Charity begins at home, privately

… no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651

Earlier this month life for those who were unable to leave the city of New Orleans before hurricane Katrina struck turned decidedly Hobbesian. Take away the basic necessities of life from a bunch of people – water, food, shelter – and soon enough the struggle for existence reveals nature red in tooth and claw.

One can have all the political freedoms guaranteed by an enlightened constitution. But when survival is at stake, the law flows out of the barrel of gun, and if the gun is missing, knives and fists will do. The thin veneer of civilization is not sufficiently strong to withstand the primal drive for survival at any cost.

They dragged out the national guard to keep the desperate poor trapped in New Orleans. In a sense, it was no longer part of the United States of America. It was a Third World country and the people of that place had to be kept out of the US just as other intruders are. And like the Mexicans dying in the desert trying to cross into the US or the Chinese suffocating in the holds of illegal ships, the poor of New Orleans also died in the floods.


The government of the US and its various agencies failed in their duty, of course. The Bush’s ineptitude runs surprisingly deep. But Bush and his buddies are not idiots. They will make even more money as a result of the tragedy. They will pour billions in the re-construction of the city and all the contracts will be awarded to Bush’s cronies.

They did that in Iraq. They bombed the country with huge expensive bombs (paid for by the American taxpayers). Then they gave fat contracts to Bush’s friends’ firms – they made a killing again. Hundreds of billions have already been spent in the needless war in Iraq.

For the cost of the Iraq war, global hunger could have been eradicated. Perhaps malaria, that awesome killer in the tropics, could have been tamed. But the military industrial complex wanted blood.

There is always enough money for bombs. But never enough for the poor people in need. For the poor, charity is recommended. The US said it would accept foreign aid. As far as I can tell, the US does soak up a lot of aid every day by borrowing two billion dollars a day from the rest of the world. A little more would not hurt the world.


Anyway, the Indian government in a gesture of grand magnanimity pledged $5 million for the US Red Cross for relief efforts. It also prepared to send an Air Force plane loaded with thousands of blankets and tens of thousands of meals. Good gesture.

Let me see. Five million dollars would buy lots of food and clothing for the people in need. But money is fungible. It can buy guns or it can buy butter. Of course, $5 million would not buy very many Patriot missiles – only five Patriot missiles, if I have my missile price correct. In an average night, they did shoot hundreds of those during the bombing of Iraq. Five more or less would not have significantly changed how much area was destroyed and how many people killed.

I think that in effect India contributed to the cost of five Patriot missiles fired in Afghanistan or in Iraq. Of course, India helped out in Afghanistan also by donating a fleet of buses which were probably destroyed by the missiles. Nice isn’t it: pay for the missiles, pay for the reconstruction.


I am totally against the government of India sending public funds to the US as charity. Charity, in my opinion, should be private and not public. Each one of us has to decide for ourselves how much and to whom we will extend our help in time of need. A private citizen has the obligation and the right to give from his own resources as much as he wishes to the charity of his choosing. The government of India – or any other government – should not be in the business of charity.

The government of India should have trusted the people of India to make the necessary sacrifices to send the resources to the people of New Orleans. The Prime Minister, too, has the right to write his own personal check to whoever he wishes. But he should not be so generous with other peoples’ money.

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