Waylaid Dialectic

February 28, 2011

Help Us Oprah-Wan Kenobi, you’re our only hope

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 1:45 pm

Is this right? Is it ethical?

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AFP) – Earthquake-hit New Zealand wants US talk show hosts Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman to help fundraising efforts after the disaster that devastated Christchurch, a report said Monday.

Prime Minister John Key planned to ask the influential celebrities to promote a charity drive for victims and rebuilding efforts following the tremor that killed at least 148 people, The New Zealand Herald reported.

“We are going to speak to well-known international talk show hosts, maybe Letterman or Oprah Winfrey, those kinds of people,” Key told the New Zealand Herald.

He said New Zealand hoped to raise “significant cash” in the global appeal, pointing out a similar move by Australia after wildfires claimed 173 lives in 2009 raised almost Aus$390 million ($396 million).

Key said that meant the tragedy resonated around the world and New Zealand would use social media sites such as Facebook, international media and the country’s diplomatic corps to tell people how they could help.

“It’s had a devastating impact on a small country like New Zealand, we think that people around the world will open their hearts and their wallets for the people of Christchurch,” he told TVNZ.

The appeal website can be found at http://www.christchurchearthquakeappeal.govt.nz.

On one hand, what happened in Christchurch is a tragedy. Far beyond anything experienced in New Zealand in my lifetime. And watching the suffering of my compatriots makes me keen on anything that might help.

On the other hand, New Zealand is a developed country, and we’re not in fiscal crisis. Our economy’s running slow but it’s hardly in free fall. We have some reinsurance too. Or, in other words, we can afford to pay for this. We might have to raise taxes, true, but that’s not beyond us.

Given these facts, is going out actively soliciting donations really the right thing for our Prime Minister to be doing? Sure, take those donations people are willing to make. But actively going out an making an appeal? When we could deal with this problem ourselves. That doesn’t seem right. Particularly when the focus of his appeal appears to be the US, which has it’s own economic problems right now. And especially given that the need for this type of charity is so much greater in the developing world.

What’s more, overseas charity of the level given to Australia in the wake of the bush fires isn’t actually going to make a major macro-level difference here in NZ. At today’s exchange rates AU$390 million is about NZ$570 million. Which seems like a lot. But last financial year the New Zealand government took in $50.7 billion dollars in revenue (ref). Which means that even if we raised as much as the Australians did it would amount to just over 1% of total government income. In other words, at the end of the day, it’s what our government does, not what Oprah does, that’s really going to have an impact on the lives of people affected by the quake. So maybe, just maybe, that’s where our Prime Minister should be focusing his attention?

As I said, I’m all for helping the people of Christchurch; I just don’t think John Key’s approach is the right way of doing this.

[Update: the Herald Editorial staff run the numbers nicely but reach the opposite conclusion (i.e. actively seeking overseas charity is a good idea).]



  1. If, say, ~0.1% of ministerial time generates ~1% additional revenue that would strike me as value for money for the NZ people. Not that this resolves your other concerns.

    Comment by MJ — March 1, 2011 @ 12:00 am

  2. Hi MJ,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I guess, although the correct comparison would be whether that .1% ministerial time would most help the people of Chch by devoting it to appeals to Oprah for cash or whether it would be better put to use in other ways. Given the sheer magnitude of the problems facing the city right now I’m not sure it will.

    Also, I’m not sure that a prime ministerial plea will help. I’m inclined to think people will donate or they won’t. I could be wrong on that one though.

    Comment by terence — March 1, 2011 @ 7:41 am

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