Mike Kueber's Blog

July 6, 2012

Wasteful foreign aid? We’ve got bigger problems.

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 8:18 pm

The latest scandal in conservative circles is that American foreign aid is being wasted on countries like China, Russia, and Cuba.  As usual, I took that news with a grain of salt because I have grown tired of hearing foreign aid depicted as the poster boy for profligate federal spending.  Some conservatives even make a connection between foreign aid and our nation’s deficit, even though foreign aid comprises a small percentage of all federal spending, and most of that aid is military assistance.  I tell them that they can’t in one breath claim that America is running a 40% deficit and then in the next breath claim that the small percentage that goes to foreign aid is the major culprit. 

But even a moderate Republican like me has a hard time understanding why deficit-ridden America would be sending aid to China, Russia, or Cuba, so I decided to investigate.

Forbes magazine provides an excellent primer on the subject.  

The Forbes article, which is more than a year old, provides a lot of basic information about the relative significance of foreign aid – for example, the total aid budget of $58 billion being 1.7% of the federal budget.  More importantly, the article directly addresses the problematic aid to China, Russia, and Cuba:

  • In Russia, for example, most U.S. foreign aid is used to promote democracy and human rights. In Cuba, all of it has been set aside for this purpose. In China and Nigeria, more than half of the requested budget for foreign aid to those countries is aimed at helping those countries fight HIV/AIDS.”

Some people think that American foreign aid is equivalent to a rich individual person giving money to charity, or as Obama is wont to say, spread the wealth around.  While that is certainly the case with some aid to impoverished countries, that is usually not the case.  Most aid to developed countries comes with significant strings and is directed toward important American goals, such as “promoting democracy and economic stability worldwide and bolstering strategic alliances.”   

The conclusion to the Forbes article is undeniable – you cannot fix a 40% deficit by fixating on an expenditure that is 1.7% of the budget.  The ultimate budgetary fix will have to come through Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.





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