Sunday, November 6, 2011

Post #46 - If Only Guns were Butter

"And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:24)

TM: Unilever United States
"In total, after-tax incomes for the top 1% shot up by 275% from 1979 to 2007, the [Congressional Budget Office] found. Those in the next higher bracket – the highest 20% of earners (excluding the top 1%) – saw their earnings increase by 65%, which is not insignificant but only a small fraction of the gains had at the tippy top. Meanwhile, wages have been comparatively stagnant at the low end of the income spectrum. The bottom 20% saw their wages increase by just 18% during that 28-year period." (per The Street Network on-line, October 25, 2011)

Since the early days of our republic, some have felt that our blessedness -- with a vast landmass rich with natural resources and a population willing to make the most of it -- was an indicator of our goodness. As the hymn goes, however, we also asked God to "crown Thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea." Somehow, lately we seem to find the treasure of of wealth and privilege to be enough, and have left off seeking the crowning achievement of brotherhood. We imbibed the idea of our country being divinely favored, without remembering the responsibility that comes with our good fortune.

Years ago, the cynical old saw went “The rich get rich, the poor get children.” Now, if we are honest, we have to say “The rich get rich faster, the poor get poorer sooner, and the children pay the price.” For all our natural resources and global exploitation, we have not been able to find a share of the wealth for those who start out life in deprivation. While the American dream is alive as a concept, the number of people who actually pull it off is very few. The genius of the recent film Pursuit of Happiness, starring Will Smith, was that it showed a man of brilliance, determination and ingenuity who could barely succeed in making a life for himself and his son in modern-day U.S. society. What of the other millions who happen not to be brilliant, or even of average intelligence? What of those who, in addition to being down-and-out, are weak and sick? What of the children who have no parents, as his son did?

On the international level, are the poorest of the world now seeing the United States as their strong and committed ally in the alleviation of their poverty? Among the thousands of political appointees in the Bush administration, one of the most effective may have been Andrew Natsios, until recently the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. His agency compiled some impressive successes in various parts of the world on disease eradication, clean drinking water, pollution mitigation and disaster relief. Yet the Iraq War tended to soak up all available dollars, to the detriment of many such worthy efforts. The preoccupation with the “war on terror”  put other agenda items, such as Darfur (Note: Natsios was later assigned the task of monitoring the crisis there as a special envoy), restructuring of debt, trade imbalances and privacy concerns in an electronic age, on the back burner year after year. We were already contributing far less, as a percentage of our gross national product, than more industrialized nations.

During the Cold War, we matched the Soviet Union tit for tat, in order to “win the hearts and minds” of the world's developing countries. Recently, we have not only been losing the battle for respect and admiration, but most importantly we have failed to bring our unequaled economic strength fully to bear on what should be all mankind's enemies: illiteracy, pollution, poverty, disease and preventable death.

For a recent meeting with a member of Congress, I compiled the following notes:

US payment to United Nations agencies - about $500 m./year
Comparison - US GDP of $13 trillion (represents 0.00384% for support of the U.N.)

US share of WHO - $100 m., of FAO - another $100 m.
Comparison: each is equal to about two weeks of our aid to Israel at current rates

Total U.S. Foreign Aid - $50 b./year
Comparison: less than what Bernie Madoff made off with in his ponzi scheme

Citizen estimates of US aid (according to polls): about 20% of the federal budget
Actual percentage of GDP: about 1.6% of federal discretionary funds

Pledge made by industrialized nations at Rio Conference: each industrialized country to donate .7% of its GDP to international relief and development
Actual percentage of GDP: about 0.16% (1/4 of our international commitment) - US ranks 22nd
Comparison: Norway, at .92% of GDP; average of first-world countries, at .45%

Total international aid (from all countries): about $100 b./year
Total debt service paid to international lenders by developing countries: $200 b./year

Annual expenditures by the US and its allies on security: about $1 trillion
Comparison: 20 times what is spent on all public education through high school in the United States

Current U.S. Nuclear arsenal: equivalent to 200,000 Hiroshima bombs
Global expenditures on security: over $1.5 trillion/ year
US share of all arms transfers: over half of the total is sourced in the United States

(Credit:  Matt Wuerker,
The wars we are now in have cost at least $3495 for each man, woman and child in the country. (Add to that the cost in lost loved ones, disabled veterans and damaged psyches.)
Comparison: that figure is equal to the per capita income of the Philippines, or ten times that of people living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Annual budget of the US Institute of Peace: about $40 million
Annual budget of the Pentagon: about $670 billion

No comments:

Post a Comment