MAY 12, 2003
Martin E. Marty
"Gauging Generosity," a recent headline in The Economist (May 3), assesses how nations rank in respect to their generosity toward others, i.e., "Which rich countries do most to help poor countries?" With its U.K. ("secular") base, the magazine did not think to mention the ("religious") U.S.'s religious impulses in this context. An oversight?
Since the days of Alexis de Tocqueville, Americans see theirs as a religious, moral, generous nation -- a nation whose people have been looking into the mirror and making this appraisal. And we are not embarrassed (at least I am not) to note that much generosity between nations is based on self-interest; we Niebuhrians are ready for that. Bottom line: how are we doing?
Judged by their rhetoric, rich countries are falling over themselves to help the world's poorest. Promises aside, which rich countries have policies that help the poor?" The editors note that "America is the biggest donor in absolute terms" -- hooray for our side, so far -- "but the stingiest relative to the size of its economy, spending only 0.12% of its GDP" on such causes. Oops.
The Economist modifies the implicit but devastating judgment of those lines by quoting a new Centre for Global Development (CGD) ranking, which takes into consideration "aid, trade, the environment, migration, investment, and peacekeeping." The Netherlands comes out on top. "America scores well on trade but badly on everything else, and so is ranked second-bottom, above only Japan" among 21 nations measured. Take into consideration "aid" through "loans," and "America scores worse." Include America's vast philanthropic foundations, "which give a lot of aid privately," and the score would rise, but we'd still be last.
On the environment, "not surprisingly, the United States comes bottom." The Economist grumbles a bit about the measurement instrument on that one, so let's pass it by. "America also ranks near the bottom in peacekeeping. This will astonish many Americans;" they soften the judgment by noting that the CGD measures include "multilateral" efforts at peacekeeping, at which the U.S. bats very, very low. They admit that "unilaterally" -- now our official, chosen, approved, moral, and religious way in 2003 -- America does better: "Besides the more spectacular episodes, the American navy renders many sea-lanes safe." And that's not unimportant.
The Economist is not a voice of the left. Their reporting on the CGD serves as another mirror to hold up as we praise ourselves for our good works. We expect that these data will show up in sermons and homilies in the weekend ahead, and we'll be "sighting" some of them in the seasons to come.
M.E.M. notes that after devoting two recent issues of Sightings to the issue of "exclusion," including with a reference to a recent papal letter, he has heard from Greg Erlandson, editor of Our Sunday Visitor, who has made the point concerning that encyclical on the Eucharist, that "nowhere in the encyclical is the issue of divorced-remarried Catholics explicitly mentioned. This was apparently a speculative tidbit read into the document by an Italian story that was subsequently picked up by wire services." It made its way into the headline of two newspaper stories that were M.E.M.'s source; he wrote his column "on the road," and did not have the whole long encyclical available; it's "on his reading list," he says, on the recommendation of Mr. Erlandson, who describes it as "an unusually personal and readable pontifical letter."