Thursday, January 13, 2005

Political Outpouring No.1 - NZ's Tsunami aid

I have found a lot of political issues stirring around my mind, busting to get out. New Zealand aid money. No weapons of mass destruction. Farenheit 9/11. Hmmmmmm I better start with the aid money and then work from there.

New Zealand is considering giving NZ$100 million to the relief effort. The government had found itself politically stuck between a rock and a hard place; donating too little would be seen as too stingy, and donating too much is seen as "keeping up with the Jones's" or dipping into the surplus when they were unwilling to consider such benevolence at home.

On this topic, I think libertarian ethics should come to the fore. Simply put, the money any country donates is not given from the Government, but from the people. Tax money is ours. If taxes were low, and the government was small, I would suggest that if the people individually donated, then there is no reason for the government to do so too, as we are giving beyond our own charitable intentions. Why should we give 'twice'? (Once privately, then once publicly). In a small low tax, small government country, charity would come purely from the individual, and the Government would have no mandate to give money internationally. That would allow a 'pure' expression of charity rather than the government assuming our good nature or underestimating it.

In our country, we have a high tax rate and a large social democrat government. In some ways, this puts the emphasis on the Government to direct some of our charity e.g. social welfare is regulated charity to the unemployed or unable, foreign aid is too. We don't necessarily have a choice about the things that they donate to and in some ways that is good, as sometimes only the "eye-catching" appeals get money from the public, and there are other causes that maybe we wish to donate to but can't because the causes exceed our ability to pay (well the country is donating money to me currently, who would give me charitable money??). Public donations do not distribute according to need. So the Guide Dogs may be flooded with money while the Cystic Fibrosis foundation may lack. Social welfare also lowers the chance of begging etc. or disabled people showing the extent of their injuries to get pity and money (like in Taiwan and China). Government funding is more efficient too, when we consider that relief agencies need to spend money to promote their cause and facilitate the money getting to the right place. Governments can give a large lump sum with one administrative fee.

But the point remains that it is our money and should be directed by our intentions. My idea would be to strictly make such extra aid donations in proportion with private donations. Since we are highly taxed and have a surplus, the Government could say that it will triple or quadruple the amount privately given. This gives donors more power to use their money. Also, it takes out all accusations of the government wasting our tax dollar or being too stingy. The government will be as stingy or generous as the citizens and there would be no need to attempt to be compared with other countries.

Of course, the government may see aid as having power beyond just a sign of charity, it could be an act of investing or diplomacy. It has been suggested that giving to South-East Asia is for our collective good due to the interdependence of economies and world trade. For a government to give more would be prudent if the ensuing economic difficulties infect neighbouring countries too. Australia may give more to reduce the chances of a hundred overloaded refugee ships heading for the coast. Some people see America's aid as, an act of diplomacy, to make friendships with an Islamic country like Indonesia.

There is a more sinister sign of aid too. Japanese aid to poor International Whaling Council members and USA's aid to Israel are the repugnant forms of aid. They are both forms of aid that few citizens would deem worthwhile and are hence unethical. It is when you look at it that way, that the perception of government as an entity with its own intentions comes to the surface; something that is not representative of an electorate but a superior entity which knows better. And this discussion can go to so many other areas (like how Spain could participate in the Coalition of the Willing with an 90% unwilling public etc.). The ethics of government and what is regarded as a mandate to conduct its actions is brought into view.

So back to our NZ$100 million of 'aid', why is it being given? How is that number calculated? Is it an ethical use of our money?

1 comment:

Crypticity said...

The government has decided to give NZ$68 million (not NZ$100 mill. as earlier suggested as a possibility). NZ$52 mill. will be given immediately, and the remaining $16 million in the following 5 years. This amount includes the $19 million that was already promised when the government said that it would match private donations.