I got the following at the beginning of an email from a hotel chain loyalty program today:
Happy New Year from Priority Club� Rewards! We're looking to another rewarding year; however we remain deeply saddened by the devastation in Southern Asia...
Phew! It can't be easy to be celebratory, excited about the new year, and also deeply saddened at the same time. But the hotel chain, me and I guess most everybody else not directly affected by the natural disaster is trying to do all three at once.
I'm not trying to be savvier-than-thou; why, I bet my tsunami donation to Oxfam was bigger than yours (not that it matters, right?). But I wonder how much of the extraordinarily generous global response to this particular aid crisis is down to the timing - when most of the western world is still celebrating Christmas and New Year?
There's some pressure in the office to slap a big set of "donate now" links across our site. I feel like we might be insulting the intelligence of our customers! You barely have to get out of your chair to donate to tsunami relief efforts in Sydney this week. My coffeeshop is donating its tips. The record shop is donating 5% of sales. I even read that most Sydney brothels have decided to donate 5-10% of client's fees (which would be a relief effort from a relief effort, or a relief effort, squared!)
The Australian government has even gone straight to the Indonesian government and committed $1 billion in aid. Put that in perspective: Indonesia's GDP in 2004 was about $220 billion and only four years ago it was $150 billion. So in 2005 it will probably represent a surprise windfall bonus for Indonesia's wealthy generals of about 0.4%. Holy Bucks, Batman!
Definitely worth thinking twice before invading now, you whacky generals! However, unlike some other larger economic powers, we haven't decided to forget about how much Indonesia is already in debt to Australia - about $1.4 billion. So the whacky generals can have a billion, but we still want our billion-plus back, thankyou. What if we'd just cancelled the debt and kept the billion, wouldn't that be simpler? Oh, wait, it wouldn't get the same media coverage back home, would it? Little Johnnie never forgets the media reaction.
If, say, the US ever wanted to make the same impression on the Australian economy, it would have to pump in about $2.5 billion. A big $2.5 billion present like that (assuming no strings attached) could pay for Australia's spending on fighting the "war on terror" over the next five years, or about half our government's spending on education for the year, or pay for our public road and train infrastructure for a year. Or pay the Federal private health care rebate for a year. Or buy a lucky 500,000 Australians a brand-spanking-new Lamborghini Gallardo (I would need to be one of these people, obviously, or Johnnie would lose my vote... errr... again...)
So Italy gets a nice economic windfall too. Except Lamborghini was only planning on selling about 1,000 Gallardos this year, so maybe we could stretch it to 499 other lucky Australians aside from myself (we can hardly deny the rest of the world the Lamborghinis they lust for). And it's quite possible the other 495,000 eligible Australians would prefer the Lamborghini Murcielago, or a second-hand Diablo, or even (shudder) an 'every-day' car, in which case we could probably stretch the largesse to another, say million Australians.
Our government would get about 22% of that spending back from us in motoring-related taxes, which we could probably lend to Indonesia (once we see evidence that they're capable of paying back what they still owe us, of course). And in the meantime, we're prepared to lend them our old cars, at least until they're able to rebuild all the roads, highways, houses, hospitals, schools, etc in the tsunami-affected province of Aceh. Which, let's face it, were in a pretty poor state before the tsunami, while the generals back in Jakarta have been driving around in supercars on their days off for years. So maybe they need to commit to spending the money on fixing up Aceh this time, instead of lining their own pockets.
...Is everybody clear on that?