Americans are hearing so much these days about how bad we are that we're starting to believe it.
In a recent Gallup poll, 68 percent said they are "dissatisfied with the position of the United States in the world today," and 55 percent said they think that the rest of the world views us unfavorably.
However, as I page through a publication called the Index of Global Philanthropy, which is produced annually by the Center for Global Prosperity at the Hudson Institute in Washington, it becomes obvious that these American feelings of self-deprecation are misguided.
This is the just released third annual edition of this index. It produces a unique snapshot portraying the full extent of American generosity to developing countries, by amount and by source.
Usually when the question of aid to the developing world arises, we think of government funds. But this index shows that, whereas it may be the rule in the rest of the industrialized world that most aid is government aid, in our country this isn't the case. Most of the contributions that Americans make abroad are private and voluntary. And they are large.
In 2006, the latest year for which data is available, the index reports that Americans contributed privately and voluntarily $34.8 billion to individuals and organizations in developing countries.
Philanthropy is distinct from government aid in that it originates with private citizens and is voluntary, but also the recipients are private individuals and organizations, as opposed to governments. Private to private versus government to government.
The $34.8 billion in philanthropy from private Americans exceeded the $23.5 billion in official U.S. government aid abroad by $11.3 billion, or 48 percent.
This private philanthropy is flowing from foundations, corporations, private and voluntary organizations, universities and colleges, and religious organizations.
Of particular interest in this year's index is the $8.8 billion reported from religious organizations. According to Carol Adelman, who directs this work, the data was produced by commissioning "the first national survey of congregational giving to the developing world" ever done.
The average contribution of congregations was $10,700.
To put this in some kind of perspective, the $8.8 billion in giving from American religious institutions to developing countries was $1.5 billion more than the total giving from all private sources in 30 of the world's major industrialized democratic countries combined.