The Case Against Donating Money for Japan

...and the case against their case

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The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan have moved individuals, banks, and corporations to donate to relief efforts. But some commentators have a message for all those who plan on giving money: Don't, at least not  to Japan specifically.

Here are the reasons they're giving, along with several rebuttals to their arguments:

Japan Is A Wealthy Country Japan, says Felix Salmon at Reuters, can raise relief money itself if it's necessary. "Money is not the bottleneck here," he says.

Counterargument: "The U.S. is a wealthy country, also, but that didn’t help New Orleans [during Hurricane Katrina], did it?" asks Mahablog.

Donations Shouldn't Be Restricted Relief groups have swooped into a high-profile natural disaster in Japan, but they haven't yet made clear how they plan on spending the money they're raising, Salmon contends. When you donate specifically to Japanese relief efforts, he continues, you prevent NGOs from using your money in "smaller and less visible emergencies" where money is more of a problem, government is less effective, and "NGOs can do the most good," raising the possibility that your money may go unspent. We should donate generously to worthy relief organizations, Salmon adds, but we should do so without specifiying how our contribution should be used.

Counterarguments: One commenter at Reuters says that many charities now apply surplus funds designated for specific emergencies to their general funds, and Global Giving--which Salmon singles out in his article--adds in the comments section that the organization is distributing money to "high-impact" organizations in Japan, whether high-profile or grassroots. Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution, meanwhile, argues that "the chance that your aid will be usefully deployed, and not lost to corruption, is much higher than average," adding, "Maybe you should give to a poorer country instead, but you probably won’t. Odds are this will be an extra donation at the relevant margin."

International Disaster Relief Is Ineffective "Relief groups rarely know who is suffering most," argues CNBC's John Carney, "or how aid can be most effectively directed ... We'd do far better to use these occasions to reflect on the unpredictability and fragility of our lives. If we’re charitably minded, we can turn to local charities and churches."

Counterargument: True, the initial reaction of relief organizations to tragedies "can be chaotic and things don't always go perfectly," concedes The Huffington Post's Howard Steven Friedman, "but large organizations usually have clearly defined plans to deal with crisis management."

Japan Donations Plagued by Fraud This is more a reason to be cautious when donating than to not donate, but MacWorld reports that the Japanese earthquake has spawned 1.7 million malware pages, numerous e-mail scams, and over 50 fake domains with "Japan tsunami" or "Japan earthquake" in their URLs.

Counterargument: The Huffington Post's Friedman recommends donating to established organizations and researching groups online before giving.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.