Monday, December 13, 2010

Generosity: Real and Imagined

Following up on the holiday theme, lets look at some data related to cultural generosity as manifest in international aid. Using data from a recent World Public Opinion survey, the Washington Post's Ezra Kleen crafted the following graphic:

There is a lot going on here. On the one hand, American's perceive themselves as a generous people and, I think, that sensibility is reflected in the magnitude of the "should spend" allocation. On the other hand, there is a perception that the government is actually spending roughly double what they "should spend." This is remarkably consistent with a
Gallup poll documenting the belief that Uncle Sam wastes 50 cents on the dollar. This sentiment explains the effectiveness of the simplistic political rhetoric claiming it is possible to balance the budget by getting rid of waste, fraud and abuse. Finally, there is the implicit point that Klein constructed the graph to illustrate -- that American's would be willing to give more to foreign aid if they actually understood how little was currently being spent. I doubt that is true. Indeed, if the question were phrased differently I suspect you would get very different results. For example, asking Americans to estimate the amount of money actually spent on foreign aid rather than the proportion of the budget, would, I suspect, yield a number substantially lower than the actual dollars involved.

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