“Why Do We Give So Much Foreign Aid?”
The short answer to that question is “We don’t.”
It seems like every single day I pour myself a cup of joe, sit down in front of my laptop, log onto Facebook and prepare myself to see something in my news feed about the travesty of government waste that is foreign aid.
This is not my Conservative, ultra-right, Teabagging loony friends either (though admittedly, this brand of ignorance knows no ideological bounds). No- it is my Liberal, progressive and Libertarian friends too.
I posted a week ago dismantling an ignorant rant on the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) that mentioned foreign aid as a bit of wasteful government spending. This was not posted by a right-wing ideologue. This was posted by a close high school friend who is only slightly more conservative than I am. This week I found this gem in my news feed, posted by one of my favorite bloggers and regular commenters on this blog, who could arguably be more left-leaning than I am on many issues:
There are several (almost) good points raised by this little message. We need to do more for the homeless. We could do much more for the mentally ill. We need a better social safety net- as good as our social safety net is (and I am more than proud of how much my government does) there is much room for improvement. There are a few things about this post that really bother me though, so I want to clarify some things before I get to the main topic, which- as the title suggests- is foreign aid.
- I think the author of this post (and anybody who posts it) should be ashamed of the sentiment that “pressing ‘1’ to speak English” is something worthy of complaining about. We live in a bilingual country- and even if we did not- it should be common decency (and prudent business) that companies and governments would offer services to large linguistic minorities. Anyone who agrees with this sentiment has never lived somewhere where they were a linguistic minority and is just displaying their privileged ignorance.
- I am relatively certain that the homeless in Canada do eat from time to time, so pedantically the statement “our homeless go without eating” is kind of an exaggeration. (and they are quite thankful that they are Canadian and therefor worthy of enough compassion for you to feel the need to feed them sometimes!)
- I am sure that some elderly people lack proper medical care. The fact that we have universal healthcare and a comprehensive drug benefit for seniors means that that problem is greatly mitigated.
- Some mentally ill people go without treatment. Again, to be pedantic- the claim that they, as a group, “go without treatment” is an exaggeration. Many do get treatment- and anyone who has worked or volunteered where they come in contact with the mentally ill will tell you that we can only dream of a world where diagnosis and treatment is near 100%, though admittedly we could do better.
- We do not “help others before helping our own”. That is a pernicious lie. We help others decidedly after helping our own. We have very comprehensive social programs that help all the groups listed in this post. We spend >97% of our annual budget on “helping our own”. That statement is the biggest crock of shit I have ever heard, and I have heard of Jenny McCarthy.
Foreign Aid: How Much is “Too Much”?
How many billions of dollars do you think Canada spent on foreign aid in 2011-2012?
Guess. Go ahead….
If you said “4.9 billion dollars” then you obviously have access to Google.
That is a lot of money! That’s, like, billions of dollars! That has to be too much, right?
Well, let’s think of it this way:
Foreign aid accounts for just 1.8% of the total budget.
Foreign aid accounts for 0.28% of GDP
Canada spends almost five times as much on both the military ($22.8B) and on health care transfers ($27.2B)
Three times as much goes to unemployed Canadians through Employment Insurance ($17.6B)
You remember those poor elderly people nobody was helping? They get eight times as much! ($38B)
So foreign aid is not a very big part of our budget. In fact, Canada spends more than 95% of it’s income on Canadians.
Here is an analogy for you: Dave makes $30,000 per year. 1.8% of his gross income is equal to $540. If he bought a Medium Tim Horton’s coffee every day, he would spend more of his income on coffee than Canada does on foreign aid. If he bought poutine three times a week, he would spend a larger percentage of his income than Canada spends on the rest of the world. If he bought Pizza Pizza twice a month, he spent more than Canada does feeding the friggin’ whole earth as a percentage of his total income.
If you broke down how much aid money each and every Canadian gives, it amounts to $142.11
If you broke down how much each Canadian taxpayer gives, it amounts to $194.24
If you broke down how much each person in a country receiving aid gets, it amounts to $ 0.84
If you want to get specific:
Ethiopia received $210,524,036 or $2.48 per person
Tanzania? $144,688,573 or $3.13
Ghana? $139,393,816 or $5.58
Pakistan? $129,737,061 or $0.73
Mali? $129,319,342 or $8.16
Mozambique? $125,247,658 or $5.23
Bangladesh? $120,642,458 or $0.80
So if you think that Canada cares more about foreigners than it does about Canadians- I really hope you think about these statistics.
What Has Foreign Aid Ever Done For Anybody?
You remember Polio?
It is all but eradicated thanks in part to foreign aid. This has widely been considered a success by everyone, save iron lung manufacturers. And people who make crutches.
You remember Smallpox?
Totally gone! No reported cases of a disease that has killed millions and millions of people over human history. Zero dead people in the last 35 years. Zero. None. Guess what helped pay for that?
Hey, you remember when the global economy crashed in the late 1990’s and again in the early 2000’s- causing South Americans and then Asians to fall back into Third World status instead of continuing as emerging economies? Neither do I.
Do you remember when a desperate Russia crumbled under the weight of communism and untold masses of nuclear weapons fell into the hands of terrorists? Thankfully, neither do I.
Millions of lives have been saved with food aid.
Millions of lives have been saved with medical aid.
Afghan girls go to school, Africans don’t starve in greater numbers, we create the backbone of emerging economies with foreign aid.
Could more be done? Sure! Will more get done (or done better) if we tell the rest of the world to go it alone? I don’t think so, and you are welcome to argue that in the comments.
Just because all the worlds problems haven’t been fixed in the fifty some-odd years we have had a focused foreign aid policy is no reason to say “Screw it” and give up. If that was the case, we might as well have no Canadian welfare system, since poverty still exists. We might as well stop funding to the mentally ill, since we pour billions into programs and still have people untreated.
Foreign aid is a geopolitical necessity- unless we want to ignore human suffering or be more interventionist (I’m talking military here). Since I seem to like having a conscience and I’m under the impression that military occupations cost a fair amount of money (see Afghanistan), foreign aid- at least to the degree that we give- seems to be the least we could do. When I say “the least”- I mean that in almost a literal sense. We do very little.
So Do We Really Put Foreigners First?
As I already mentioned, the dirty, worthless foreigner who steals the most of our money is Joe Afghan. He is going to pilfer $10.41 of your hard earned money.
Poor You, you only got $7650.
So you could keep enough of your hard earned tax dollars to buy the new Dan Brown book in softcover- or hundreds of Afghani girls could go to school.
If we just stopped giving foreign aid altogether, you could buy groceries for a family of four for about a week and a half with your $195 savings- and millions of human beings could suffer just a little bit more. But hey, that’s like getting free groceries, right?
If giving every Canadian $7650 per year and every aid recipient $0.84 per year is “putting Canadians second”, you have some pretty questionable math skills. Maybe that $4.9B needs to get spent on mathematics tutors.
In my opinion, the idea that we “spend too much foreign aid” comes from exactly the same place as the argument that English Canadians are hard done by because they need to press “1” to get an English operator. It isn’t enough to have it better than someone else and give the least of concessions- those people need to feel grateful that we let them breath the same air.