A common business practice is to require that all employees take some vacation time each year. It not only improves morale but also ensures that potential problems attributable to that employee will be brought to light in their absence (as co-workers unwittingly uncover latent issues). In other words, although it can be disruptive to the status quo, sometimes it is a good idea to raise the hood every now and again and make sure all is working as it should. This is nowhere more true than in government. This country has been handing out billions of dollars in foreign aid for decades. For the most part this funding is on autopilot, it’s simply rubber stamped each year as the routine process of government functioning. But there’s been a recent snag in the status quo. Some in Congress are (finally) questioning the wisdom of sending billions of dollars overseas when we face such a tremendous deficit at home. That sentiment, coupled with the recent military coup in Egypt, has brought to the forefront the legitimacy of the US continuing to send foreign aid to a country in political turmoil. Discontinuing aid should be a no-brainer even for foreign aid proponents, just turn off the money spigot until we know who is actually in charge. But alas, it is apparently not so simple after all for some senators. It turns out much of this aid is funneled right back into the home districts of many in Congress. This long obscured truth is THE dirty little secret of foreign aid.
The public has been, as they say, “sold a bill of goods” when it comes to foreign aid. The propagandized message is that such “aid” is going to help poor people overseas. In fact, the money is funneled to rich people (the well connected in foreign governments) in poor countries and to even richer people in the US. How does this money end up back here? Almost all foreign aid comes with either implicit or explicit “strings” attached that stipulate that aid must be “directed” toward the purchase of goods or services from US based corporations. And which corporations might those be? Predominantly those that are part of the “military industrial complex” – the very same crony capitalist war machines that President Eisenhower presciently warned us about over 50 years ago.
So what’s the problem with foreign aid? Is it that it spreads state of the art weaponry across the globe (weaponry that could easily fall into the hands of terrorists) resulting in a planet armed to the teeth poised at the brink of war? Is it that we are borrowing money from China to subsidize foreign governments in an attempt to bribe them into submission? Is it that food aid actually harms more than it helps by destroying farming as an occupation in countries receiving aid (who could compete with free food)? No, for those in Congress none of these deleterious effects are a problem. Why? Because “foreign aid” gets many re-elected, particularly when such aid is directed at companies in their home district (e.g. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), is rather adamant that aid not be cut off to Egypt, and by bizarre coincidence it just so happens that a General Dynamics plant is located in Michigan.
At its core, foreign aid is no different than other government “stimulus” programs – it simply takes money from those not in favor with the political elite (that is, us) and hands it over to those who are in favor with the political elite (the true 1%). But there is one key cost incurred by foreign stimulus not typically seen in domestic stimulus: death and suffering. These are a direct result of the weapons produced and the tyrannical regimes supported. The political unrest in Egypt has finally forced us to raise the hood and take a closer look at the wisdom of foreign aid. To those in Congress who got caught with their hand in the foreign aid cookie jar, take note: your days are numbered.