It’s bad enough for Americans to endure hectoring from the United Nations about our response to the tsunami crisis in Asia. Now we must endure scolding from a former U.S. Cabinet official, who admits that the nation has given a lot — he only wishes more of it came from the public sector rather than from private sources.
Robert Reich, who served as Labor secretary during the first Clinton administration, said in a National Public Radio commentary last week that the $350 million in disaster relief the U.S. government has pledged is “far less, as a proportion of national wealth, than other advanced nations.” Reich then went on to criticize the private aspect of the American aid response.
“I can’t help but wonder whether we’re losing sight of the importance, both to the international community but also to ourselves, of contributing to this effort as a nation, as a people,” he added. “IBM, Microsoft and other global brand names are doing well by doing good, and that’s fine. But what about the brand that represents all of us, the United States of America?”
Reich apparently doesn’t believe that the millions of dollars in private donations that come from average citizens, from individuals sending $25 checks to the Red Cross to actress Sandra Bullock, who gave $1 million in aid, are reflective of American generosity.
Reich argues that private donations shouldn’t be viewed as anything more than self-interest, whereas government donations should be viewed as the most compassionate form of help. Actually, governments are the entities most likely to have a self-interest when they give money to other nations.
To say that government aid is most reflective of the generosity of a people also turns the entire American experiment on its head. The nation’s founders devised a society that was mostly voluntary. Government — which takes its money by force — would step in only to do those things the private sector could not.
As Tocqueville recognized during his tour of America, Americans are an extremely compassionate people willing to help their neighbors. He was not talking about the central government, but about hands-on help and charity voluntarily given to those who need it.
We do agree with Reich on one point. “Of course, the most important thing now is to help the people in need, however and wherever that help comes from,” he said.
Too bad he didn’t leave it at that.