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You probably know about the Commitment to Development Index (CDI) of the Center for Global Development, which ranks rich countries on the “development-friendliness” of their policies. In a letter to the Wall Street Journal (subscription req.) on Saturday, Carol Adelman previewed the new Index of Global Philanthropy of the Center for Global Prosperity (no, you are not seeing double), which she directs at the Hudson Institute. Adelman was the number-two at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under the first President Bush, and later gained fame for arguing in Foreign Affairs and USAID’s Foreign Aid in the National Interest (chapter 6) that the United States is far more generous toward poorer countries than is commonly thought, once you factor in giving by private citizens, universities, and corporations. Her new index will probably make the same point.

In the WSJ, she writes:

OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) data on foreign aid omits Americans' private giving abroad, which comes to at least four times U.S. government foreign aid. Americans give internationally the way they do domestically -- through the private sector, people to people. Europeans give internationally the way they do domestically -- primarily through government...
Accompanying the flawed OECD figures, which come out in the next month or so, will be the old refrain that America is "stingy." That's wrong. We are clearly a most generous people abroad -- when it's calculated correctly.

Adelman seems to believe that government is fundamentally a problem, not a solution. To her, looking at how much aid governments give--or looking at their policies more generally, the way the CDI does--is wrong-headed. Of course, government often is a problem, but not always, not nearly. In an excellent debate with Adelman one year ago, CGD Senior Fellow Steven Radelet pointed out weaknesses in Adelman’s methods and reminded the audience that the important question is not whether America is generous, but whether its government is giving enough aid, and in the right ways, to advance national interests.
The CDI does, by the way, reward government incentives for private charity, such as income tax deductibility of donations to non-profits and having low taxes overall, since that leaves more money for private giving.

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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.