This 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.