UN Millenium Project

From the NYT:

“We're talking about rich countries committing 50 cents out of every $100 of income to help the poorest people in the world get a foothold on the ladder of development,” said Professor Sachs, who was appointed to lead the project by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2002.

Sachs no doubt understands that “countries” don't have income. People who live in countries have incomes. So “we're talking about” the state apparatus in charge of “rich countries” appropriating 1/2% of their citizens' incomes, and transferring it to the UN, an institution of extremely doubtful moral legitimacy, who will then distribute the money in the form of development aid, a strategy for creating prosperity about as successful as the use of leeches for the treatment of leukemia. Great.
And this is the sort of reporting that is not quite reporting:

Britain itself has pledged to double aid by 2013 to 0.7 percent of its national income. The United States, which currently allocates less than 0.2 percent for aid, has not made a comparable pledge.

It is hard to imagine that the author does not intend us to think, “Why not?”
Why not, indeed. Well, why is the “allocation” of the United States government more significant than the money voluntarily allocated by residents of the United States through remittances and charitable giving to aid efforts? See today's Cato Commentary by Ian Vasquez.
I've begun to think that in some sense the state is parasitic on the cognitive limitations of the media. It's an old chestnut that the development of science largely involved evacuating magical intentional agents from our explanatory schemes. If something happens, the easiest explanation for humans to understand is that someone made it happen because they wanted it to happen. Explanations are like stories, and convincing stories have characters who do stuff. The media has to tell a story, and the simpler the better. Nation-states, it turns out, are like giant people who can do stuff and make things happen. So if people are mired in poverty, what can be done! Have the League of Magical Giants sprinkle manna on the heads of the downtrodden! This is a story even a journalist can understand. However, the story where millions of individuals give small amounts of money to intermediary institutions, who administer funds to projects helping poor people on the ground . . . well, millions of people isn't a good character, and all those different charities and institutions doing different things with their bits of money is hard to follow.
So journalists write about magical giants, reinforce the idea of the nation-state as magical giant in the minds of readers, and the individuals of the exploitative political class prosper.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center