Does the U.S. Spend Too Much or Too Little on Foreign Aid?

Posted by DipNote Bloggers
March 28, 2008
Aid Donated by USAID in Jakarta, Indonesia

In recent years, the United States has launched the largest international development effort since the Marshall Plan. Since 2001, the U.S. has doubled its assistance to Latin America, quadrupled it for Africa and nearly tripled it worldwide. The U.S. is the world’s largest donor of bilateral and multilateral foreign aid. In 2006, the U.S. gave $23.5 billion in official development assistance. This represents less than 1% of its GDP.

Does the U.S. spend too much or too little on foreign aid?

Comments

Comments

Charles
|
Ohio, USA
March 29, 2008

Charles in Ohio writes:

According to the United Nations, the U.S. spends too little. Is the U.S. still at 0.3% in development assistance?

Where does the U.S. rank in absolute terms? Is the U.S. ahead of Denmark, Sweden or Norway? Do those countries give larger portions of aid based on their GDPs?

A few years ago, almost 80% of USAID contracts and grants went directly to American firms operating abroad.

Isn't the UN target for development assistance 0.7%? Where is the U.S. now?

Those were a few questions that came to mind before answering "yes" or "no."

Michael
|
California, USA
March 29, 2008

Michael in California writes:

The real question is how much is spent on defense compared to aid, and are those proportions consistent with our national values? I think not. We spend far too much on a military infrastructure that was designed for a war that was and will never be fought. Defense could be FAR less -- more like 1% of GDP if invested strategically in Special Forces, mobility assets, and similar resources better suited to the scale and capabilities being encountered. Now, how 'bout the savings from that going to First: universal health care in the U.S. Second: an appropriate and coordinated international foreign aid rather than the miniscule, in-efficient, and self-serving aid so often seen from the U.S. gov't. People, follow the money and clue-in.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
March 29, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

"Does the U.S. spend too much or too little on foreign aid?"

That is only a question that can be answered by someone trying to put a cap on results.

(no offense intended to fellow forum members or DoS)

GDP as a yardstick? C'mon! Try using the number of lives saved per dollar spent, then perhaps folks globally have something worthy of their values to compare cost to.

Wanted to get that one off my chest for awhile, thanks Dipnote Bloggers for letting me rip.

Michael
|
California, USA
March 30, 2008

Michael in California writes:

I don't know if you understand how often our military is used in disaster relief here and around the world, or how that isn't figured into the budget we're discussing here:

Indian Ocean Tsunani - Military provided for 50,000,000 people in 4 countries for 3 months:

* Medical Evac and Transport & Hospital Ships and Land Based Hospitals
* Infrastructure Repair - Road & Bridge clearing, repair & reconstruction
* Water purification, Sewage treatment & Sanitation services
* Temporary Housing for several million people
* Transportation for food and other supplies and some of the food & supplies
* Assistance with burrial and disposal of over 200,000 bodies
* Security Services

Total value $15-20 Billion (Priceless if you needed the services)

If we didn't have hospital ships, assault ships with helipopters, heavy lift aircraft, etc., we wouldn't have been able to respond with these assets or respond with them as swiftly as we did. These assets simply aren't available in the civilian sector. In those situations, the Military Response must be considered to be part of our total foreign aid package.

I believe that, if you do that, you will find we spend far more in foreign aid, in a far less self-serving manner, than you could ever dream, and that is without condiering the billions of dollars American taxpayers send abroad through private charities and various NGO's.

I hope this makes you re-think military spending.

Dave
|
Illinois, USA
March 30, 2008

Dave in Illinois writes:

Kudos to Michael from California. Over half of our annual budget goes to military-related costs. This is a very sad and embarrassing breakdown. Why would we pay even a dime to build another stealth bomber? What good is that in the war we are now fighting? Think of what we could do by cutting 25% of that military spending and putting it all into the education system ...assuming the money would make it to the right places through the corridors of pork...

dan
|
Maryland, USA
March 31, 2008

Dan in Maryland writes:

Regarding the issue of foreign aid, clearly there is a moral imperative for the US to make meaningful and significant contributions to assisting those in need around the world. Beyond this moral foundation for our nation's aid to others, many experts have for years raised serious questions about the actual impact some such aid has on international development. A long these lines, here is a provocative expert from former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson summarizing his experience, perspectives and concerns with foreign aid from his service in 1949, i.e., at the beginning of Harry Trumanãs new term as President:

"(In his inaugural address Truman) spoke of the suffering of half the people in the world from inadequate food, disease, and primitive and stagnant economic life, while 'for the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and skill to relieve the suffering of these people.' The United States was pre-eminent in industrial and scientific techniques. Although our material resources available for foreign aid were limited, our resources for technical knowledge were inexhaustible. We should, he said, make them available to others. We should also foster capital investments in areas needing development.

"The aim was to help free peoples through their own efforts to produce more food, clothing, housing and power to lighten their burdens; the method, to 'invite other countries to pool their technological resources in cooperative enterprise' through the United Nations' with the cooperation of business, private capital, agriculture, and labor.ã However, 'the old imperialism' exploitation for foreign profit 'had no place in the concepts of democratic fair dealing.' Our allies in this enterprise were to be 'the millions who hunger and thirst after righteousness'.""Unfortunately, the hyperbole of the inaugural outran the provisions of the budget "and disappointment (in other nations) was general and bitter" as expressed by Dr. Charles Malik of Lebanon, who said that the lack among the poor nations was not technology by capital. Malik called for a large intergovernmental 'Marshall Plan' by the developed countries. In this Dr. Malik was wrong. The success of the Marshall Plan came from its application to the most highly developed societies in the world, who could and did put to efficient use the capital made available to them.

"Today, after twenty years of experience in aid, totaling billions of dollars ã the judgment is strong that capital loans in advance of technical and managerial competence are not only a waste but a disadvantage (through foreign exchange debts) to the borrowing country. Even surplus-food grants can cause cutback rather than development of food production at home and misallocation of resources. As one writer put it: "We have achieved whatever success we had through making the poor productive. The test for aid to poor nations is therefore whether it makes them capable of being productive. If it fails to do so, it is likely to make them even poorer in the 'not so very'long run.""

End quote from Dean Acheson's book Present at the Creation.

One footnote ... I think Truman's term "fair dealing" is a great one, and one that should continue to describe and inform US foreign polciy ... indeed, hopefully the continued conduct of a "fair dealing" foreign policy would in term serve to advance our efforts toward building a "fair peace" around the world.

JOE
|
Tennessee, USA
March 31, 2008

Joe in TN writes:

1. First your assets have to be valid to comply with actually making charitable contributions. It is easy to spend other peoples money is it not? Is our currency tangible as an asset beyond our own services? Do we have it to give?

2. All monies concerning the military have a much further reaching impact on our economy to begin with. If you were to take all non essential personal out, stop the war, stop military contracting, cut all military spending the unemployment figure would skyrocket. That would have an even greater negative impact on the economy. There are valid resources connected to our overall economy that go past the immediate. If you want to look at the figures, go beyond the box.

3. It is pro active for the idea of democracy to see people fed, housed, educated and with minimalist health care. It is a positive that every child will remember who receives aid. Again, it goes beyond the immediate. Given this, it is one of the most neglected methods of productive propaganda possible for our International National Security interest. I know this seems contradictory to statement one; but I like to expose more than one side or element and even defend it. My personal belief is irrelevant to facts.

We still do more than any other country, but is it enough seems the real issue and I'm not sure that the figures for Debut Forgiveness are included in what was mentioned.

What I do find disturbing is that our citizenship needs fiscal aid now, they need debut forgiveness and the minimalist offset of a problem directly related to our own Legislations is less that what we give others. Is this enough?

Zharkov
|
United States
March 31, 2008

Zharkov in the USA writes:

We spend far too much on foreign aid and we are borrowing the money in order to give it away. If a business did this, one would assume it was run by idiots.

If the US federal government merely obeyed the law, the question of how much foreign aid is too much would never arise. Whatever the amount, it can never be enough even if foreign basic needs are satisfied, because wants become needs and human greed has no end. Poor nations remain poor as a result of bad laws, universal corruption and bad management. There is no moral or legal obligation to supply such bandit nations with money from American workers. Foreign aid unjustly rewards bad government, corrupt officials, and prolongs their power.

Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution lists the limited powers of Congress, of which none include "foreign aid" which may better be described as an unlawful gift of federal funds because the source of power regarding foreign nations do not include foreign aid. Foreign aid is charity, not commerce, and has nothing to do with appointing ambassadors.

Congress cannot make gifts of money to foreign officials. Apart from taxation, the fiscal powers of Congress are based on the grant of power to borrow money and coin money, and regulate the value of money. There is no legislative power to give money away. If such a fiscal power ever existed, Congress would not have felt the need for the 27th Amendment regarding their own salaries.

In the First Constitutional Convention, the suggestion to offer a provision allowing federal aid to the states was quickly rejected by the Convention. Both Madison and Jefferson held the view that the power to tax and spend DID NOT confer upon Congress the right to do whatever it thought to be in the best interests of the nation, but to only further the ends specified in Article 1, Section 8 and elsewhere in the Constitution. While Alexander Hamilton believed Congress should have broad powers to spend for the general welfare of Americans, his minority view was rejected by the majority of Members. Hamilton would, however, surely have agreed that Congress had no power to make gifts of tax money to foreign nobility and their nations.

The First Congress refused to make a loan to a glass manufacturer after several members expressed the view that it would be unconstitutional. The Fourth Congress did not believe it was constitutional to provide funds for relief to the citizens of Savannah, Georgia, after a fire destroyed the entire city. These decisions reflect the view that gifts of federal funds was not a power of Congress. A proposal in Jefferson's 1806 State of the Union Address to amend the Constitution to permit grants of funds for domestic projects was never adopted.

President Madison vetoed as unconstitutional federal grants for domestic aid for improvements as did President Andrew Jackson, who hoped to end such grants by terming them, "this dangerous doctrine".

In 1847 and 1857, Presidents Polk and Buchanan vetoed legislation to fund domestic improvements typical of pork barrel grants that we see today. President Polk said in his veto, "that to interpret the Spending Clause to permit such appropriations would allow combinations of individual and local interests to absorb the revenues of the nation and plunge the nation into hopeless indebtedness." President Buchanan said that funds raised from taxpayers were "confined to the execution of the enumerated powers delegated to Congress."

The Constitutional interpretation of Jefferson, Madison, Buchanan and the majority of the founders, was the prevailing view for the first 70 years and the Constitution remains unchanged on this point. There is no power whatsoever in Congress to grant foreign aid.

In South Dakota vs. Dole, the court adopted a four element test to assess the constitutionality of federal aid to local communities in the US:
1. The spending power must be exercised "for the general welfare" of America's citizens;
2. The conditions imposed on receiving the funds must be clear and unambiguous;
3. The spending must be related to a particular national project or program;
4. There must be no other constitutional provisions that independently prohibit the spending.

Justice O'Conner dissented, and noted that "if the Spending Power is to be limited only by Congress' notion of the general welfare, the reality...is that the Spending Clause gives power to Congress to become a parliament of the whole people, subject to no restrictions save such as are self-imposed. This was not the Framers' plan and is not the meaning of the Spending Clause."

The Constitution granted only limited power to Congress, so that foreign aid must be presumed unconstitutional unless there is some constitutional provision specifically authorizing it.

If domestic aid was questionable under the Constitution, then foreign aid is unconstitutional per se.

Costa J.
|
Costa Rica
April 1, 2008

Jack in Costa Rica writes:

I think the best people who can answer that question are those people behind on that affairs. An alloted amount for that must honestly give to the aid, otherwise they project a ridiculous facade to the people of America. Personally, the U.S. is relatively doing the right thing. I do not think they spend too much or too little on foreign aid.

God bless America!

Brad B.
|
Canada
April 1, 2008

Brad in Canada writes:

The U.S. government's foreign aid budget is lower (% wise) than other governments, but the U.S. carries enormous costs as the world's policeman. In addition, private donations from the generous American population, enabled by low U.S. tax rates, enhance the giving.

The aim of foreign aid should for the most part, be to help the recipients become self-sustaining. As such, I find the concept of forever dedicating an annual percentage of GDP to be abhorrent because demand will simply grow as more money becomes available.

I recommend more attention be paid to ensuring value for money donated. The Palestinian government for example, has done nothing to enhance peace with Israel, carries on with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda of various kinds, gives half its money to Hamas and even promotes anti-Americanism!

Simply put, funding this kind of thing is idiotic. Sorry to be blunt but it appalls me and I can only hope that other projects are bearing fruit; some of the activities in Africa seem to be more sensible but I'd stop money going to South Africa due to the anti-American belligerence of that country.

James
|
Colorado, USA
April 1, 2008

James in Colorado writes:

Give a man a fish, and you'll keep him fed for a day.

Teach a man to fish, and you'll keep him fed for the rest of his life.

Also, with regard to military funding compared to international aid, I feel the two functions should be melded.

NB
|
Pakistan
April 4, 2008

NB in Pakistan writes:

If we consider the amount of aid the world requires as a result of diseases, hunger, natural & man-made calamaties, and the contributions of the rest of the countries of the world, then the U.S. comes out on the top of the spenders on foreign aid. It's sheer generosity on part of the U.S. to put such a load on itself, but it does, and the needy world should be grateful.

JOE
|
Tennessee, USA
April 5, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

It is pro active for the idea of democracy to see people fed, housed, educated and with minimalist health care. It is a positive that every child will remember who receives aid. Again, it goes beyond the immediate. Given this, it is one of the most neglected methods of productive propaganda possible for our International National Security interest.

It may be hard for some people to realize that we do teach them skills, but without security to utilize their skills for basic survival due to the constant regime changes in many areas, it seems fruitless. When the people are so hungry the crush the seeds we give them to plant, it seems fruitless...but for those who think it is a waste or idiotic let me ask you this: If you were walking with you lunch and seen a child crying because they had nothing to eat, would you feed them, even if it was all you had for the rest of the day. If your answer is no, your not dignified enough to call yourself a human being, much less an American.

We do what we can with what we have to work with at the time of aid. That is a sad reality, but a fact that seems to delude some of you. America does provide more than any other single country on earth.

Not all wars are won with bullets.

NB
|
Pakistan
April 6, 2008

NB in Pakistan writes:

@ Joe in Tennessee -- Sat Apr-05 posting.

"If you were walking with your lunch and see a child crying because they had nothing to eat, would you feed them, even if it was all you had for the rest of the day. If your answer is no, you're not dignified enough to call yourself a human being, much less an American."

Wow Joe!!! How well spoken! This is what humanity is all about.

John
|
Greece
April 6, 2008

John in Greece writes:

I agree with you that not all wars are won with bullets. But, on the other hand, it is extremely cynical and dangerous to describe Foreign Aid programs as productive propaganda. If we choose this approach nobody can do anything for the rest of the world on the ground that he will have to face the characterisation of propagandist.

If U.S. Foreign Aid programs are characterized (by you) as propagandistic mechanisms, how should we describe the "Good Willing" of Russia to sell nuclear materials and technology to Iran making excuses that they do it in order to help the guys produce... electricity? Etc.

How can we describe the very strange political stance of Germany, France and Spain during the recent NATO meeting and the political decisions made there, that can be easily analyzed as a straight provocative strategy in order for them to sell European airplanes and war ships.

This is propaganda!

At least, America, through these programs offers food and money.

Concerning your example with the crying child, I strongly disagree with you. It does not make someone human, or more American, if he decides to kill himself in order to save someone else. America did it with hard work and sacrifices. Africa -among other areas in Earth- did not, at least yet. This does not mean that U.S.A. should sacrifice all Americans in order to save all the others.

Because I am not quite sure that in the next "history chapter", all the others will sacrifice themselves in order to save Americans that according to your suggestion will have become hungry enough to make the others full.

On this basis, I think that your your example is a bit romantic and communistic, since, in fact, you also suggest that rich people must sell everything and offer it to the poor. However, this system has already been proved a total social disaster in the recent Soviet experiment.

Mary
|
Florida, USA
April 7, 2008

Mary in Florida writes:

We're measuring assistance as a percentage of the GDP? Foreign aid is both a moral imperative and a responsibility we have as one of the wealthiest countries in the world. We clearly do not go far enough in many instances.

NB
|
Pakistan
April 8, 2008

NB in Pakistan writes:

@ John in Greece -- Joe in Tennessee doesn't say anywhere that one should give away everything one has and kill oneself to save others; It's figurative speech that Joe has used. Well, at least that's how I understand it.

John
|
Greece
April 8, 2008

John in Greece writes:

What the others do Mary?

What the other countries do for the "issue"?

[(GDP = consumption + gross investment + government spending + (exports − imports)]

At least, America gives whatever morally, ethically and logically can afford to offer.

From the heart of Democracy and? caring for others.

Who "tolds" you that the U.S of America. is the wealthiest country? Because, I think that... this is what you mean?

They (Americans), like you I hope ...except if you are a "visitor" there, writing from a non-defined college library computer base- fight for everyday life. Americans did it and still keep on do working for a better life.

What about China?

Some people say that (Chinese) are probably more poor "in general", but if you count the billions of the country's population you will end up that China is richer. Especially concerning GDP.

What China offers to the rest of the world, besides Burma and Tibet?

.

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