When 24% is really 0.8%

According to the 2010 World Public Opinion Poll, the average American thinks the US spends 27% of the federal budget on foreign aid.

The actual figure is close to 1%. Even with the fickle nature of survey data this is a huge discrepancy, unbelievable really.

Does the average person on the sidewalks of US towns and cities really think that the US government gives a quarter of its money away in foreign aid? One dollar in four, leaving three to pay for everything else at home. Surely not.

Perhaps the perception is there because the US is by far the biggest single contributor to overseas development aid.

In 2010, the OECD reported the US spent $30 billion on aid, more than half as much again as the next most generous country, the UK ($14 billion), and 23% of the global total.

As a percentage of gross national income that $30 billion is just 0.21% and well below the average country effort (0.4%). It is also half a percentage point below the UN target of 0.7%. As it happens only five countries meet the UN target (Norway, Luxemburg, Sweden, Denmark and Netherlands).  The US would need to up the ante to $100 billion to catch up with the Scandinavians.

So the reality is that most countries give away less than half a cent in the dollar of national income to assist other countries develop. And the cynic would chirp that even this tiny percentage is not entirely altruistic as often the money is spent on goods manufactured at home plus some of the recipient countries will become trading partners in the fullness of time.

$30 billion was 0.8c in the dollar of the $3.6 trillion US federal budget of 2010.

Why the huge discrepancy? I must say I am at a loss. It could be because the average person has little notion of just how big the US budget is and so easily thinks that the donor part must be substantial. Or maybe people just don’t realize the huge cost of services at home.

Then again, we all tend to think that we are more generous than we actually are.

Whatever the reason, the numbers suggest there is huge difference between what people think is happening and reality.

100th Post

Well here we have it.

After more than 52,000 words on topics from potatoes to washing machines, here is the 100th post on alloporus | ideas for healthy thinking.

It is a milestone of sorts and a good excuse to take stock.

I started blogging in 2010, only so did quite a few others. There are now more blogs on the net than voters who will turn out for the upcoming US presidential elections [staggering but true]. So many bloggers means a scramble for readers and at times it seems people are more interested in writing than reading the ramblings of others.

Visions of a large and growing readership on alloporus fell away soon enough.

On the upside blogging is good practice for any would be author. There is great discipline in always trying to say something interesting, a few hundred words at a time. So what have the previous 99 posts tried to say?

Rather than get all wordy on you I thought I would try to strip it all back to sound bites, so here goes.

Leadership sucks.

That’s it. 99 posts and a whole heap of words that try to explain it, when, in fact, two words suffice.

Leadership sucks.

It would seem that a theme running through just about all those 99 little ditties is that leadership is very hard to do well.

It requires more than force of personality to rise above the general chatter of all the mini-demagogues running around leading their band of one. Leaders need smart, attractive ideas that are strong enough to cut through the noise and then persist for long enough to take hold. This requires extraordinary tenacity even when you have a great idea.

And it seems we have a dearth of true leaders around who are even prepared to give it a go. Instead we are saddled with the egoists, chatterers, and wannabes trying to fill the gap.

Bless ‘em for trying but really our leadership sucks.

And, in the modern world, leadership itself sucks. Sticking your neck out is a risky business given the multitude of tools available to all and sundry to knock it off.

That’s assuming that you can even be heard. Ironically the information revolution has also made it easier for us to ignore the important stuff. We are far too busy texting, tweeting, posting on our wall and, well yes, blogging, to listen to real ideas. So breaking that big one through to enough minds is a huge challenge. So leadership sucks too.

Having simplified all those posts penned with great angst and care to two words, it begs the serious question of what to do with the next 100 posts?

I am tempted to type ‘leadership sucks’ in a ribbon across the page and keep posting that every day until flames consume me. Only that would be the ultimate avoidance; the head in the sand that I subconsciously railed against in the first 99 posts.

I could produce more of the same. A regular 500-word whinge about how terrible it all is. But this risks perpetual sadness and the likelihood of becoming a drunkard with his glass always half empty. And yet I have come to realize that this is my default condition. Not the drunkard bit but I too easily land close to despair at the ways of the human world, a state of mind I can tolerate only because my passion is readily aroused by good ideas and natural wonders.

So to continue to post yet more thinly veiled complaints about lack of leadership seems to have me running away again.

I could go all ‘ra, ra, ra’ on you and just talk everything up.

It would be easy enough to find ideas in the environmental good news stories that pepper the websites of green groups, NGOs and even some of the government departments. From there it would just be a matter of seeing the glass as half full. Yes we can and all that

Of course regular alloporus readers will be laughing at this point. They know me too well. Half empty to half full would require a change equivalent to spontaneous combustion. Rare indeed.

So I am going to try something else.

My idea is to see if I can make the next 100 posts about a more fundamental requirement. The theme is already a category tag on alloporus, suggesting that I have tried it already, only now I will try to make it stick.

It also happens to be the theme of my next ebook that is currently with the editor and will be available at a huge discount to loyal alloporus readers in time for their Christmas stocking.

So here is my new theme, and again two words are enough.

Awareness matters.

The last loaf of bread

Consider the situation if this delicious crusty loaf was the only one on the planet.

More than that, it is the very last loaf of bread there will ever be.

After thousands of years of grinding grains into flour, adding yeast, a little salt and some water, kneading the mixture and applying some heat, the making of bread has stopped. And this loaf is now the last of its kind.

What would you do?

What should you do?

A while ago I wrote a story about Joe who was prescient enough to realize that he had this very conundrum.

You can download Joe’s story from the free downloads page of my Climate-change-wisdom site.

If you like it, why not download my ebook Stories for a change to read some more adventures and anecdotes that will tweak your environmental imagination.

You can get a copy in your preferred ebook format at Smashwords for less than the price of a cup of coffee.