Charity and giving: a rant-turned argument

EVE is allowing people to donate their PLEX for Pakistan flood relief. Massively posts about it here. This was going to be a rant about it, but I found myself ranting less and trying to make an argument more, so here it is.

What I dislike a lot about the comments is that it’s automatically assumed that giving money to a charitable cause is a good thing. None of them seem to take into account a bewildering list of factors which make charitable giving often a minefield and counterproductive to the intended effect. Just the act of giving shows your sincerity and compassion, which is totally at odds with the reason you should be giving in the first place-to help others, not feed your own ego and feel good about it.

In this case, there are a LOT of reasons why you should be careful in my view. First is that they are dispersing funds to an out-of-country, non-audited agency: The Pakistani Red Crescent Society. While nothing is wrong at all with using local organizations and funds, and the society’s website shows an organization committed to humanitarian goals, it is worrisome to me. The PRCS used to be a Red Cross society and was recognized such in 1948. However there seems to be very little information and no independent auditing: while the governance page lists one of the duties of the executive council is to appoint auditors and review their audits, none seem to be listed.  Again, this isn’t something to go postal over, but it’s vital for a Charity organization to have independent auditing and transparency.

For example, one of their departments is PR, which they list the duties of as:

PRCS Information/Dissemination department was established in the year 2000.It looks after all the promotional, image building and advocacy campaigns relative to PRCS work. Moreover, It is involved in the external and internal dissemination of Humanitarian Values and Law & Fundamental Principles programs at all levels. The department has gone from strength to strength over the last four years handling the PRCS Website up gradation, development & production of Documentary &TV Spots, publication of a Quarterly Magazines & Annual Report.

From here on their site. This is not bad in itself: any charity must be able to support itself through donations and also put out its issues and mindset to inform others. But auditing is vital to ensure that not too much money is spent on these as opposed to getting the good works out to the people.

For a chilling example, according to Charity Navigator, Disabled Veterans of America spends a staggering 94% of its money on fundraising, leaving only 6% to actually help veterans. You can see the breakdown here. This is why auditing is vital. You wouldn’t invest blindly into a stock without doing due dilligence, right? Why do you blindly invest in other’s lives without doing the same?

Another problem is that we are being asked to give even more money to a country we have given BILLIONS of aid to recently, as well as forgiving similar amounts. People seem to be bashing anti-relief because it shows the USA is stingy, but according to a cursory wiki search, we find this:

Between 2002-2010, Pakistan received approximately 18 billion[26] in military and economic aid from the United States. In February of 2010, the Obama administration requested an additional 3 billion in aid, for a total of 20.7 billion[27].

Link here.

This was in order to bolster our alliance with Pakistan and enlist them as an ally on the War on Terror. It seems to be a huge failure, but this aside, there was nothing to stop that money being earmarked to make the kind of infrastructure changes that would lesson the pain of flood disasters.  This should also be a supplement to money already budgeted: our donations are not a safety valve to turn off the Pakistani government’s need to financially support its own people.

I’d go into the fact that despite all this aid, the USA is still seen as an imperialist devil by a lot of the countries on the globe, but that isn’t needed. Just simple common sense should show that something is seriously wrong with the way we give to other nations charitably.

To keep from writing a book, I’ll make one last point. I’ll set it apart for the TL; DR crowd:

The problem with natural disasters is not often the disaster itself. It’s the incompetence of the local or federal governments response to it, and/or the lack of steps they took to prepare for and mitigate future disasters.

Good, accountable, transparent, and just governance is VITAL to mitigate disasters. This is not downplaying how tremendous a potential loss of life typhoons and floods can be. If anything, the potential devastation they can cause makes it critical that the government be good, otherwise it compounds the loss of life and lays the seeds of future problems. The cause of famines in Africa are not the seasonal droughts: the causes are the corrupt governments that divert aid for their wars, or never budget to mitigate future disasters, and rifle the treasury for their own greed.

If anything I want people whether or not they share my personal views to at least think about how they spend their money. The USA is not going to get more prosperous, as our economy is slowly hollowing out due to entire job sectors being devastated due to technological change and foreign competition. Soon we may not have the money to give as the debt that prolongs are prosperity requires paying back, and our own entitlements promised to our citizens deplete us even further.

We cannot give like Christians. Christianity is held up as a model of philanthropy, but its aims in the worst cases are to do so not to effect long lasting change, but as a reflection of a person’s own saved status and forgiven state. Combined with its focus ultimately on heavenly matters, it can lead to giving for the sake of giving, and not giving effectively. Giving must be done to effect change and not to ameliorate short-term concerns or make you feel good. Even compassion needs to be tempered with a hard eye to make sure the best benefit is achieved. It’s because there is no shortage of disasters for those that don’t prepare.


4 Responses to Charity and giving: a rant-turned argument

  1. Dril says:

    The problem I have with this is that, rightly or wrongly, I’d much rather give my money to flood victims than to disabled children so they can have “fun day out.” I just believe far more in people’s lives than I do in people having fun, and to be honest I’ sort of disgusted that the money spent there doesn’t, at the very least, go to homeless charities to at least let them get back on their feet rather than hire a coach. Similarly, I think welfare is fundamentally incompatible with a free economy, and that it is essentially given to people who deserve it least, but that’s another story for another day (I live in England so we’re slightly more socialist than the US is.)

    The problem is that the US has to decide whether it wants to be a world-builder and inspector or just a world charity. If you gave money to Pakistan, it should come with strings attached that are far more than just “help us kill the Taliban,” in the form of US-led projects to build flood defences and the like.

    • Dblade says:

      That brings up issues with national sovereignty. Given how the USA is roundly hated across the world, we don’t have the ability to do that, to make conditions without being accused of soft imperialism. They do have a point on that.

      This brings up some hard questions though about how serious we as a culture really are about the value of life, and how many problems are systemic and may not be able to be fixed. That’s why I keep talking about governance, it’s more likely for a local government to coordinate aid and be able to address those problems with less backlash.

      • Dril says:

        But why hand it off to people who are, to be blunt, more corrupt and less experienced at building flood defences than an American overseer would?

        Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be well pleased if an American-led team came to my garden and started digging it up for my protection, but then again that’s because there are plenty of flood defences already built in Britain by people who live in the area; and, let’s be honest here, if you gave us money and men to build our flood defences, I sure as hell wouldn’t be complaining to your face.

        As much as I dislike capitalism and the hypocrisy that it and its expeditions and wars are built on, I’d much rather they did it than people who, until recently, were led my a military dictator.

        But I think you’re right that flood defences rather than temporary shelters should be built; whilst emotion is great and all, in the end the long-term strategy is often the best but least-taken route.

  2. […] charity event, donating PLEX to help out victims of the Pakistani Flood. I wrote about my reactions here. The organization sponsored was the Pakistani branch of the Red Crescent, which is an Islamic […]

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