends to spend $53 more on Christmas gifts than its religious counterpart.
What do these Christmas stats tell us? Well, for some, these figures are alarming, indicative of a culture infatuated with materialism. The Tickle-Me-Elmo mania comes to mind, which occurred a couple of Christmases ago and saw mothers nationwide storming toy stores like a pack of wolves.
More than anything, however, I would argue that the spirit of giving that prevails during Christmas time is reflective of American generosity. This generosity can be experienced in everyday life situations and is embodied in organizations like Rotary International, the Fulbright Program, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Heifer International and the ONE campaign, among others.
Given that Americans tend to be generous and caring individuals, an assessment of what our country spends on international aid leads me to the conclusion that our government is not doing the American ethos’ justice. While studies show that Americans believe 15 percent of our federal budget is going toward aid, in actuality only 0.15 percent has been allocated for aid.
A breakdown of the 0.15 percent we spend on aid is revealing of what little effect our contribution to eradicating world poverty is having. As economist Jeffrey Sachs observes, in 2002, U.S. aid to Africa amounted to $3 per every Sub-Saharan African. If we subtract money spent to hire U.S. consultants, provide emergency aid, cover administrative costs and give debt relief, U.S. aid totaled 6 cents per African. That’s enough to buy six miniature Tootsie Rolls at the Fort Collins High School snack shop – certainly not enough to help Africans reach the first rung of economic development.
At the forefront of a movement geared toward increasing U.S. international aid is the ONE campaign. A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity of interviewing Ben Bleckley, a volunteer for this campaign who helps organize different ONE events in Fort Collins.
Bleckley emphasized that the purpose of ONE is to advocate more and better aid. “We are not about throwing money at governments,” Bleckley assured me.
Far from being just another charitable organization, ONE seeks to increase U.S. aid to 1 percent ($25 billion) while, at the same time, making sure that money is spent more effectively. Bleckley pointed out that, “although the $10 billion the U.S. spends on aid seems like a lot of money, most of those funds are going to sending American college professors to Africa to tell [Africans] how to fix a problem.”
As part of its initiative, ONE has been in collaboration with a coalition of 100 groups, such as UNICEF and Bread for the World. Moreover, Bleckley shared insight on the various routes ONE has taken in advocating for more and better aid funding. Primarily, ONE seeks to raise awareness amongst the general public and actively lobbies for certain policies, such as funding the Global Fund and supporting the Millennium Challenge Account.
Bleckley mentioned that the number of deaths resulting from global poverty is equivalent to a tsunami every week. This could be avoided, of course, if the American government would take the lead in investing more money toward aid. In increasing aid funding, “we don’t have to sacrifice our way of life,” Bleckley stressed.
I would agree, adding that by not increasing aid, we are ultimately disregarding an important part of the American way of life, which comes in the form of generosity and compassion.
Luci Storelli-Castro is a junior political science and philosophy major. Her column runs every Thursday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.