As most of you know, U.S. foreign aid is one of the least understood – and despised — government endeavors. Most people wildly exaggerate how much we spend. Most people think foreign aid is about 25%- 30% or more of the federal budget. The real figure is one percent, and more than one-third of that is security assistance, not economic aid.
There are also lots and lots of misconceptions and anachronisms in public perceptions of where the money goes and for what purposes. Forget sacks of grain for starving Ethiopians and well-digging in quaint little villages. We still do that. But American developmental assistance abroad is much more sophisticated and strategic than it used to be. We help to improve education, energy and food security, financial stability, regulatory regimes, gender equality, and much more. We also try to coordinate our assistance worldwide development goals, other countries’ aid, and private and non-profit sector developmental aid. Which countries receive the lion’s share of aid might surprise you, too
Yet, surely foreign aid’s small size and public ignorance about it do not by themselves justify the aid or prove that it works, for us or the recipients. Measuring success can be tricky and depends on the objectives, the performance measure, the available data – and the eye of the beholder. All of these were thorny issues back when I followed development issues slightly closely a few decades ago. I am looking forward to learning what’s new in measuring results. (I know there is now one office that coordinates our foreign aid.)
Since this is one of those some-details-needed topics I will open our meeting with a brief tutorial on (1) what we spend our foreign aid money on and (2) what the big goals are. Here are the questions I will focus on and some background readings.
A new schedule for June – Sept will be available.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What: What does the USG spend its foreign aid funds on? Who spends it, doing what, and in which countries?
- Why: Goals, objectives, strategies.
- Context: How does our foreign aid fit in with other countries’, UN/World Bank/other IGOs, and private sector aid?
- Benefits: How do they measure success? Benefits to recipient countries. Benefits to USA including strategic/political. Which aid is vital versus elective v. obsolete/harmful?
- Alternatives to aid: Aid v. trade. Private charity and its limits. Etc.
- Public support and future: Why is foreign aid so unpopular? Does/should it matter? Will the need for it ever fade away?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Our foreign aid budget, visualized. How much, for what, and where? Recommended.
- Our foreign military aid, visualized.
- U.S. foreign aid:
- Evaluating success can be comically obtuse and bureaucratic. If you understand any of this you’re hired.
- Global effort: Progress made on the “Millennium Development Goals.” Important.
NEXT WEEK: Lessons of the Six Day War, 50 years later.