The GOP debate last night in Las Vegas has something for everyone. For me it showed how simple some of the candidates are when it comes to the foreign affairs budget.
- Mitt Romney: “We are spending more on foreign aid than we ought to be spending.”
- Ron Paul: “Foreign aid, it should be the easiest thing to cut. It’s not authorized in the Constitution. To me, foreign aid is taking money from poor people in this country and giving it to rich people in poor countries.”
- Rick Perry (dodging the main question): “I think we have to have a serious conversation about defunding the United Nations. Why are we funding that organization?”
- Michelle Bachmann: “We should not be cutting foreign aid to Israel. Israel is our greatest ally.”
- Herman Cain: “We ought to continue to give foreign aid to our friends like Israel.”
One of the candidates, I can’t remember who right now, said it was ridiculous for the United States “to borrow money from China so we can send it to other countries. We should just tell the Chinese to send the money directly.”
And Anderson Cooper was no help. He did not challenge any of the “kill the foreign affairs budget” talk with the facts. Nor did he or any of the after-debate commentators look at this issue.
To begin with, foreign aid is just one small portion of the over all non-military foreign affairs budget. The ENTIRE non-military foreign affairs budget is less than 1 percent of the federal budget. (Think of it as about 2-3 months spending in Afghanistan.) A recent survey of the American people thought that 5 percent would be a “good” amount to spend on foreign affairs. (But then again, that same survey said the American people think foreign affairs accounts for 25 percent of the federal budget.)
The “let the Chinese send the money directly” comment shows a complete lack of understanding about WHY the U.S. provides foreign assistance to developing countries.
From a humanitarian point of view, America has always tried to help other countries fight poverty. It is just the right thing to do to help people who have no housing and are starving.
From a political and security perspective foreign aid is even a better idea.
Granted, the US has not always been so good about developing democracy but that has changed in the past 15-20 years or so. Within the past generation, US aid programs have emphasized building civic organizations, promoting free speech/press and transparency in governance. Along the way, USAID has worked with American and local companies to build the economic infrastructure of developing countries to help the people have a higher standard of living.
It is this last point that keeps getting missed by critics of foreign aid. Foreign aid — at least the way it has been practiced for more than 20 years — helps developing countries build democratic institutions AND improve the economic situation of the people.
The fastest growing markets for American goods are developing countries. About half of all U.S. exports go to these countries. Exports to developing countries have grown six times faster than exports to more mature economies. Aid recipients like India, Indonesia, Poland and South Korea and other emerging economies grew and have become America’s fastest growing markets.
With export growth comes more U.S. jobs. For every 10 percent increase in exports, U.S. jobs are increased by 7 percent. And the growth is not just with the big companies like GM or Caterpillar, 97% of all exporting US companies are small-and-medium sized businesses.
Therefore, it it strikes me that it is in the interest of American business to ensure the developing world has healthy and educated citizens so those people can keep buying U.S. goods and services.
I would think that the United States would want more democracies. And I would think that helping other countries build their economies so they can buy US goods is a good thing. Maybe I missed something.
If that candidate who said “let the Chinese to do it” has his way, then he would be also handing over the developing world markets to Chinese businesses instead of American firms.
Oh, and let’s not forget that on the way to helping other countries grow and develop, the goods and services USAID sends overseas comes from the United States. That means there are jobs in the USA that are directly related to aid programs while they are running.
Maybe if the politicians (Democrats included) running for office in 2012 look more closely at what is really happening we won’t see so many false and ignorant comments about foreign affairs.
And maybe some enterprising reporters might even start looking at the issue and start reporting on how there are direct connections between Main Street and the developing world.
Well we can always hope.