ABC's 20/20 Tonight: Are Americans Stingy or Generous?

November 29, 2006
At 10pm Eastern Time tonight, the U.S. television network ABC will air a feature by its in-house conservative curmudgeon, John Stossel. The theme: whether Americans are stingy or generous. Going by the web version, the story starts out being about how much the United States gives to poorer countries. As the conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal did in May (subscription required), Stossel cites the work of Carol Adelman of the Hudson Institute showing that as private citizens, Americans give more than many people appreciate: "We're one of the most generous people in the world, and that's because of our private philanthropy," she said.(As my colleague Lawrence MacDonald asks, does this mean I can go out and buy that flat-screen TV for Christmas guilt-free?)Do you agree? I encourage you to vote on the ABC web site on whether Americans are generous or stingy.One problem with the Adelman argument that I've pointed out before is that it make America look good by not comparing it to anything. Even using Adelman's debatable figures, Americans give 66 cents per person per day to the poorer four-fifths of the world. Is that generous? I'll let you judge.ABC did contact CGD in the production of this story, showing interest in the post-tsunami debate between Adelman and CGD senior fellow Steve Radelet, and in the Commitment to Development Index, which factors in government tax incentives for private charity, among many other things. Notably, the experts actually cited in the story (as distinct from the movie and rock stars) all come from one particular part of the political spectrum.And as for the ongoing voting, this is one election ABC did not hesitate to call before the polls close: "America," Stossel and coauthor Gena Binkley write, "is anything but cheap."


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.