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ethics of aid I

This Magazine Staff

Should you send money to tsunami victims? Obviously. But what if aid is a zero-sum game, in which every dollar that goes to tsunami relief is a dollar that does not go somewhere else? When I went to the red cross site last week to make a donation, I was briefly held up by a moral dilemma: why give to tsunami relief, when the red cross site also has urgent appeals for Sudan humanitarian relief, Haiti hurricane relief, and malaria prevention in Togo? And what about the Stephen Lewis Foundation?
Some arguments for giving to tsunami relief (adapted from Marginal Revolution):
1. Massive media coverage increases overall aid, because the money that is going to tsunami relief would not have gone to other needy causes, but would have been spent on iPods and that sort of thing. That is, I didn’t donate to tsunami relief instead of Aids in Africa relief. I donated instead of buying a new shirt.
2. Some urgent appeals are more urgent than others, and this one is extremely urgent, with people dying as we speak.
3. Aid is more effective when large numbers of donors coordinate upon addressing a single disaster in a focused manner.
I think the first is probably the most convincing argument. I don’t see the force of the second, since people are dying all over the world, as we speak, because of lack of aid. The third might be true, although, as reported in the Post today, most of the pledged money never materialises.
Meanwhile, there remains the zero-sum problem. Here’s an article from my local CBC site, which suggests that domestic charities are getting a bit concerned, based on past experience, that Canadians will simply change the target of their donations rather than increase the total amount of money they earmark for charity.

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