foreign aid

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Will the US foreign aid budget continue its decline? | 

US Foreain Aid snapshot

An increase in the foreign affairs budget for 2014 saw an end to a four year decline in the US. Discussions are now taking place over the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and the downward trend may resume.

That is what will happen if Rep Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget proposal wins out. If President Obama gets his way, funds will hold steady at $44.1 billion. While it looks likely that foreign aid will be safe from cuts, thanks to is strong supporters, being back on the chopping block is a cause for concern for foreign aid supporters.

Ryan’s cuts into foreign aid appear to be based more on a belief that it is an unnecessary expenditure. The proposed Ryan budget led to public cries to protect the US foreign aid budget. Supporters like to point out that it represents less than 1% of the total federal budget.

Making cuts to such a small program will do little to help reduce US government debt and will harm the people who benefit from US aid work. Ryan has acknowledged this fact in the past, but continues to propose cuts. Foreign aid advocates are pushing against Ryan’s plan by pointing to the damage it will cause to US foreign policy interests.

“Now is not the time to cut America’s vital tools of national security given the growing number of hotspots around the globe,” said General Anthony Zinni, Co-Chair of U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s National Security Advisory Council. “The International Affairs Budget has already seen large reductions in the past few years, and now is not the time to diminish America’s leadership in the world.”

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Oxfam’s primer on foreign aid glosses over the military part | 

The anti-poverty organization Oxfam does a pretty good job of translating the fuzzy and sometimes absurd lingo used by the aid and development community.

What they don’t quite do is call baloney on the fact that much of our foreign aid is actually military aid. More on that in a bit.

Most people think the primary goal of aid and development is, or should be, to reduce poverty and inequity worldwide. Oxfam explores how the U.S. contributes to this noble goal in their third edition of Foreign Aid 101, which you can read about at this link or by downloading the report. The gist of the report is that foreign aid is an incredibly good buy and we could spend a lot more on aid and development.

Oxfam Foreign Aid Chart

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A chat with Bill Gates’ least favorite aid expert, Bill Easterly | 

Bill Easterly
Bill Easterly

William Easterly is a leading voice on the aid and development scene that folks seem to either love or hate. Bill Gates is in the latter camp, as this Gates Foundation blog post would indicate.

On Tuesday, March 25, starting at 7:30 pm in Seattle Town Hall, Easterly will be speaking about what he thinks needs to change in the way we approach the fight against global poverty. His talk is entitled Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, which may sound a little predictable and boring. It won’t be.

Easterly is always entertainingly provocative and his thesis – which, put simply, is that many if not most aid projects actually cause more harm than good – is an aggressive stab at the heart of much of the aid and development establishment. Continue reading

Map of the day: How, and where, we spend US foreign aid dollars | 

Have you ever wondered how, and where, we (i.e., the U.S. government and American taxpayers) spend most of our foreign aid?

Would it surprise you to know we (unlike Britain and most other countries) categorize military deployments and arms sales as ‘foreign aid?’ Didja know our biggest check for ‘aid’ goes to wealthy Israel? Michael Truong at the US State Department did a great visual analysis of our foreign aid budget using Tableau. Go there and be enlightened. The images at the site are interactive.

Winning hearts and minds, one aid dollar at a time | 

PEPFAR branding appears on hospital in South Africa.
PEPFAR branding appears on hospital in South Africa.
USAID

There is plenty of debate over whether aid can help countries grow economically, but there is new evidence showing that it affects public opinion in a recipient country. Programs that provide targeted, sustained, effective and visible aid can lead to positive views of the donor countries.

While the money that US spends on aid programs in other countries helps people, it also serves a foreign policy goal. On one hand, the US stands to benefit from a safer, healthier and more prosperous world. On the other, it can generate good will towards the US.

“By doing good, a country can do well,” says Yusaku Horiuchi, an associate professor at Dartmouth College.

Benjamin Goldsmith of the University of Sydney, Terence Wood of the Australian National University and Horiuchi published a paper that proves how foreign aid can be a positive force for winning the hearts and minds of individuals. While the impact has been claimed for some time, they say that there was no evidence base, only anecdotes and claims by aid proponents. They undertook a  comparative, cross-national perspective using data from a variety of countries to evaluate how the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), launched by the Bush administration in 2003, has impacted views on the US.

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Remittances make foreign aid look like a paltry sum | 

The United States is a global leader it its foreign aid spending. It sends more than $30 billion in official development assistance, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. That is more than twice that of the next country, the UK.

Campaigners for foreign aid like to point out that the massive sum of US spending is less than 1% of the annual US federal budget. It is also small when held next to the $123.273 billion that foreign migrants send back home from the US in 2012. While attention is paid to the assistance given by governments to poor countries, individual remittances total more than $500 billion.

Supporters of more free migration rules often point to the vast sums that are sent back to families. Some professionals from parts of sub-Saharan Africa can send more money back home than they could have made if they stayed. As evidenced by the campaigning to prevent the shut down of remittance flows through the UK’s Barclays bank to Somalia, some families even rely up the money sent home as a major source of income.

The $69 billion that was sent back to India, an amount that likely had a much greater impact than the $4.86 billion that arrived in aid. The benefits also reach rich countries. Dozens of countries sent $4.5 billion in remittances back to the US, from Sudan to South Korea. However comparisons to foreign aid are not so neat. A working paper from Michael Clemens and Timothy Ogden for the Center for Global Development poses the idea that research on remittances has not been framed correctly.

They offer new questions that should be answered. It is based on re-calibrating the thought that remittances are aid and move it to the idea that they are a financial tool for individuals and families. Such a shift, they suggest, would lead to policies that would seek to free up the the constraints to remittance flows. For now, this interactive Pew Research map helps to visualize the flow of remittances in and out of countries.

Here are a few examples:

Remittances to Brazil
Remittances to Brazil

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Farm bill to preserve America’s self-serving, costly and unfair food aid system | 

Somali men carry food aid from a barge to shore.
Somali men carry food aid from a barge to shore.
AP, 2007

The word from the hollowed halls of Congress is that there’s bipartisan agreement on a new five-year Farm Bill that makes some cuts in food stamp payments and farmer subsidies, outraging both special interests in the agriculture industry along with advocates for the American poor.

Almost totally ignored is the fact that the proposed bill also means millions more of the poor overseas will not get American food aid.

CNN Farm bill ends subsidies, cuts food stamps

NY Times Farm bill compromise will change programs, cut spending

Washington Post Vote expected on farm bill next week

Humanosphere has reported extensively (such as here, here and here) on the U.S. government’s uniquely self-serving, incredibly inefficient and arguably immoral approach to delivering food assistance to the poor or those in a disaster overseas. In sum, we are the only nation to require that most of the food we give to the poor and suffering be grown in America and also be shipped and delivered by Americans.

Many humanitarian groups have supported the Obama Administration’s proposal to at least relax those requirements and allow organizations engaged in famine or disaster relief to buy food closer to the crisis area – getting more barley for the buck and also supporting local economies. That push appears to have faded away into oblivion. Shame. Continue reading