Society Magazine

Time to Rethink Foreign Aid

Posted on the 16 June 2011 by ---

Time to Rethink Foreign Aid

Mother and Child Use Mosquito Netting to Stave off Malaria

Think the US spends too much on foreign aid?  Over half of Americans do.  So it's no surprise that during the recent budget debates, aid to other nations was one of the programs frequently suggested for the chopping block.  How much do we spend on foreign aid?  It's a paltry sum in comparison to virtually every other developed nation (see this infographic for more information).  According to the website Global Issues, approximately half of all foreign aid is not humanitarian in nature, but made up of military and strategic spending.  This includes expenses such as the weapons we supply to Israel and payments to Pakistan that essentially bribe the nation to remain our ally.  Of the other half - the money given to alleviate suffering in impoverished countries - a sizable chunk is comprised of waiving their governments' outstanding debts to the US.  After both military and budgetary handouts to sometimes corrupt regimes, what's left for the citizens who are in need?  It is a pitifully meager sum.
The US needs to consider fundamentally altering the way we distribute foreign aid.  Instead of propping up "friendly" dictatorships or trying to influence regional politics in South Asia and the Middle East, the US should allocate its foreign aid to where it can do the most good.  Humanitarian assistance is one realm in which a few dollars can go a long way if applied effectively.  For instance:
  •  Vaccines cost very little and can be extremely effective in lowering rates of infectious disease and improving public health. 
  • Opening a school in a developing country can cost less than $15,000. 
  • Microloans spur economic development through small businesses at a cost that usually doesn't exceed $2,000. 
  • Low-cost initiatives like building wells and distributing mosquito netting can transform the quality of life in rural areas.  
Compare these to the prices of an aircraft carrier (around $9 billion), a tank (around $6 million), and equipment for a single soldier ($17,500 in 2007).  And while those last three expenditures most often work towards engendering hostility when they are employed abroad, spending on aid has myriad benefits.  Not only is it the right thing to do, but this assistance is also a good idea when viewed from a pragmatic perspective.  When there is less inequality, poverty, and disease present in a society, a decrease in resentment and crime follows.  When people have access to an education, birthrates fall and innovation increases, bringing more foreign investment into a country and creating an economy that can sustain its people.  When opportunity is present, fewer people turn to terrorism in desperation.  Encouraging national stability with charitable work can thus be even more cost-effective (and morally defensible) than supporting an oppressive government.
So, let's withdraw our troops and security forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Department of Defense has overreached into a role as global policeman, and we are at the point where the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State are doing many more tangible things to defend American interests, protect the lives of US citizens, and foster goodwill overseas.  It's possible for our taxpayer dollars to go further in more places around the world on a much tighter aggregate budget; the US government just needs to start looking at problems and solutions with the attitude of a nonprofit organization.  If anything, lawmakers should cut waste from foreign aid and increase total funding.  On such an issue where human decency and logic dovetail so beautifully,  not taking bolder action would be a travesty.
Time to Rethink Foreign Aid
Time to Rethink Foreign Aid
Time to Rethink Foreign Aid
Time to Rethink Foreign Aid
Time to Rethink Foreign Aid
Time to Rethink Foreign Aid

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