North Korea and Just How Generous the US Is

North Korea and Just How Generous the US IsThis weekend I was at a family gathering. And I overheard two older people — great-grandparents — discussing foreign aid. One of them noted that it was one thing they agreed with Trump about.

As nicely as I could, I pointed out that our total expenditure on foreign aid was about 1% of our federal budget. I could see that the information was resisted. They just didn’t want to believe it. They just “know” that we spend an enormous amount of money on foreign aid.

It’s odd. But I think it goes along with the idea that Americans have — especially Americans of that generation — that we are an extremely generous people. Is doubtless comes from the Marshall Plan. Of course, given how little Word War II touched us, it was the least we could do. But we did do a lot. It’s just that we don’t anymore.

We Spend a Lot on Our Military

We are, in fact, a fairly miserly country. If you compare the amount of foreign aid that we give out to what other countries give out, we look very bad. Where we spend a lot of money is on our military.

We have bases all over the world. This undoubtedly is what a lot of people think of as foreign aid. But it isn’t that at all. It is the outward manifestation of American Empire. We have those military bases to protect our interests, not to protect the interest of those people who often don’t want our bases anyway.

Aid and Nuclear War for North Korea

But shortly after the family get-together, I learned why the subject even came up. Trump is complaining that we give money to North Korea. “The US has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!” It is a tiny amount of money. Over the course of 15 years, it has averaged $85 million per year. But as we know, the amounts don’t much matter.

The truth of the matter is almost all of the people in North Korea are effectively prisoners. The aid we give North Korea is for food for these people. Anything we could do to help those poor people would be a good thing. It is certainly something that anyone who calls themselves Christian should do.

Instead, I see a lot of conservatives thinking we should just nuke North Korea. They tend to forget that this would cause a nuclear war with China. But apart from that, who would be hurt by our attacking North Korea? All of these innocent people. We would kill them in the most horrible way imaginable.

How Generous Is the US?

But what about the aid? Just how generous is the US?

Let’s look at how much money we give to other countries and how much money other countries give out. It isn’t pretty. If you look at the total amount that we give as a percentage of our total economy, we give roughly 0.16 percent. The United Nations says that advanced economies should give at least 0.7 percent. Many counties do give around this amount — and more. Sweden — the top country in this regard — give 1.4 percent. But even the tenth most generous country — Switzerland — gives 0.52 percent. We give less than a quarter of what we ought to.

Americans live in a fantasy land where we are noble and generous. But this has no real relationship with reality. And this is why people like my old relatives think that we give so much money in foreign aid. But it is time to give up childish beliefs. Maybe if we accepted the fact that we aren’t generous, we would become generous. But we never will be if we just assume we are.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

3 thoughts on “North Korea and Just How Generous the US Is

  1. While I liked some of your other blog posts, I think you missed the mark here. Even if ‘percentage of GDP’ is perhaps ‘the “best known target in international aid”’, as the article you link to says, it’s not the whole picture. (Really, the picture isn’t even clear, it depends on your definition of aid). America gave 49 billion in aid in 2015, which is over 10 billion more than any other country and about 1.4 percent of the federal budget. No, proportionally it’s not a lot, but it is a lot of money (if it’s effective is another question). Also ironically, at least two of the countries (probably more, but I definitely know 2) on the list of countries that give the most aid percentage-wise are themselves recipients of US foreign aid.
    Also, as everyone likes to do, you attack the defense budget. But ‘military spending includes: all regular activities of the Department of Defense; war spending; nuclear weapons spending; international military assistance; and other Pentagon-related spending.’ I will repeat: includes international military assistance, which is 35% of total US foreign aid. I will admit that 35% of 49 billion, when compared to the total DOD budget, is quite small, but not insignificant. And sadly cutting the defense budget would mean a lot of the military aid will also get cut.
    Americans don’t just give their money, they give their people and time, too. America, as part of its military aid, is sending people to Africa to teach their militaries to not only increase the security and stability of recipient countries but also to assist the Africans in exporting this security to other parts of Africa and further. (This success may be arguable, but Ghana, for example, has assisted in peace-keeping missions throughout Africa.) And always America has been the largest contributor of troops to any significant peace-keeping operation. The US military also works with the former soviet satellite states to improve interoperability and increase their skills and preparedness (and a lot of times paying to improve the infrastructure, too). They’re still the largest contributor to NATO and the defense of Europe. No joke, Europe fully expects America to save it should something untoward occur. They’ll help, but America will do most of it.

    And it’s not just the military. Maybe I’m just ignorant, but what other country has a Peace Corps equivalent that is so earnestly regarded and publicly funded? Maybe no one else does because everyone goes to the Peace Corps?

    You’re right, though, I think we spend too much, and I certainly don’t think we should be spending our money on modernizing our nukes or fancy new fighter jets that cost billions of dollars a pop. As many smart people have said, future wars won’t be conventional and America is still focusing on the conventional to the detriment of things that will have more influence in the long run. And maybe we should actually pay off some debt so it stops becoming an ever-increasing proportion of our budget.
    Anyway, I spent way too much time on this reply, so feel free to belittle me, but I think calling America ‘ungenerous’ is both wrong and unfair.

    I’d like to add references but your website seems to think that’s spam.

    • You may feel you spent too much time on the reply, but it’s a thoughtful reply. Nothing wrong with that! As for the spam filter, it’s a necessary evil on independent blogs like this. Otherwise all kinds of scam offers sneak through, and an unpaid site runner doesn’t have time to erase them all. For what it’s worth, though, the numbers you cite all seem correct to me.

      I’m definitely on your side when it comes to useless spending on fancy new hardware. I’d rather see that money go to soldier salaries. If we cut worthless programs like the “Star Wars” boondoggle (30 years, no end in sight), we could pay soldiers more and still save boatloads of cash. There’s lots of other waste too, like subcontracting to Halliburton or Blackwater.

      Your comments about how our military is often used for things like disaster relief overseas remind me of what Obama said on the same subject, I believe it was in an interview with Coates. That’s certainly something very good our military can be used for. And it has, many times.

      We’ll have to agree to disagree on monetary aid to other militaries. This has gone to some very unsavory dictators over the last 70 years. No doubt, some worthy allies as well.

      Ultimately, I don’t think Frank’s post was about foreign aid or the military per se. It’s about voter perceptions. Many voters believe their tax dollars are wasted on “others.” Foreign aid, assistance to poor people of color, etc. And such voters are behaving very short-sightedly. Even if you and I disagree on how foreign aid should be spent (and there’s well more than a few opinions on the issue!), it’s clear that making the world a safer place for your fellow humans benefits us all in the end. It’s not that “Americans” are selfish; we’re not a monolithic group! But many Americans respond to short-sighted, selfish appeals for their votes.

    • You missed the whole point of my article. I didn’t say that the US wasn’t generous at all. But for a country this rich, it shouldn’t be necessary to pick through the military budget to find things that are really just empire upkeep. And you double-dip on things like the Peace Corps, which is included in foreign aid. The point is that Americans should admit that they aren’t very generous. And then we might become so.

      I do think you miss the fact that the US is an empire that spans half the countries in the world. When seen in that light, most of the “aid” goes away, and we see that these are just necessary expenses to keep our empire together. The Romans did their fair share of good works, but no one today sees those as acts of generosity.

      Sorry about the filter. You should be able to put in links using the a tag. Naked links probably will be seen as spam.

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