All sounds logical enough

Fewer than a third of British people believe in the humanitarian principle that we have a duty to help everyone in distress, regardless of circumstances, according to a new survey conducted by the Charities Aid Foundation.

The research revealed that, beneath the generosity that people show in giving to charity, there is also a judgment – which means that people give far less money to help innocent people caught up in war or conflict than to people who suffer as a result of “natural” disasters, such as earthquakes or floods.

More than a third of people (39%) believed governments of crisis-hit countries should deal with their problems on their own, rather than be helped through humanitarian aid. Just a quarter of us think we should ignore the political or cultural context and help where help is needed.

Altruism is in human nature, sure it is. But it’s a qualified altruism (as so much about humans is qualified).

We’re more generous to those where we can and do think “There but for the Grace of God go I” and less generous where we think there’s human agency in the fuck up and less generous again when we think that the agent of the fuck up is the one suffering it.

Perhaps, morally, it shouldn’t be so: but it seems that it is so for some majority of us.

And note, this is still all about humanitarian aid, this isn’t even touching on development aid.

20 thoughts on “All sounds logical enough”

  1. Just when you’re starting to lose faith in CiF commenters, someone comes out with a classic:

    That’s Thatcher’s true legacy. It’s turned us into a nation of selfish amoral bastards.

  2. Just a quarter of us think we should ignore the political or cultural context and help where help is needed.

    It’s refreshing to think that 75% of Brits think that giving millions to kleptomaniac African billionaires, murderous warlords, idiotic and evil Marxists, and people who openly detest us is a bad idea. I’d have thought it was much lower.

  3. My problem with aid to conflict zones is a nagging uncertainty whether it might simply perpetuate the conflict. Warlords and armed groups and brutish governments all have ways of getting fingers in pies even for delivery of entirely harmless aid (“road tolls”, “escort fees”, whatever) and plenty of aid is potentially dual-use. Even food and medicine becomes more troubling if it is soldiers who get first dibs.

    So there’s an information economics issue. Even if I were 90% sure that aid to South Sudan or Gaza or Afghanistan would really cure the ravages of war, not contribute to it, I’m still much more likely to donate to help with floods or earthquakes (where at least aid can’t make the disaster recur even if it’s all wasted and embezzled away).

    Same as the “not wanting to buy a lemon” thing at heart.

  4. @Rob
    No, no-one does because the definitions of “giving” and “Charity” have been changed, so the data is non-comparable.

  5. Rob, HMRC figures on tax relief claimed should be available – that won’t cover all charitable giving, but it’ll give you something to compare.

  6. Rob,

    We didn’t need to give to charity before 1979 because the munificent and well organised state did it all for us. It was a wonderful time before Fatcher came along and destroyed it all. Hospitals were all brand new, there was more doctors and nurses than we’ve ever seen, pensioners had loads of money, banks lent to anyone who wanted to start a business, lambs gamboled gaily in the fields ……

    That’s not how I remember it but it must be my memory because the left keep telling me that was the case.

  7. Charity begins at home. It need not end there of course, but the chances of your gift being wasted or stolen increase the further from home, geographically and culturally.

    So givers are making a quite sensible choice, really.

    Rob, I don’t know the figures but if a charity’s income used to be 10% funded by government and now is 60% funded by government, I’d think it sensible to give less, on the grounds that our taxes have already contributed.

  8. Bif

    “the chances of your gift being wasted or stolen increase the further from home, geographically and culturally.”

    I’m torn on this.

    In principle charity should have much more purchasing power – better bang per buck – in the developing world. Compare the cost of providing basic primary schooling or nursing for instance – doing this in the UK is very expensive partly due to our higher labour costs. But at least when it is happening under our noses we get a better sense of how effective our charity might be, and the fact it is happening in a minimally corrupt country with relatively robust legal framework and institutions is reassuring from the point of view of outright fraud.

  9. MBE

    Good point but the purchasing power parity argument tends to be overwhelmed by the hordes of westerners, tied aid, and sheer graft involved in the distribution.

    The biggest favour we could do to the third world would be to liberalise trade, especially agricultural trade.

  10. So Much for Subtlety

    MyBurningEars – “I’m torn on this.”

    I am torn on this too. After all, spending money on poor people in poor countries ought to be a better way to spend your money. Which is why, in the old days, spending money on nuns was such a good idea. People who have so clearly given up so much to become nuns were hardly likely to salt your aid money away in a Swiss bank account. In a low trust society, you need people who conspicuously do not consume. But it is only an “ought” as there are probably good reasons why charity is usually wasted in Third World countries.

    “the fact it is happening in a minimally corrupt country with relatively robust legal framework and institutions is reassuring from the point of view of outright fraud.”

    Indeed. Fraud and incompetent. Although Britain gets its full share of incompetence. On the other hand …..

    http://marshallfoundation.org/blog/marshall-plan-afghanistan-aid/

    “SIGAR calculates that by the end of 2014, the United States will have committed more funds to reconstruct Afghanistan, in inflation-adjusted terms, than it spent on 16 European countries after World War II under the Marshall Plan,”

    No doubt Thatcher made those poor Afghans steal all that money. Actually that would be a fun CiF article – try to explain why so much money made so little difference in Afghanistan without sounding racist. What is the politically correct explanation I wonder? That the US imposed a bunch of incompetent thieves rather than the progressive Guardian readers who were Da Peeeple’s *real* choice?

  11. So Much for Subtlety

    Fewer than a third of British people believe in the humanitarian principle that we have a duty to help everyone in distress

    Does this play well at home I wonder? TW should lobby UKIP to reintroduce the distinction between the Deserving and the Undeserving Poor. The way to square their liberal-ish back ground with their socially conservative pro-welfare base, is to say that they will spend more but on people who have not contributed to their own misfortune.

    I wonder if it would be popular? I am betting it would.

  12. Depends on the charity. I’ve taken to giving to small non-statist charities like Mary’s Meals. The simple idea of feeding a child so they can get an education to flee poverty appeals, especially since that’s what my own parents did. Small overheads, little or no DfiD money.

    I’m less inclined to give to big charities due to their funding of big CEO salaries, lobbyists and climate change bollocks.

    I am forced to give via taxes to places like Argentina (wtf?) and India – a country with a nuclear weapons and space programme. Beyond satire.

  13. @BiF, MBE, SMFS…

    There are indeed massive difficulties in knowing which charities are actually helping people. I’d add to your concerns about fraud, the simple fact that many donations simply don’t help even if they arrive. There is a now-classic example called the PlayPump, which was intended as a combined merry-go-round and water pump, and which received support from – among others – the World Bank and the Clinton Foundation. Of course, as anyone with a basic understanding of physics will quickly realise, merry-go-rounds require conservation of momentum while pumps require the constant application of new force. Hence the whole thing turned out to be a massive waste of people’s money which completely failed to help anyone in Africa.

    I’d recommend looking at http://www.givewell.org/, an organisation which does research into which charities actually help people the most. They suggest sensible programs like providing anti-malaria nets and treating children for intestinal worms as the best causes to donate to.

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