May 26, 2019
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Notes & Asides 10-05-11

An article from yesterday’s The New York Times entitled, “Foreign Aid Set to Take a Hit in U.S. Budget Crisis,” said this:

As lawmakers scramble to trim the swelling national debt, both the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate have proposed slashing financing for the State Department and its related aid agencies at a time of desperate humanitarian crises and uncertain political developments. The proposals have raised the specter of deep cuts in food and medicine for Africa, in relief for disaster-affected places like Pakistan and Japan, in political and economic assistance for the new democracies of the Middle East, and even for the Peace Corps.

Foreign aid has played a role in the United States’ foreign policy since the days of the Cold War. The New York Times has a pretty neat graphic on its website showing how much aid America has given to foreign countries every year since 1977. How much the U.S. has given varies, ranging from $14.55 billion in 1997 to $44.02 billion in 2004, but has never been more than 2 percent of the federal budget.

However, the NYT’s colorful language — slashing financing, desperate humanitarian crises, the specter of deep cuts — makes it sound like without U.S aid, the entire world would collapse.

That is simply not the case.

At best, economic evidence is murky as to whether or not aid actually aids the populations it is sent to. And there is considerable evidence that the bulk of the aid we send to countries goes not toward the ailing populations, but either to fill the tyrant’s coffers or to fund unsavory elements within the country.

Take Pakistan, for instance. Pakistan receives considerable funding from the U.S. government (exactly how much is hard to pin down). Even still, the country could not be trusted during our much-balleyhooed mission to kill Osama bin Laden, and Haqqani, a Pakistan-based terrorist group, has been accused of being an arm of the Pakistani intelligence agency by recently retired Adm. Mike Mullen.

Needless to say, foreign aid doesn’t always do what it is supposed to do.

As British economist Peter Bauer once said, foreign aid is “a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.”

But the majority of what foreign aid is used for is so-called “smart power.” We use it to manipulate foreign governments into doing things that are in our best interests, the people of their countries be damned.

It is not only ineffectual, it is diplomatic extortion.

Admittedly, scrapping foreign aid will not erase the national debt — it will take much more than that. However, ending foreign aid will not result in widespread calamity for foreign nations.

Ronald Reagan said it best when he argued that poor countries need liberty, not aid.

***

Yesterday, while being lectured on Plato’s Republic, my ancient political philosophy class had a discussion on the decay of society.

The professor put the following question to us: Could the politicians of today have written the U.S. Constitution?

Some students argued that they could. They thought that the founding generation was helped immensely by circumstances. If we were faced today with starting a new government from scratch, they said, we could do the same thing.

I, humbly, disagree.

The Constitution is one of the most brilliant political documents that has ever been written, and the minds that produced it were some of the best that this country has produced.

Our founding generation cobbled together 13 separate state interests and many different political philosophies into a coherent, workable governing document that has remained in place for more than 200 years.

Today’s politicians can’t agree on anything.

Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams and Madison are names that will stand the test of time. Obama, Bush, Boehner, Pelosi, Reid and McConnell likely will not.

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