Recently I read that New Zealanders give $1.27bn in donations each year, and that this compares very poorly to other countries. I thought it was maybe a good thing to find that we give only 0.81% of our national income compared to 2.2% in the US (where they obviously have a strong philanthropic culture). But then I was also impressed to read elsewhere that Latin American emigrants sent home about NZ$100bn to their families last year. Apparently such remittances are typically sent home by 'fruit pickers, nannies and cleaners' earning NZ$150-450 a month, and keep about 10m families out of poverty. This money actually exceeds the combined flow of aid and foreign direct investment' to Latin America. But why do I feel so differently about the two different examples above? [Read more below]
I think the left generally has an ambivalent view towards philanthropy. On the one hand, we normally think that social problems require a collective approach rather than an individual one. Therefore we disapprove of the charity mongering industry and the US model whereby it is the role of the wealthy (who are taxed less) to give a relatively high proportion of their incomes towards 'good' or 'deserving' causes. But then on the other hand, we also often distrust the state to fairly carry out charitable functions, as they normally do so in a way to either maintain the social order or to produce certain political outcomes. This is especially the case with foreign 'aid' that the governments of countries like New Zealand and the US normally give with very strong strings attached.
Perhaps what normally defines our different approach to this giving is a class approach. We distrust the models whereby the rich and powerful use aid as a weapon or lever. Instead we look for the types of aid which is given in solidarity rather than out of religious or patronage reasons. In the UK, the Weekly Worker newspaper has been especially interested in this issue - see their charity section. They advocate the left in the west needs to set up channels for giving real aid, and to 'supporting the self-organisation of the oppressed' to bring about their own liberation - noting previous solidarity endeavours such as Red Aid, and coffee-picking brigades in Nicaragua.
Even in terms of the NZ Goverment's foreign aid, it is also interesting to note that Oxfam says that as of 2007, the New Zealand Government is one of the least generous aid givers. New OECD figures out show that 'New Zealand is the sixth lowest foreign aid giver, based on the percentage of gross national income (GNI) spent on overseas development assistance'. Furthermore, the OECD estimates that under Labour, NZ is on track to fall to the third lowest OECD foreign aid giver.
Currently NZ gives only 0.27% of GNI, and although Labour has promised to increase this to 0.35% by 2010 there has been no increase yet. Oxfam says also, that NZ is 'one of only a few countries who have not set a plan in place to reach our promised target of 0.7%'. The Director of Oxfam New Zealand, Barry Coates, says, 'To put it bluntly, we are not pulling our weight in the fight against poverty'.